Microsoft’s Spring Update for Windows 11 is now officially released. New features include the first Amazon apps, an improved taskbar, and more.
Microsoft will introduce new features to your PC through Windows Update, the Microsoft Store, and new “experience packs” that will download gently in the background and facilitate changes to the Windows 11 operating system. the update to the Store will push new versions of Notepad and Windows Media Player, which will replace the older Groove Music app. A few years ago, Microsoft pulled the plug on the Groove music service. In fact, clicking “Groove Music” in your app drawer will redirect you to the new Media Player app.
Here are the new features in the new Windows experience for February 2022:
The addition of Android apps, through a subset of the apps available on the Amazon Appstore
The addition of the Weather app on the Taskbar
The ability to mute your microphone in Teams, again from the Taskbar
Easier screen sharing in Teams, from your Taskbar
The (re)addition of clocks for multiple monitors on the Taskbar
Update for Media Player and Notepad
“Updates” may be delivered in installments, so certain parts of it may arrive earlier than others. For example, Media Player and Notepad updates arrive almost instantly through the Microsoft Store on my PC, but new updates for Windows 11 through Windows Update are not available when clicking “check for updates” ” in the Settings menu.
Technically, it’s not even fair to call the new release the Windows 11 February 2022 Update, although that’s likely what it will be called. In a blog post, Microsoft product manager Panos Panay called the updates a “new experience in Windows 11” rather than an official update. The record plan is to release Windows 11 22H2 or whatever it ends up with this fall.
Here’s what you need to know about the new features.
Android app support
Like virtually all new Microsoft features, new experiences arrived early in the Windows Insider preview program. We have a detailed story that describes how to install Android apps on your PC through the Amazon Appstore and hope that it will be the same in the new experience.
Mark Hachman / IDG
It’s basically a one-step process. All you have to do is download the Amazon Appstore Preview app in the Microsoft Store and follow the instructions. Windows sets up a virtual machine of various types on your PC and downloads the necessary files in the background. Interestingly, official virtual machines usually require Windows 11 Pro. In this case, Android apps will run on Windows 11 Home, provided you have the necessary hardware to run the operating system.
It’s worth it? Sort. The limited number of apps (under 60 right before launch, though Microsoft says it’s rolling out around 1,000) means there’s a lot of variety in the offerings right now – the kind of apps you want andinstall from a new PC. But the apps for United Airlines and The Wall Street Journal also means there is enough there to check. Google’s own app store is also unavailable without some modification.
If you’re familiar with our original Windows 11 review, you know we ran into issues with the redesigned Taskbar and Start menu. You’ll be happy to know that certain things were fixed… and others were not.
As the bulleted list above notes, painful omissions like removing the clock from the taskbar on anything but the home screen have now been restored. What’s a bit disappointing is that two of the new features – mute your microphone and share your screen – appear to be exclusive to Microsoft Teams, not any apps that use your microphone. In other words, while using Teams, you’ll see a small microphone icon appear on your Taskbar. (The microphone icon did appear when using an app like Zoom, but clicking it simply took you to the Windows 11 Settings and microphone permissions page.) Now, when using Teams, clicking that microphone icon will just mute your microphone.
Likewise, the new update also facilitates screen sharing – again in Teams. During a Team call, if you hover over the taskbar, you’ll see a small thumbnail of the active window as well as a button to share the screen. Clicking on it will simply project it for others to see.
Finally, the Weather icon has appeared on the Taskbar. On Windows 10, this is called “News and Interests”. On Windows 11, the Weather icon is a shortcut to the Widget menu in the left corner by default. When you are using another window, the weather icon will only show a small summary of the weather (sunny, partially cloudy, etc.) and temperature. Hovering over it opens the Widgets pane, which might come as a surprise.
As noted above, Windows Media Player replaced Groove Music, its utility became problematic when Microsoft killed Groove Music Pass 5 years ago (!) In 2017. Now, Media Player works like you expectations. Select a music file, play it and continue from there. There’s no integration with Spotify and no visualizer, but there’s basic functionality for both audio and video playlists.
Mark Hachman / IDG
While the app itself doesn’t list the audio/video formats it supports, it at least integrates nicely with your Music, Videos and Downloads folders, finding audio and video files collected mine and present them in the context of the application. Supposedly, apps also pull content from OneDrive even if a specific music folder has been added to the music library.
If you’re not a regular Notepad user, you’ll wonder what’s changed. If that’s the case, you might have noticed the new Dark Mode and how Notepad adapts to your Light Mode/Dark Mode system settings. On the other hand, the most notable additions are the multi-level undo (quickly!) and emojis (okay?).
Microsoft did not say whether it will add these new “experiences” over time. In any case, it’s a bit of fresh paint for Windows 11.
Correction: While the Amazon Appstore app had about 50-60 apps right before launch, Microsoft says it’s rolling out around 1,000 apps.