Microsoft said last year that in addition to the big update to Windows each fall, it wants to deliver “continuous innovation” and bring new features to Windows as part of regular monthly updates. The Windows 11 update for March 2023 includes long-awaited features, as well as obvious integrations and small improvements.
Do more from Windows 11’s taskbar
AI-powered Bing in Windows 11
The next update to Windows 11 22H2 puts a search box back on the taskbar. It also offers the new Bing search and chat that uses AI to answer your questions and summarize search results right into Windows 11 (Figure A).
There are currently over a million users with access to the new AI-powered Bing, according to Michael Schecter, vice president of growth for Bing, with more being approved every day. Microsoft is promising that “hundreds of millions of Windows 11 users can get access” soon, suggesting that Microsoft will be expanding the number of users quite significantly to go with the Windows 11 integration. For now, only the users who already have access to the new Bing will see this working in Windows 11.
“Initially, this will be far short of the entire Windows user base, but we aspire to that level of availability over time,” Microsoft told TechRepublic.
More new options in Windows 11 taskbar
With the March update, the Windows 11 taskbar gets even more new options, including disappearing on devices with a detachable keyboard as soon as you turn them into a tablet and letting users rearrange the order of icons in the notification area (Figure B).
If you have a device with an NPU to accelerate AI-powered features, you can use Studio Effects in Windows 11 to have your webcam zoom in to show your face, blur the background and edit live video so it looks like you’re looking straight at people (Figure C). There aren’t any new effects, but now those options will be in the same quick settings panel that already lumps together your sound, network and power settings.
If you do change those settings, they will apply to calls you make from the desktop Chat button, which still only brings up the personal version of Teams.
This now opens a window where you can preview your video before starting a call or meeting, or it can copy a link to a new chat that you can share in a message. There’s also a list of recent conversations, and you can search for people you’ve been talking to (Figure D).
New screen sharing and accessibility features in Windows 11
Windows Quick Assist app
When you’re basically providing tech support to coworkers and friends, the Windows Quick Assist app might be a better choice.
There’s a new version in the Microsoft Store that now lets you switch between sharing your screen and giving someone access to your screen without needing to stop and start the session. The Windows app also gets a virtual laser pointer like the one in PowerPoint so instead of clicking the buttons for them, you can just show people where they need to click to do something without giving you control of their PC (Figure E).
Screen recorder in the Snipping Tool
If you’re sending a bug report or training a colleague, being able to share a video of what you’re doing on screen can be a big help. You could already make a screen recording from the Game Bar, but that’s not something enterprises will necessarily be comfortable with — now there’s a screen recorder in the Snipping Tool (Figure F).
Tabs in Notepad
Microsoft told TechRepublic that enterprises have been keen to see the new option of having tabs in Notepad. This was originally promised for an update last year, though it’s now part of the March 2023 Windows 11 update (Figure G).
Windows 365 app is out of preview
Enterprises will appreciate closer integration with Microsoft 365 on the Start menu. If you have Windows 11 Pro on an Azure AD-joined device and Microsoft 365, you’ll get the same suggestions for recommended files that colleagues have shared with you or been working on recently that you see in the Office app and web site.
The Windows 365 app for using cloud PCs from your taskbar has been in preview in the Microsoft Store, and now it has reached general availability (Figure H).
Voice access feature for controlling a PC is out of preview
The same is true for the voice access feature for controlling a PC by talking to it: Voice commands work in both apps like Word and File Explorer (Figure I).
Energy recommendations in Windows 11
Possibly less relevant for organizations who already manage these settings but welcome for anyone needing to keep their electricity bill low: Windows 11 will now suggest how to have your PC use less power (Figure J).
Link more phones to work with Windows 11
Some iPhone users can use Phone Link to pair Windows PC and iPhone
iPhone users who are in the Windows Insider channels will be able to start trying out Phone Link for iOS, although it’s only available to a small number of people initially (Figure K).
iCloud on Windows 11 already syncs with the Windows 11 Photos app without you having to upload photos through File Explorer, but if you wanted to get text messages, phone calls and notifications from iOS on your PC the same way you can with Android phones, you had to install Intel’s Unison app, which may not work on all PCs.
Phone Link pairs your iPhone and PC over Bluetooth using a QR code, and at least to start with, it has fewer features than if you were using an Android device or Unison — only calls, messages and contacts will show up on your PC screen, not notifications, and you will not be able to use phone apps from your PC. You also can’t reply to group messages or send media in messages.
Phone Link for iOS is built using the standard Bluetooth profiles and features like AppClips for onboarding to which all iOS developers have access. It is not something Microsoft and Apple are building together.
“Like other iPhone continuity solutions, there are limits to what we can deliver through these Bluetooth profiles, and we’re excited to continue adding more functionality as we get user feedback and more capabilities become available,” Microsoft said.
There’s now a widget for Phone Link so you can put it in Start, along with Xbox GamePass and third-party widgets for apps like Spotify and Facebook Messenger, or custom widgets for your own organization. You still can’t turn off the News widget if you just don’t want to see the headlines (Figure L).
Turn your Samsung Android device into a hotspot from Windows
Microsoft also said it is “making the connection even stronger between an Android device and a Windows PC,” but that’s really just for Samsung users.
You can turn a Samsung phone into a personal hotspot from Windows, rather than needing to pull out your phone and change the settings there, and see web pages you’ve recently opened on a Samsung phone inside Phone Link rather than needing to look them up under Tabs from other devices from the history inside Edge.
Enterprises can control some new Windows 11 features
As promised, any of these new features that Microsoft thinks might be “disruptive to organizations” because they add new experiences and apps or remove existing capabilities will be off by default for enterprise and education customers who use Windows Update for Business or WSUS.
This can be avoided by turning on a new policy setting: “Enable features introduced via servicing that are off by default” in Group Policy; or AllowTemporaryEnterpriseFeatureControl in Configuration Service Provider Policy.
In particular, Microsoft told TechRepublic that users who log in with Azure AD or Active Directory accounts will not see the new Bing experience.
“We know many of our customers are excited about Bing, and the new search experience we announced in Windows,” Microsoft said.” We are exploring how we can bring the same innovations to our commercial customers, while providing the proper controls and ample time so they can deploy these experiences in a way that works for their organization.”
If you want to control whether users see the search box that they can type into on the taskbar rather than just a search icon, you can set the ConfigureSearchOnTaskbarMode to icon or search box.
For the other features like the collapsing taskbar on touch devices, which is off by default, you can turn that temporary control policy on and off. Turning it off will remove the new features again when you reboot, so you can use it to check out new options quickly. Once you’ve assessed the features, you can turn on the ones you want to give staff access to using your usual tools and the 2303 build number.
When will these new Windows 11 features be available?
If you want to try these new Windows 11 features now, they are included in today’s update preview, so you can go to Windows Update now and choose Check For Updates. Other Windows 11 users should get the features as part of the March 2023 monthly security updates on Patch Tuesday, which will be on March 14.
As usual, the Windows team will use the results of these early installations to check how well the features are working on a wider range of PCs, so if problems start showing up, the full availability may be delayed.
“We anticipate full availability for all devices on Windows 11, version 22H2 (all editions) in the March 2023 monthly security update release,” Microsoft said.
Some of the Windows 11 improvements are in apps that come from the Windows Store. In order to get those improvements, you just have to update the apps.
Read next: Eight Windows 11 features currently in development (TechRepublic)