Microsoft could soon improve this divisive Windows 11 feature

Windows 11 looks like it might soon support third-party widgets, as another clue that they could be imminent has popped up courtesy of an eagle-eyed Twitter user.

FireCube did some digging and spotted that the widget manifest has been updated to reference downloading widgets – tiny apps that provide at-a-glance info, such as the current weather, or local traffic – from the Microsoft Store.

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The text informing users that they can “download new widgets and widget updates in Microsoft Store” is another piece of evidence that the eventual plan is to let developers put their third-party widgets in the Store, and allow Windows 11 users to download whatever they want.

The widgets panel would then be more useful, of course, with a bigger range of options and plenty more scope for customization, compared to the current situation where people can only use Microsoft’s own widgets in the panel.

As Windows Central, which spotted this, points out, its own Zac Bowden – a prolific source of Microsoft leaks – has previously said that the widget panel is expected to be getting third-party efforts, plus new features, and indeed that developers have already been briefed as to how third-party widgets will function. Previous leaks have pointed to third-party widgets being inbound, too.

Analysis: Expanding the widget panel in more ways than one

Bowden made those comments in December 2021, four months ago now, and with this latest spotting of a nugget of evidence that Microsoft is preparing to implement third-party widgets, it seems a firm enough possibility that they will debut at some point in 2022.

Would that be with the big H2 2022 (Sun Valley 2) update? Maybe, but given that Microsoft has been adding stuff to Windows 11 as and when it likes so far this year – witness the recent arrival of some big interface changes outside of major feature updates – then maybe this clue turning up now is a sign we could be installing third-party widgets in the OS sooner rather than later.

As for the other plans Microsoft has for the widget panel, at its recent Windows 11 reveal, we did catch a glimpse of a full-screen panel; so that could be in the pipeline too (and it’d provide more screen real-estate to populate with third-party widgets).

The widget panel is, of course, a divisive feature, and some folks really don’t appreciate it, viewing it as a rather pointless element of the UI. Its usefulness is certainly limited in its current form, being restricted to Microsoft services (like OneDrive, for example, and the likes of MSN weather).

Opening up the ability to add a huge range of new widgets from all over the shop would certainly help to make the panel a more compelling feature for Windows 11, and markedly improve the perception of this part of the interface.

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Windows 11 is getting one of Windows 10’s most divisive features

Windows 11 has a new preview build which reintroduces the weather widget to the taskbar, plus it adds new voice features on the accessibility front.

Windows 10 users are familiar with the ‘News and interests’ widget, which shows the local weather (and temperature) on the taskbar, and by default when hovered over, highlights a full weather report, breaking news, sports and other miscellany which can be customized (or you can turn it off).

This was ditched from the taskbar with Windows 11, but now with the latest preview build 22518, Microsoft has brought back a weather widget, which is billed as a new ‘entry point’ for widgets on the taskbar.

It sits on the far-left of the default taskbar, and displays the weather just as with ‘News and interests’, and when hovered over pops up the widgets board, complete with whatever widgets you’ve loaded up, plus the headline news panel underneath.

This replaces the old (default) scheme of things with Windows 11, whereby the widget board had a normal-sized icon grouped with the Start button in the middle of the taskbar. Shifting it to the left to sit on its own, and giving it a full weather display, makes it far more prominent as was the case with Windows 10.

Other changes brought in with build 22518 include voice access, a feature that allows for control of core elements of Windows 11 using just your voice. So you can give voice commands to open/close or switch apps, to search via your web browser, plus they can be used to interact with buttons or menus, or to control the mouse, or dictate text.

There’s a lot of functionality here, and Microsoft has provided a full list of voice controls you can peruse. Note that this is only available to testers with Windows display language set to English-US.

Finally, Microsoft has brought the Spotlight collection to the desktop, so those enticing pics you get on the Lock Screen can appear as your background, and these will be switched for other “beautiful new desktop pictures from around the world” every day.

Analysis: Unnecessary clutter returns… But voice features are great

The ‘News and interests’ widget proved pretty controversial on Windows 10, and not popular with some folks, so there will likely be a number of Windows 11 testers grimacing to see its effective return to the taskbar. While it’s tucked away on the left, it’s quite a large presence on the taskbar, and sometimes an annoying one when you accidentally brush the mouse over it, and the panel pops up briefly.

Of course, it’s still only in testing, and might not make the cut for release based on feedback – we shall have to see. And you can still hide the widgets icon if you prefer, so there are options to deal with it, as ever. (It reverts back to a small icon if you’re using a left-aligned taskbar, sitting next to the Task view icon, by the way, as it would obviously be way too jarring for it to displace the Start button in that layout).

While the weather widget may remain divisive, implementing a whole new level of voice control with Windows 11 is great to see. Many of the controls here, incidentally, appear to have been brought over from Nuance’s Dragon speech recognition package; if you recall, Microsoft bought Nuance back in April 2021. This looks like the start of Microsoft really ramping up voice controls with Windows 11.

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