Microsoft released Windows 11, version 21H2, was released on October 5, 2021. The final release is Build 22000.258. Here are the changes available in this branch of Windows 11.
Note: Some of the features available in version 21H2 Microsoft didn't include in the initial release. The company uses a new feature delivery mechanism that allows adding novelties without upgrading the device to a newer major feature update. Microsoft first test these features in Insider builds in the Dev and Beta channels. Once they collect enough feedback, they release them to the stable version of the system.
This way, Microsoft made available Windows Spotlight on desktop for everyone, without the user having to wait for the next major update.
What is new in Windows 11 version 21H2
The operating system comes with a reworked user interface in many areas. It welcomes the user with a new taskbar with centered icons, the new Start menu, and several new and redesigned apps. There are new features like Snap layouts, Widgets, Voice typing, and much more.
The setup program of Windows 11 includes a new OOBE (similar to one in now-cancelled Windows 10X). It features nice animations to show what is going on and what you supposed to do.
The OOBE has two dedicated pages for setting up a family group and specifying for what you are going to use your device.
When you are installing the Home edition, an Internet connection is now required along with a Microsoft Account. You can learn how to install Windows 11 without Internet in this guide.
The setup program will ask you to enter a PC name instead of giving it a random name like it was in Windows 10. But you can still skip this step and it will generate a random PC name.
Finally, Windows 11 will ask you to restore your device and even apps you had installed from a previous system setup.
After running through the setup experience, the Get Started app is a new first run experience app that will help you quickly get setup on a new PC. Currently, Get Started has a limited number of pages but over time, Microsoft plans to add in more content to further educate and assist people new to Windows 11.
- App windows will now appear with rounded corners.
- Windows has various new animations for resizing, opening and closing windows.
- Most sounds have been replaced.
- New icons, part of Segoe font, in modern Windows apps.
- The classic desktop iconset features new Fluent style icons.
- Aero Shake is now disabled by default and can be enabled in Settings.
- The acrylic effect in some UI elements is now more translucent and has an increased saturation.
- The desktop icon set has been revamped with new Fluent style icons.
- Windows 11 includes new themes, Glow, Captured Motion, Sunrise, and Flow, and new wallpapers.
The OS supports Emoji 12.1 and Emoji 13.1.
Windows 11 sports a brand new UI for the Start menu. It no longer includes Live Tiles. Instead it shows regular icons without dynamic content, similar to icons on your Desktop.
This menu appearance was initially created for Windows 10X. It appears above the taskbar, and has rounded corners. There are four sections in the new menu.
The topmost area hosts a search box. It is no longer integrated into the taskbar, and is located in the Start menu. The search itself is similar to Windows 10's search and mixes online content with local files.
Below the search box is pinned icon area. It supports multiple pages, and allows you to pin as many icons as you need without filling the whole screen when you open the Start menu. It retains its size regardless of how many apps you have pinned.
Above the list, there is the "All Apps" button that opens the traditional app list, i.e. all the apps installed on your computer. It has also received a few updates.
First of all, if a folder in the app list includes only 1 item, it will be flattered, and the icon will be shown directly in the menu.
A new Windows Tools folder now replaces the Windows Accessories, Windows Administrative Tools, Windows PowerShell, and Windows System folder. The Notepad, Paint, File Explorer, and Snipping Tool apps are moved out of the folder and are now in the root of the list.
This section shows your recently viewed documents and files from OneDrive and online MS Office. There is also the More button that opens the full list of such files. You can right-click here any file and remove it from here using the context menu. The Recommended section can't be disabled, but you can clear this list in Settings and stop Windows 11 from adding new files to this list.
The last section in the new Start menu is dedicated to various action buttons. Here you will find the shut down menu, user profile, sign out options. The user can also add his personal folders, such as Documents, Downloads, Music, etc.
The commands in the power menu will now show the estimated time for installing installing updates and restart the device.
The taskbar in Windows 11 has received drastic changes. It is taller and now shows all icons aligned to the center of the screen, but there is an option in Settings to restore a more traditional layout. It doesn't show text labels for running apps, and doesn't allow you to ungroup app windows.
Also, it doesn't allow you to move to a different screen edge. The bottom of the screen is the only location allowed in Windows 11. Actually, there is a Registry tweak to move the taskbar, but Microsoft doesn't officially support it.
The context menu lost all its items besides the "Taskbar settings", which opens Settings to the Personalization > Taskbar page.
When you hover over the search button, it shows your recent searches in a pop-up menu.
It comes with plenty of new animations and visual updates. Those can be seen when you are pinning, launching, switching, minimizing, and rearranging your apps.
Also, Windows Ink Workspace has been renamed to “Pen menu”.
The feature known as "Aero peek" doesn't make open app windows transparent when you hover other the rightmost corner of the taskbar. This feature has been removed. But now you can disable it, e.g. to add the classic "Show Desktop" shortcut to the taskbar.
Notification Center & Quick Settings
The lower right corner of Taskbar has a button for Notification Center (WIN + N) and Quick Settings (WIN + A). Also, the battery, network, and sound icons are now just one big button and now open the Quick Settings pane.
