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New Windows 11 build brings a host of new features

Update adds features requested by the community as well as improvements to productivity, accessibility, and the UI

Microsoft has unveiled its latest build of Windows 11 for Windows Insiders, bringing with it an array of new features based on user feedback.

In addition to general refinements and improvements to the Windows experience, notable new features include smartphone-like folder groupings in the Start menu, Do Not Disturb and Focus modes for productivity, plus the introduction of Live Captions for multimedia accessibility.

The new version of Windows is an Insider Preview Build, which means the new features are not without flaws. Known issues are included in the release notes and developers are advised to consider these before providing feedback.

This specific build is not available to users on ARM64 PCs, Microsoft said, though it is planning to offer a new build to ARM64 Insiders “soon”.

Start menu folders

Screenshot of new start menu

Microsoft

Following large amounts of user feedback relating to how the Start menu is organised, Microsoft has introduced new customisation for pinned items in the Start menu.

Pinned items such as applications can now be grouped into folders for clearer grouping and organisation. For example, Office apps such as Word and Excel can be grouped together, while collaboration tools such as Teams and Slack can grouped separately.

Microsoft said further improvements are currently in development such as the ability to assign names to these groupings, but these will come in later builds.

Taskbar improvements

Drag and drop capability has been improved to allow better file transfer between apps, like adding files to Outlook attachments. Users can hover over apps to bring them into the foreground while dragging a file into it. 

Other user interface improvements include a Microsoft Teams indicator to show when a windows is being shared and a change to the battery indicator on laptops, changing the icon to display a lightning bolt instead of a charging lead which blocked visibility into lower charging levels in previous builds.

Do Not Disturb and Focus for productivity

Do Not Disturb is a new feature that makes it easier for users to silence notifications for a given period of time. Users can set the time periods in which they do not want to receive notification banners and then review all the missed notifications in one look at the Notification Centre.

Focus mode

Microsoft

Focus takes Do Not Disturb several steps further by blocking incoming notifications and disabling taskbar badging, as well as the flashing of applications in the taskbar. A focus timer - much like a Pomodoro timer - appears in a small window in the corner of the screen and Do Not Disturb is enabled.

Focus also integrates with the existing focus sessions in the Clock app, making it easier for users to see their check list in Microsoft To-Do while playing calming music if they so desire.

File Explorer improvements

Quick Access menu

Microsoft

Users will now be able to pin individual files to the Quick Access view in File Explorer, extending support from folders only.

Users logging into Windows via a Microsoft Account, or Work or Education account, can also view their pinned and recent Office.com files directly within Quick Access too. Changes to files made by collaborators, for example, can also be seen in the Tiles of Details views.

OneDrive is also now integrated into File Explorer so users can increase control over their storage consumption and monitor the synchronisation process of files to OneDrive folders.

Snap Layouts

Snap Layouts gif

Microsoft

Microsoft has introduced a new method of adding windows to snap layouts. Users can drag a window up to the top of the display, wait for the drop window to appear and drag the windows over the orientation that suits best. 

There are myriad configurations to choose from depending on the task at hand, and the feature works with devices using both traditional and touch inputs.

Live Captions

Live Captions appearance

Microsoft

Microsoft has been working on automatically generated captions for years, with Skype being among the first products to receive it, followed by Teams.

Providing accessibility benefits, the feature generates captions of multimedia content played inside windows, displaying them in a bar at the top of the display.

The captions are generated on the device and currently only work with the US English language.

New look for Task Manager, Efficiency mode

New task manager

Microsoft

Task manager gets a redesign that aligns with Windows 11’s design language, complete with a new “hamburger-style” navigation bar and a new settings page.

Microsoft also enabled a dark mode for the application that automatically changes depending on the user’s system-wide settings.

Efficiency mode follows Microsoft’s earlier experimentation with ‘Eco Mode’ last year and offers users visibility into apps consuming high amounts of resources, allowing them to limit their consumption in favour of other apps that need it more.

Efficiency mode can be applied with a right-click selection inside the processes page of the Task Manager. Sometimes processes will be greyed-out and Microsoft said this means the process is crucial to the smooth running of Windows, so it won’t let users throttle it.

Sustainable power options

The hardware sector is starting to see sustainability-focused settings more recently and the latest Windows build introduces default values for sleep and screen off to reduce energy consumption when a PC is idling.

Additional power-saving recommendations will also be made “to help reduce carbon emissions” to users who choose to set sleep and screen off to ‘never’.

Touch gestures

Those familiar with Windows 8 will be pleased to see the five new touch gestures to improve navigation on Windows 11 PCs with touch.

The gestures are primarily geared towards quick access to regularly used menus such as Start, Quick Settings, and Notification Centre.

For more details on each gesture, head to the Microsoft blog post to learn more about each one.

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Improvements to Microsoft’s flagship browser with the accessibility tool focus on more natural dialogue navigation.

Narrator will now help users stay focused on dialogue boxes and prevent navigation to content situated behind it - a feature currently only available on Microsoft Edge Canary builds, these are pre-release experimental builds of the browser.

Other improvements have been made to text editing on the web, like making it clearer which character is being deleted from a form field, and improved link navigation.

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