Ever since I got my first Apple II in 1980, I’ve marveled how computers and now phones and even some cars get better over time. Both Apple and Microsoft typically provide major updates on an
Larry Magid (Gary Reyes / Mercury News)
annual basis, and this week, Microsoft started offering an update to its Windows 11 operating system.
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Before I go on, not every PC has Windows 11 and some PCs aren’t eligible for the update. I had to trade-in a three year old machine last year to get from Windows 10 to Windows 11 and, if it weren’t for the fact that I needed to be able to write about the newest version of Windows, I probably wouldn’t have spent the money. Windows 10 is just fine and continues to get vital security updates.
But if you have Windows 11 or a machine that can accommodate it, you can now give WIndows 11 a new coat of paint by downloading the 2022 update. If you don’t have Windows 11, you can Google “Windows Health Check” to locate a downloadable tool to determine if your PC is eligible.
This 2022 free update is different from the regular security updates that Microsoft issues throughout the year in that it also provides additional features and even new software. If you’re a Mac user, don’t despair. Apple is expected to soon release a new version of its Macintosh operating system.
The new Windows update, according to Microsoft, is designed to make the “PC easier and safer to use for everyone, and to deliver “added security, management and flexibility to the workplace,” It also adds some productivity tools, including a new video editor called Clipchamp as well as what Microsoft calls “focus sessions” to automatically turn on do not disturb and silence annoying notifications. You can initiate a focus session from the clock app by telling Windows how many minutes you want to remain undisturbed.
Microsoft has also improved its Snap feature that it introduced last year. Snap helps you neatly arrange your windows on the screen to make the most of your screen space. It’s especially helpful when you are running multiple programs and want to switch your attention between them. Now you can more easily relocate a window by dragging it to the top of your screen to reveal a layout where you can place the window. You can also use this feature to place browser tabs on different parts of the screen. I have two screens attached to my desktop PC which makes this feature even more handy because it allows me to more easily manage multiple windows that I have open. I must admit, though, that this feature takes awhile to get used to, and there are still times when I have to unearth windows that are hidden under other windows.
Sounds more like a human
There are numerous accessibility features letting you select an improved natural voice that sounds more like a human than a computer. One of their voices is called “guy” and you can hear a sample at larrysworld.com/narration.
Microsoft has also improved its dictation feature, allowing you to dictate commands including using your voice to open apps, similar to what you can do on phones using Siri, “hey Google” or “hi Bixby.” Voice recognition has gotten a lot better over the years, and it’s now possible to use built-in tools to dictate memos and other documents with relatively few errors. Personally, I still prefer to type when I’m at a PC, but voice recognition can be incredibly empowering for some people.
Microsoft is also adding the ability to capture in-person conversations via the PC’s microphone.
New security features include Smart App Control to “protect users from running untrusted or unsigned applications often associated with malware or attack tools,” according to Microsoft. It uses artificial intelligence “based on the 43 trillion security signals gathered daily, to predict if an app is safe.”
There are also tools to help protect PCs from drivers that have been infected with malware.
There are also improvements to Windows Defender anti-malware program as well as other under-the-hood security updates.
Video conferencing, gaming and energy efficiency
Although not as well known as Zoom, Windows has a built-in video conferencing app called Teams which lets you have face-to-call video calls with individuals or groups of people.
You can now access Teams from a Chat button on the toolbar, and Teams has improved features including the ability to track your eye movement to maintain eye contact, ability to blur your background and Automatic framing. The company is also working to improve the gaming experience.
Microsoft is also trying to make PCs more energy efficient both to reduce power for environmental reasons and to keep laptops running longer on battery charge. That includes using data obtained online to schedule updates during times when there are fewer local carbon emissions, as well as improvements to sleep and power management settings.
I updated my desktop PC only minutes before starting to write this column, so my experience is limited, but the installation process went smoothly, and everything seems to be working as advertised. It did take several minutes, including having to re-start my PC several times, so I recommend you do an upgrade when you have time to spare. I also recommend backing up your data before any major changes to your PC just in case there’s a glitch.
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Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.