Notification Center is the home for all your notifications in the OS and a full-month calendar view.
Quick Settings is the place for you to manage common PC settings quickly and easily like Volume, Brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Focus Assist.
Directly above your Quick Settings, you will see media playback controls when playing music or videos in Microsoft Edge or streaming music in apps like Spotify. Also, right-clicking the sound icon and selecting Open volume mixer will open the Settings app with sound options.
Virtual Desktops (Task View)
In Windows 11, you can now re-arrange virtual desktops using drag-n-drop, and specify an individual background image for each of them.
The list of virtual desktops now appears at the bottom, and always shows the close button on a desktop thumbnail. To switch the desktop, it is enough to hover over the Task View button in the taskbar with your mouse pointer, and pick a new one.
The Timeline feature is no longer part of the Task View.
Widgets bring you closer to information you both want and need. Just click on the widgets icon on the Taskbar, swipe from the left using touch, or hit WIN + W on your keyboard, and your widgets slide out from the left over your desktop.
You can personalize your experience by adding or removing widgets, re-arranging, resizing, and customizing the content. Widgets exists for calendar, weather, local traffic, your Microsoft To Do lists, your photos from OneDrive, sports and esports, your stock watchlist, and tips. Both Microsoft and third-party devs can create more widgets to extend their functionality and value.
Windows 11 introduces several new features to increase your productivity and creativity.
- Snap layouts: Just hover your mouse over a window’s maximize button to see available snap layouts, then click on a zone to snap the window. You’ll then be guided to snap windows to the rest of the zones within the layout with guided snap assist. For smaller screens, you’ll be offered a set of 4 snap layouts. You can also invoke the snap layouts flyout with the WIN + Z keyboard shortcut.
- Snap groups: Snap groups are a way to easily switch back to your snapped windows. To try this out, snap together at least 2 app windows on your screen. Hover over one of these open apps on the Taskbar to find the snap group and click to quickly switch back.
- Desktops: Access your Desktops via Task View (WIN + Tab) on the Taskbar. You can reorder and customize the backgrounds for each of your Desktops. You can also mouse-over Task View on the Taskbar for quick access to your existing Desktops or to create a new one!
File Explorer features a new design in Windows 11. There is no Ribbon UI there (but you can restore it in the initial release of the OS). Instead, there is a compact toolbar with frequent commands. The default user interface is touch friendly with margins and paddings, but there is an option to enable the compact view.
All File Explorer context menus have been redesigned. By default, they include only frequently used commands, and have the design that matches the visual style of the OS. To show the full command list, the user must click on the "Show more options" item. But it is possible to enable the full context menus with a Registry tweak.
Microsoft has added a few new customization options to File Explorer. For example, you can now hide “Network” and “This PC” by right-clicking the left pane.
Speaking about the navigation pane, it also shows installed WSL distros.
The new Microsoft Store
The Store’s all-new design features a new layout and animations. It is now easier to find apps and review their details. But the most important change is the new policies for developers.
Microsoft now accepts Win32 application from everyone. The new Store allows developers to publish unpackaged Win32 applications, including regular EXE and MSI files. Packaging to the MSIX or APPX container is now optional.
This way, Microsoft Store is gradually becoming a unified hub for all desktop applications. Regardless of the underlying technology, be it UWP, Win32 or PWA, the app can be published and later installed on any PC.
Finally, Microsoft Store will allow you to quickly restore the apps from your library. It will be similar to how you set up a new smartphone running iOS or Android.
The Windows 11 notepad now receives updates from the Microsoft Store. It has a new layout.
The recent updates brought great performance improvements, so it can now handle large files without a hassle. It also support Linux line endings, make it great even for WSL users.
The latter works on the fly without the user having to specify how the line endings must look like. Notepad, when opening a file, checks the first match for the line ending, i.e. LF or CRLF, and makes it default for the file.
Microsoft has brought another pack of enhancements to Notepad. It now allows you to enter Unicode symbols with the Alt+<code> shortcut, jump between opening and closing brackets with the Ctrl+} hotkey, and block selection.
The update includes the multi-level undo capability, drag&drop support for the document body, and even color emoji.
You can now click the URLs within the text to open them in the browser.
Finally, it has a native ARM64 version.
More apps receive updates from the Store
With Windows 11, Microsoft made it possible to receive updates from the Store for more apps.
- Snipping Tool
- Windows Terminal
New inbox apps
The following apps are now bundled with Windows 11.
- Get Started
- Power Automate Desktop
- Windows Terminal
Other apps changes
- Device Manager doesn't search for drivers on a floppy disk A:.
- Internet Explorer has been removed.
- Microsoft Edge Legacy has been removed.
- 3D Viewer has been removed
- Skype has been removed
- OneNote Store app has been removed
- The People app now only works as an address book for Mail and Calendar and can't be open outside of them.
- Windows Sandbox and Microsoft Defender Application Guard now use a new runtime that optimizes for container scenarios.
