Latest Windows 11 preview signals its final new features for the fall

New Windows 11 taskbarImage: Microsoft

Microsoft has begun overlapping preview builds of Windows 11 in its Insider Dev and Beta Channels, essentially signaling to users that it’s begun finalizing the features that will appear in the next release of Windows 11.

Microsoft releases beta builds of Windows 11 in three separate channels: Dev, Beta, and Release Preview. The Dev Channel is a laboratory for Microsoft concepts that may never ship, and Microsoft said in February that the Beta Channel and the Dev Channel are on “parallel tracks.” “The Beta Channel will be previewing experiences that are closer to what we will ship to our general customers,” wrote Amanda Langowski, who oversees the Windows Insider program.

Today, Microsoft announced Windows 11 Build 22581, and the company is releasing it on both the Dev Channel and Beta Channel, simultaneously. This means two things: First, if you’ve been trying out Windows 11 builds on the Dev Channel, you can safely switch to the Beta Channel without the need to reformat your PC. But it’s also a signal that Build 22581 represents something much closer to the final feature set of the upcoming fall feature release of Windows 11, also known as 22H2 or Sun Valley 2.

Until Microsoft actually releases Build 22581, we can’t say for certain what the build includes and excludes. And, even then, we can’t be absolutely certain that those will be the features that emerge in the fall release. Still, we can probably be assured that several will appear in 22H2, given they were highlighted in the blog post that accompanied the announcement. Most of these were part of Microsoft’s Insider Build 22557, the massive release of new features Microsoft added in February.

Live Captions: This interesting new feature auto-generates captions on videos that you’ve archived to your PC, either for those who have difficulty hearing or for simply watching in a quiet environment.

Start folders: One of the complaints about Windows 11 was the lack of Start menu folders, a feature in Windows 10. The new feature allows you to group them, and a more recent addition allows you to name them, too.

Redesigned Task Manager: The redesign of the traditional Task Manager app brings it in line with Windows 11 design principles, but also adds an efficiency mode to try and limit the resources a particular app consumes. This won’t be a feature that most users will use, but enthusiasts might use it to limit background applications.

Tablet-optimized taskbar: In February’s Build 22563, Microsoft issued a change that shrinks the Windows 11 taskbar when used on a tablet, to allow more working space. Swiping up from the bottom expands it, so that you can interact with the icons.

Drag-and-drop apps in the taskbar: Microsoft didn’t explicitly identify this as a confirmed feature, but one of the “fixes” the company made was to adjust the way dragging and dropping apps on the taskbar works. This was another feature of Windows 10 that was excluded from Windows 11, but added back in via an Insider build.

If your PC is in the Dev Channel and you want to switch it to the Beta Channel, you can go to Settings > Windows Update > Windows Insider Program and manually switch to the Beta Channel. There will be an undisclosed window of time before Microsoft pushes new Dev builds, and once that window closes you won’t be able to switch channels without a clean Windows installation.

Microsoft hasn’t said when the fall release of Windows 11 22H2 will take place, but historically it has been released around September and October after a lengthy period of tweaking existing features and fixing bugs.

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

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