To help commemorate the operating system’s first anniversary in early October, Microsoft has just rolled out its first major update to Windows 11.
Dubbed the Windows 11 2022 Update (and referred to as version 22H2 on your PC), the free download has started rolling out to users in more than 190 countries, says Microsoft. It comes with several new features and improvements offered to those on laptops, desktops and tablets.
Is it worth the upgrade? Absolutely.
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Here’s what to expect with the new Windows 11
Fortunately for those already comfortable with Windows 11, it retains the look and feel of what you’re used to but adds boosts to productivity, accessibility, communication, security and gaming.
“In many ways, flexible work feels more demanding than remote work because there’s an implicit expectation that we’re always ‘on,’ often the days I am most behind on Teams messages and email are the days I’m in the office because in the office I’m focused on in-person interactions and not responding to messages as they come in,” Liz Salowitz, principal product manager lead, Windows User Experience, said.
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How to get going
If you weren’t already prompted to install the Windows 11 2022 Update, Windows 11 users can click on Settings > Windows Update and select Check for updates.
Or you can type “update” in the search field at the bottom of your PC to bring you right to the Windows update screen, or ask your Cortana personal assistant to update your computer.
While the update won’t mess with your existing files, it’s always a good idea to back-up your important information onto external media or the cloud, just to err on the side of caution.
And you know the drill: Never turn off or unplug any device during a software update or else it could corrupt the operating system and even render your machine inoperable.
It’s not a huge download, at about 450MB smaller than the Windows 11 21H2 Update, so you should be up and running again quickly. Or you can perform the update at a later time, if you prefer.
Additional info is at Microsoft’s Windows 11 Update site. Windows 11 PCs going forward will already have the new update installed.
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A look at some highlights
Here’s a high-level look at some of the more newsworthy updates or additions. Accessibility has definitely improved.
Especially ideal for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, “Live captions” – enabled with the Win + Ctrl + L keyboard shortcut or Quick Settings > Accessibility – automatically generate on-device captions from any content with audio, including microphone audio, which can be helpful for in-person conversations, too.
When enabled for the first time, Windows 11 will first prompt a Live captions download of the required speech package, currently only supported in American English.
You many be familiar with the Dictate button in programs like Outlook and Word, that will transcribe your voice into text, but the new “Voice access” option leverages on-device speech recognition to virtually control every aspect of your PC, hands-free, which is ideal for those with dexterity or mobility challenges.
Voice access can be enabled in Settings > Accessibility > Speech, and then you can open (and switch between) apps, search for something online, read and author email, and launch media, and more. Just like Live captions, you’ll first need to download a model, and then select a microphone input.
New Windows 11 has voice updates
Speaking of voices, the Windows 11 update also adds more natural voices for Narrator, a screen-reading app that’s built into Windows 11, ideal people who are blind or visually impaired.
Voice options like “Aria,” “Jenny” and “Guy” sound more realistic and can be used to say what’s happening on screen in apps like Microsoft Edge, including more contextual information.
New Windows 11 has enhancements to video chatting
You may recall Windows 11 added Microsoft Teams integration arrived just as millions were relying more on video communication and this Windows 11 2022 Update adds even more tools to improve video calls to any program on devices that meet certain hardware requirements.
Collectively referred to as “Windows Studio,” this is a suite of AI-powered features optimized for today’s hybrid work environment.
Visually, this includes:
- “Automatic framing,” which centers the user’s face in the frame, even when they move around (similar to what’s used in Facebook Portal or on Apple’s FaceTime);
- “Background blur,” which allows users to blur their background for privacy (or focus) reasons, which also includes “portrait blur” for a soft bokeh-like depth of field effect;
- “Eye contact,” which makes it look like you’re always looking at the camera even if you’re looking away or reading notes or a teleprompter.
These options will need to be enabled in Windows Settings > Bluetooth & devices > Cameras > [Integrated Front-Facing Camera] > Camera Effects.
On the audio front, Windows Studio’s “Voice focus” removes background noises on calls, so you can communicate clearly and stand out above any environmental distraction your colleagues or clients may hear. Voice focus can be activated by going to Windows Settings > System > Sound > [Integrated Microphone] > Microphone effects.
Microsoft says Microsoft Teams will have native integration for Windows Studio effects, with in-app controls, when running on a capable system.
“When working from home, I also appreciate the new Voice focus feature that filters out background noise on video calls,” says Salowitz. “I don’t have to apologize anymore for my neighbor’s barking dog or the sound of my partner grinding coffee, because the people on the other end of the call can’t hear it … this helps me sound professional even when I’m working in a personal space in my home.”
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Windows 11 productivity tools
Given how many rely on their PC to get things done, Windows 11 2022 Update includes some work-related features. “Focus” and “do not disturb” are two such additions, both aimed to minimize distractions.
With Focus, users can select a time and date in Notification Center, and select the amount of time for your focus session, and you will be notified when your session is over, such as the end of a workday, because it works together with the Clock app to integrate features such as calming music and a focus timer.
Selecting do not disturb allows you to easily silence notifications, like news updates pushed from your web browser, and when you’re ready to see them, go to Settings > System > Notifications.
You can also set up specific times and rules, including priority messages from family.
“To help me concentrate on the task at hand, I use the Focus feature, [which] was inclusively designed for neurodiverse people by neurodiverse Microsoft employees, including people with ADHD, and it can help everyone bring quiet and calm to your PC so you can focus,” Salowitz said.
Other productivity features include:
- New security enhancements
- A redesigned taskbar experience
- New ways to snap open apps and other windows to see more on your screen
- Five new touch gestures
Those all come with File Explorer improvements, including quicker access to the folders and files you rely on the most, as well as faster and more accurate search capabilities, and new options in the Start menu.
Follow Marc on Twitter for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts: @marc_saltzman. Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.