Windows 11 Gets Its First Major Update: Here's What Users Can Expect

Windows 11 users in more than 190 countries now have the opportunity to download the operating system's major 2022 update, Microsoft announced in a blog post. The anticipated release brings a huge number of changes, which isn't surprising: this is the first major update released for the latest iteration of the operating system, Windows 11, which Microsoft made available to the public in 2021. The company says that it has set its focus on specific categories with the 2022 update, of which there are four "key areas."

Put simply, Microsoft is working to make using PCs running Windows 11 "easier and safer" for all users, the company explains in its blog post, plus it wants to adjust things in a way that improves productivity and common activities like gaming, and it wants to make the operating system better for the companies that use it — in the latter case, by making it more flexible and secure while also simplifying the management of Windows 11 PCs across the workforce.

That's great and all, but the categories the company lists are less than precise. What, exactly, does the major Windows 11 2022 update offer for the average user? As everyone had hoped, there are quite a few changes arriving with this release, including those coveted File Explorer tabs.

Productivity and gaming enhancements take center stage

Users will likely be glad to know the Windows 11 2022 update is intended to help improve productivity, something Microsoft says it accomplished by adding "enhancements" to select existing functionality, as well as new features. In addition to refining the Focus feature, Microsoft says that users can improve their desktop organization using new Snap layouts — Edge users can Snap more than one browser tab, and tablet and touchscreen laptop users will find the layouts are easier to navigate going forward.

Beyond that, users will note some changes to the Microsoft Store "experience," according to the company, though that's perhaps not as exciting as the new Windows Studio audio and video effects, which are designed for use during video calls and conferences. Microsoft says these effects are powered by AI and, among other things, include Automatic Framing, Background Blur, Voice Focus, and Eye Contact. As anticipated, Clipchamp — that's the video editor that fills the void left by Movie Maker — is also now an inbox app on Windows 11.

Given that gaming is one of the key areas Microsoft focused on with the 2022 update, it's not surprising to hear that Windows 11 2022 brings new capabilities to windowed games, the most exciting of which is arguably the support for Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto HDR. Gamers should also notice some improvements when it comes to latency and general performance.

Android apps on Windows are closer than ever

It has been several months now since the big announcement that Android apps would be coming to Windows, albeit via the Amazon Appstore. Though the partnership with Amazon hasn't yet blossomed into full access for everyone, Microsoft has decided to expand the Amazon Appstore Preview on Windows 11 to users who are outside of the United States. Though the Appstore isn't quite as exciting as Google Play, Microsoft does note that users who have access to the preview will likewise have access to around 20,000 Android apps.

Beyond the expanded access to Android apps, the Windows 11 2022 update also brings the rumored enhancements to the File Explorer, which more or less remained the same with the big transition from Windows 10 to Windows 11. As previously leaked, the updated File Explorer packs tabs, which are a common feature among third-party alternatives. As well, the update also brings a new home screen to the file manager that, according to Microsoft, makes it easier for users to quickly access the items they use regularly via support for pinning. Users will also see their recently-accessed files on this page, plus it's possible to see activity on shared files, assuming they were shared using OneDrive.

What else can the average user expect? The Photos app has been given a new management "experience" with improved browsing, galleries, and similar, there's nearby sharing with support for a greater range of devices, Taskbar now has an "overflow" space in which overflowed apps are aggregated, copying items will now result in suggested actions not unlike what consumers already enjoy on mobile devices, Widgets is getting better local events coverage, the Start menu has been tweaked to help settle the angst among users who hate it, and system-wide live captions are on the horizon.

How to get the Windows 11 2022 update

The good news is that this first major update for Windows 11 is now rolling out to users. The bad news is that, as with past similar releases, Microsoft is rolling the update out in a phased manner and it could be a number of days or weeks before you actually get the opportunity to install it on your own PCs. The company hasn't provided the full details on this release's expected availability across all Windows 11 machines (nor when the similar 22H2 update will arrive for Windows 10), but ZDNet reports that it'll likely be available to manually download and install through Windows Update very soon. This is a free update, so you don't have to worry about shelling out any additional funds to get the latest features.

As well, thankfully, this update doesn't bring any additional hardware burdens that would further alienate those who have aging hardware. However, the company hasn't removed any of the system requirements that come with Windows 11 in general, meaning that if your machine previously failed the compatibility check tool's test due to lacking the appropriate TPM specs, nothing will have changed with this new release. To see whether you can download Windows 11 2022 Update now, click on the search icon in the taskbar, type "Check for updates," and hit Enter to open Windows Update. The operating system will automatically check to see whether an update is available — and, if it is, installing it is as simple as clicking the download button that will appear.