Microsoft's new set of Windows 11 feature updates: What's included and how to manage it
A year after promising to deliver a single feature update each year for Windows 10 and 11, Microsoft officials changed their tune and decided to deliver multiple smaller feature updates on no set schedule for Windows 11. We don't know what's in store for Windows 10 in terms of feature updates, as officials aren't talking plans other than to say the OS will remain supported until October 2025. But, today, February 28, Microsoft is kicking off the rollout of its second set of feature updates to Windows 11 22H2.
This set of feature updates will be available to "seekers "—those who proactively search for and apply the updates via Windows Update— today. Microsoft officials said this bundle of features will come to other Windows 11 users via Windows Update in the March 2023 monthly security update release. But there will be some level of control allowed for business users who don't want these features to show up that soon.
Included in this Windows 11 22H2 "Moment 2" release:
- Support for the new AI-powered Bing via the search box on the taskbar. To access this, users need to be approved for the new Bing preview.
- A UI refresh for the built-in consumer version of Teams ("Chat")
- Tablet-optimized Taskbar
- Screen recording capability included in the Snipping Tool
Microsoft also is making a preview of its Phone Link app available for iOS today, though just for Windows Insider testers for now. Microsoft originally designated PhoneLink, when it was known as "My Phone," as something that would allow PC users to access their Android and iPhone phone contacts, messages, photos and apps. But currently, the Phone Link app only works fully with certain Samsung Android phones and Surface Duo devices.
Microsoft also is adding tabs to Notepad and designating its standalone Windows 365 app as generally available concurrently with this latest set of feature updates.
When Microsoft introduced its "major" Windows 11 22H2 feature update in September 2022, not every promised capability made it into the release. In November, Microsoft rolled out several missing features via its first so-called "Moment" update. At that time, officials decided that admins would be unable to block this first group of features using Group Policy or other management tools but said they would enable these kinds of controls at a later date.
Microsoft disclosed earlier this month that for Windows Update "managed devices," which includes PCs updated via Windows Update for Business or Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), at least some of the "Moment" features will be off by default. They will not be off by default for consumer/non-managed devices. Officials said feature updates which change the Windows user interface; are new inbox apps; remove existing capabilities; and/or override previously configured settings will be on the off-by-default list. Admins will be able to turn them on for their organizations, but only as a group, not feature-by-feature. Customers are asking Microsoft to provide a detailed list of which of the new features delivered via Latest Cumulative Updates (LCUs) will be off by default, but so far, there doesn't seem to be a public page with that information.
Update (February 28): There may be additional controls for these interim feature updates for IT admins. From a Microsoft February 28 blog post confirming that these safeguards will be available in March, there's this:
"For select features, we will also introduce new policies that enable you to configure the feature in a preferred way for your organization. For example, for search on the taskbar, you can utilize the ConfigureSearchOnTaskbarMode policy to show the search box, search icon and label, search icon only, or hide search on the taskbar altogether."
It's important to note that these interim feature updates can only be blocked until the next "major" feature update which will happen this Fall (Win 11 23H2). That feature update will turn on the interim Moment updates delivered over the past year.
While most of the features arriving in today's "Moment" seem relatively minor to me, I could see some companies wanting to block the new Bing search, given that it includes the ChatGPT-based Bing Chat service which has been controversial and has provided very mixed results in terms of accuracy. But since Microsoft officials have said they believe they can grow the company's advertising market share by pitching Windows as a great way to deliver ads to its billion-plus installed base, Microsoft's rush to get more people hooked on the new Bing and Bing Chat is not all that surprising.