Microsoft improves File Explorer in Windows 11 testing, but appears to have second thoughts about some Copilot ideas

Windows 11 just received a new preview build and it makes a number of important changes to the central pillar of the operating system’s interface, File Explorer – and there’s an interesting announcement about Copilot here, too.

As you may be aware, File Explorer is what you’re using when opening folders on your desktop, and Windows 11 got web browser-style tabs in these folders courtesy of the first major update for the OS (at the end of 2022).

In the new build 22635 in the Beta channel, Microsoft has introduced the ability to easily duplicate a tab in File Explorer.

All you need to do is right-click on an existing tab, and there’s a new option to duplicate it – click that and a second copy of the tab will be opened. It’s a neat shortcut if you want to dive deeper into other folders inside a particular folder, while keeping that original folder open.

On top of this, the preview build ushers in multiple fixes for this part of the interface, including the solution for a memory leak when working with ZIP folders in a File Explorer window. A fix has also been implemented for an issue which means the spacing between icons in File Explorer becomes very wide.

There’s also a cure for a bug where a search wouldn’t work the first time you tried it, and it’d return no results. Microsoft also notes that it: “Fixed a few issues impacting File Explorer reliability.”

There’s not much else happening in build 22635 – check out the blog post for the full list of other tweaks – but Microsoft has taken a notable step back with Copilot.

The company notes that over the past few months in Windows 11 preview builds, it has tried out a few new ideas with the AI assistant, observing that: “Some of these experiences include the ability for Copilot in Windows to act like a normal application window and the taskbar icon animating to indicate that Copilot can help when you copy text or images. We have decided to pause the rollouts of these experiences to further refine them based on user feedback.”

Analysis: Some careful thought is required for Copilot visibility

It’s interesting to see that feedback has resulted in a halt on those Copilot experiments, though obviously Microsoft is careful not to say exactly why these changes have been rescinded (for now).

We were particularly skeptical about having Copilot effectively waving its hands at you from the taskbar, with that animation declaring it can help with something, so we aren’t too surprised Microsoft is having a careful think about how to proceed here.

If there is any behavior along those sorts of lines, it’ll have to be subtle, and users will need the ability to switch it off, if they don’t want animations on the icon (which is also happening with widgets on the taskbar, too). We’ll be keeping a close eye on Microsoft’s moves in this respect.

The work on File Explorer is good to see, and should make it more stable and reliable overall. Duplicate tabs are a useful shortcut to have brought in, as well, and were only recently spotted hidden in test builds, so Microsoft has moved pretty swiftly to officially introduce this change.

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Copilot AI’s mission to infiltrate the Windows 11 desktop appears to have advanced another step

Copilot is creeping into another corner of the Windows 11 interface, it seems, with the AI assistant seen in the context menu of File Explorer.

This is still in test builds of Windows 11, mind, and not officially either. Windows Latest flagged up the change, which was first noticed by PhantomOfEarth, a well-known leaker on X (formerly Twitter) who previously picked up on clues that File Explorer integration was inbound for Copilot back in January 2024.

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Now we can see how the context menu option will work, enabling you to right click on a file, and choose to send it to Copilot – open the AI’s panel with the file active, as if you’d dragged it in there – or to elect to ‘summarize’ the file. The latter choice being the standard option for Copilot to summarize a document or PDF for example.

Even though we’ve caught a glimpse of the menu now, it still doesn’t work (which is why it isn’t officially running in Windows 11 previews – yet). As Windows Latest makes clear, if you click to summarize, a summary isn’t provided.

Other options may be added down the line, too. In fact, it’s very likely we’ll see a ‘rewrite’ choice for example, allowing for rewriting a document, another task Copilot is currently capable of.

Analysis: Copilot’s future flight path

We can expect to see Copilot’s tendrils snaking into all parts of the Windows 11 interface eventually, which may not be to everyone’s tastes.

Those who don’t want to use the AI, or even see it in Windows at all, can ignore it, or turn off the functionality for the time being (one way or another) – but there will come a point where Copilot will be the beating heart of Microsoft’s OS, and you’ll have to use AI, like it or not. Although the functionality provided will probably be pretty advanced and undeniably useful (or indeed indispensable) at that stage.

This particular move is not a big intrusion into the desktop, though. We’re talking about an extra line in the right-click menu, and perhaps Microsoft will be incorporating an option to turn it off as well. In the same way you can remove the Copilot icon from the taskbar if you wish – maybe there’ll be a way to switch all the AI’s functions off with an easy flick of a toggle. (Or an instruction, perhaps: “Copilot, remove yourself from all parts of my Windows 11 interface” – we wouldn’t bank on it, mind).

As long as users have a choice, that’s a good thing, but as we’ve already said, in the future we feel there likely won’t be a choice as such because Copilot will pretty much become Windows, or the central pillar of the OS. Windows 2030 might just be called Copilot 2030.