When you undock your laptop, the windows on your external monitor will be minimized. When you re-dock your computer to your monitor, Windows puts everything back exactly where you had it before! You can find the settings for these features under System > Display > Multiple Displays.
Input (touch, inking and voice)
- Touch Keyboard personalization: To personalize your Windows experience, there are 13 new themes for the touch keyboard including three hardware matching themes that match the Surface colors. Microsoft has also built in a brand-new theme engine that allows you to create a fully customized theme including background images. Based on users' feedback Microsoft has also introduced a setting to resize the touch keyboard.
- Voice typing launcher: Our new voice typing launcher is a quick and easy way for you to start voice typing in a selected text field. It is off by default, but you can turn it on within the voice typing settings (WIN + H to start voice typing) and then place it anywhere you would like on your screen.
- Improved Touch Gestures: Check out these new on-screen touch gestures for you to easily switch among apps and desktops with smooth transitions. The gestures are like the touchpad gestures but have thoughtful improvements designed specifically for touch. Here’s a list you can try:
- Swiping left/right – quickly switch to the last used app window.
- Swiping down – go back to the desktop (if you follow it with a swiping up, you can restore the app windows).
- Swiping up – open Task View to browse all app windows and desktops.
- Swiping left/right – switch to the previous/next desktop
- Swiping up/down – (same with three-finger ones).
- Pen menu: If you’re using a digital pen, you can open pen menu by clicking the pen icon at the lower right on your Taskbar. (If the pen icon isn’t there, you can enable it by right-clicking on Taskbar and going to Taskbar settings to enable it. By default, it contains two apps which can be customized by clicking the gear button and selecting “edit pen menu”. In the flyout, you can add up to four of your favorite drawing or writing apps in the pen menu, to open them quickly when you’re using your pen.
- Language/Input switcher: You can quickly switch between additional languages and keyboards via a switcher a switcher will show up at the lower right on your taskbar next to Quick Settings. You can also use the keyboard shortcut WIN + [Spacebar] to toggle between input methods. To add additional languages and keyboards, go to Settings > Time & Language > Language & Region.
- Dynamic Refresh Rate: Dynamic Refresh Rate allows your PC to automatically boost the refresh rate when you’re inking or scrolling (which means you’ll get a smoother experience) and lower when you don’t need it so that your laptop can save power. You can try out DRR on your laptop via Settings > System > Display > Advanced display, and under “Choose a refresh rate” select a “Dynamic” refresh rate. DRR is being rolled out to select laptops running the latest Windows 11 Insider Preview builds and only on laptops with the right display hardware and graphics driver will have the feature available. For more details, check out this blog post.
- Other display in Windows 11: Auto HDR, Content adaptive brightness control (CABC) disabling, HDR support to color managed apps, and HDR certification.
Microsoft designed Settings to be beautiful, easy to use and inclusive of all your Microsoft experiences in Windows 11. The Settings app new shows its categories in the left sidebar with pages with the main content on the right.
On the right, it shows breadcrumbs as you navigate deeper into Settings to help you know where you are and not lose your place. Settings pages are also all new, with new hero controls at the top that highlight key information and frequently used settings for you to adjust as you need.
These new hero controls span across several category pages like System, Bluetooth & devices, Network & Internet, Personalization, Accounts, and Windows Update. Microsoft also has added expandable boxes for pages with a lot of settings.
Wi-Fi 6E Support
Microsoft is excited to bring Wi-Fi 6E to the Windows ecosystem, enabling our Windows OEMs, Wireless IHVs and ecosystem partners to deliver leading edge Wi-Fi on new Windows PCs.
Wi-Fi 6E is a revolutionary advancement that enables up to 3x more Wi-Fi bandwidth and will transform Wi-Fi experiences through faster speeds, greater capacity, reduced latency, and better security. Many OEMs are already shipping Wi-Fi 6E capable Windows PCs and the first Wi-Fi 6E capable access points and mesh devices are also commercially available.
Once you’re connected to your Wi-Fi 6E router, go to Windows Settings / Network & Internet / Wi-Fi and choose Adapter properties to see if you’re connected to the 6GHz network band. You can also find the Band from the command line by entering: “netsh wlan show int”.
Note that if you use the mobile hotspot in Windows or Wi-Fi Direct, these features continue to support Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) only.
Changes added with cumulative updates
- Build 22000.469: Settings > Accounts include a new page to manage your Microsoft Account and its related subscriptions, rewards, and payment options.
- Build 22000.527
- Documents stored on OneDrive will open in the browser in MS Office online.
- You can now share any app window right from the taskbar thumbnail preview when on call via Teams/Chat.
- Widgets are now an interactive button in the left corner of the taskbar that shows a weather forecast.
- You can now access the Microphone icon in the notification area with the Win + Alt + K shortcut.
- Build 22000.708
- Allows using Windows Spotlight as your desktop wallpaper.
- Build 22000.778: Adds Search Highlights to the search pane to inform you about important global and local events, anniversaries, and changed documents within your organization (for enterprise devices). You can disable search highlights in Settings and Registry.
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