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Google’s Nearby Share tool appears to adopt Samsung’s similar utility name and we wonder what’s going on

Google has suddenly changed the name of its file-sharing tool from Nearby Share to Quick Share which is what Samsung calls its own tool.

It’s a random move that has people scratching their heads wondering what it could mean for Android in the future. This update appears to have been discovered by industry insider Kamila Wojiciechowska who displayed her findings on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter). Wojiciechowska revealed that she received a notification on her phone informing her of the change after installing Google Mobile Services version 23.50.13. 

In addition to the new name, Google altered the logo for the feature as well as the user interface. The logo will now consist of two arrows moving toward each other in a half-circle motion on a blue background. Regarding the UI, it will now display a Quick Settings tile for fast configuration, text explaining what the various options do, and an easier-to-use interface. There’s even a new ability, allowing people to restrict Quick Share visibility down to ten minutes.

Wojieciechowska states this update is not widely available nor is the Nearby Share change common among the people who do receive the patch. This may be something only a handful will receive. She admits to being confused as to why Google is doing this, although it appears this could be the start of a new collaboration between the two companies according to found evidence.

Start of a new partnership

Android Authority in their report claims Wojieciechowska discovered proof of a “migration education flow” for Quick Share after digging through the Play Services app. This could suggest Google and Samsung are combining their file-sharing tools into one. Or at the very least, “making them interoperable”. 

If this is the case, two of the biggest Android brands coming together to unify their services could be a huge benefit for users. Currently separate and similarly behaving features might, if this is any evidence, coalesce into one that’ll work with both Galaxy and non-Galaxy smartphones alike. It's a quality-of-life upgrade that'll reduce software clutter.

Android Authority makes it clear, though, that there isn’t any concrete proof stating the two tools will merge. It’s just given the set of circumstances that seems to be the case. Plus, the whole thing wouldn’t make sense if it wasn’t the result of an upcoming collaboration. Think about it. Why would Google decide to give one of its mobile tools the same name as one of its competitor’s software? That might confuse users. 

There has to be something more to it so we reached out to both companies for more information. This story will be updated at a later time.

Until then, check out TechRadar's list of the best smartphone for 2023.

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Microsoft’s closing of free upgrade loophole appears to be breaking some Windows 11 and 10 PCs

Microsoft recently closed a loophole that allowed people to continue to access the free upgrade to Windows 10 (and then Windows 11), from Windows 7 or 8, but it appears there’s been an unwelcome side-effect here.

Namely that those who have previously taken the free upgrade offer in years past have reportedly found that their license key is suddenly deactivated.

Let’s outline a quick example to make the situation clearer. Say you owned a PC with Windows 7 way back when, then took the free upgrade to Windows 10 when it emerged. And down the road, you further upgraded to Windows 11.

So, you’ve been happily carrying on with your Windows 11 PC, but last week – since the mentioned loophole was closed – you decided to upgrade your graphics card.

After that upgrade, you found that Windows 11 is telling you that your license key isn’t valid – so you have to buy a new one.

That’s what has happened to The Verge, and some of its readers, and other folks who have been complaining about the situation on Reddit and other online platforms.

Okay, so it’s not clear how many Windows 11 and 10 users this is happening to, but it’s certainly occurring in some circumstances. It may arise without a hardware component upgrade, The Verge suggests, and the deactivation of the license could even take place due to a simple BIOS update.

Reader Daniel Mittelman tells a story of having his activation blocked after upgrading some hardware in his PC, and he contacted Microsoft customer support about the problem.

Mittelman observes: “They told me because my Windows 10 license had been upgraded from Windows 7, and that they had discontinued support for Windows 7 product keys, that they could not continue my license for Windows 10 Pro after the hardware change.

“They also acknowledged that changing the hardware is not a violation of the Windows license so there is no reason my Windows 10 license should be revoked or altered in any way.”

Analysis: Microsoft is investigating, thankfully

That’s the key point here, of course. While you can’t get an entirely new PC and use a Windows license from your existing computer – it’s tied to one machine – upgrading components should not mess with your license (it’s still the same PC, just with a bit of it swapped out, or maybe several bits).

So, this shouldn’t be happening, and as theorized it may be something to do with Microsoft squashing the upgrade path from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10/11. That free offer officially expired a year after the launch of Windows 10, but remained an unofficial route until just recently when Microsoft finally did away with it.

Microsoft is looking into this issue, you’ll be glad to hear.

Principal product manager of Windows at Microsoft, Bill Babonas, told The Verge: “Microsoft is aware of these customers reports and is investigating. Customers who are experiencing technical difficulties should contact customer support.”

You can use Windows without activating the OS, it should be noted, but there are a sizeable number of limitations including not being able to customize the operating system, and indeed not getting updates (except critical security patches). There are other annoyances such as a watermark and pop-ups nagging to activate Windows, too. In short, it’s far from ideal to be limping along in this manner…

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