Microsoft could make a big change to part of the Windows 11 Start menu – one you might love or hate

Microsoft could be reworking a major part of the Start menu in Windows 11, or at least there are changes hidden in testing right now which suggest this.

As flagged up by a regular contributor of Windows leaks, PhantomOfEarth on X (formerly Twitter), the Start menu could end up with a very different layout for the ‘All apps’ panel.

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Currently, this presents a list of all the applications installed on your system in alphabetical order, but if this change comes to fruition, the panel will be switched to a grid-style layout (as shown in the above tweet) rather than a long list.

Note that this move is not visible in preview testing yet, and the leaker had to dig around in Windows 11 – a preview build in the Beta channel specifically – to find it (using ViVeTool, a configuration utility).


Analysis: 10X better?

What this means is that you’ll be able to see a lot more of the installed software in the ‘All apps’ panel at one time, with a whole host of icons laid out in front of you in said grid, rather than having a list with a very limited number of icons in comparison.

On the flipside, this looks a bit busier and less streamlined, with the alphabetical list being neater. Also, some have noted the resemblance to Windows 10X with this hidden change (which might provoke unwelcome OS flashbacks for some).

As ever, some might lean towards the list of installed apps, or some may not, and prefer the new grid-based view instead – which leads us to our next point: why not offer a choice of either layout, based on the user’s preference? A simple toggle somewhere could do that trick.

We shall see what happens, but bear in mind that this grid layout concept might go precisely nowhere in the end. Microsoft could just be toying with the idea, and then abandon it down the line, before even taking it live in testing.

If we do see it go live in Windows 11 preview builds, odds are it’ll be incoming maybe with Windows 11 24H2 later this year – fingers crossed with that mentioned toggle.

Via Windows Latest

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Windows 10’s lock screen ruined? Not for everyone, but new feature rolling out is a love or hate thing

Windows 10 is getting a new feature for the lock screen, furnishing it with some extras that you’ll either approve of or detest, if the reaction online thus far is anything to go by.

Ever-present leaker and keen delver into the hidden depths of Windows 11 preview builds, PhantomOfEarth, posted a screenshot of the new lock screen cards on X (formerly Twitter).

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As the leaker explains, this is a feature rolling out in Windows 10 in the Release Preview channel, with build 19045.4235, so not everyone will have it. But if it hasn’t reached them yet, testers can force the functionality to work using ViVeTool (a Windows configuration utility).

These lock screen cards show the current weather and other bits and pieces like scores from sports matches, stock market happenings, local traffic, and so forth. In other words, info you may – or may not – find useful.

As PhantomOfEarth points out, the weather card has been tweaked to make it look better, although there’s a sticking point here: you can either have all of these cards displayed, or none of them. There’s no option to pick and choose if you don’t want, say, the finance-related card.


Analysis: Bloat on the landscape

For those thinking – wait a minute, didn’t Microsoft stop adding features for Windows 10, and there is a comment to that effect on X – well, the firm adopted that as a policy for a short while, before having a rethink.

In short, work is still being done with developing new features for Windows 10, such as this particular addition – but don’t expect a massive amount to be piped through over the next year and a half of Windows 10’s remaining shelf life.

One cynical soul replying to the above tweet suggests the work that is being done is only there to make you upgrade to Windows 11, which is clearly very harsh, but the point being made is that there are folks who don’t like this change. They see these cards as rather pointless bloat that’ll slow down your PC a touch, perhaps.

Mind you, the info cards aren’t compulsory – you can turn them off if you don’t like them. Although as PhantomOfEarth says, it’d be nice if you could turn off selected cards, rather than just switching off the whole lot – choice is always good – but perhaps Microsoft will make it work this way in the future. We are still in the testing phase, after all, although this change will be coming to Windows 10 soon enough.

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Hate taxes? H&R Block’s new AI chatbot aims to reduce your tax frustrations

Like a spoonful of mustard or mayonnaise — or perhaps you prefer sriracha? — it seems no software recipe is complete these days without a dollop of generative AI. The groundbreaking technology plays games better than you, writes songs for you … heck, it can even be your girlfriend (to each their own). And now it can help you with life’s most vexing challenge: taxes.

In mid-December, H&R Block quietly announced AI Tax Assist, a generative AI tool powered by Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service. The new offering leverages the tax giant’s decades of experience in tax prep and leans on its stable of more than 60,000 tax pros to answer your thorniest questions about U.S. and state tax laws: Can I deduct this new laptop? Is this a personal expense or a business one? How many roads must a man walk down, before travel is officially part of his job?

We see AI as one of the defining technologies of our time.

Sarah Bird, Responsible AI, Microsoft

In a press preview on Thursday, January 25, in New York City, H&R Block announced another new tool designed to simplify importing last year’s tax returns from the competition. And it offered TechRadar the opportunity to try out the new AI assistant software and talk about the future of tax prep.

“We see AI as one of the defining technologies of our time … but only if we do it responsibility,” explained Sarah Bird, who serves as global lead for responsible AI at Microsoft. (Bird was virtual at the event, a result of possible exposure to Covid.) Microsoft’s Azure OpenAI Service lets developers easily build generative AI experiences, using a set of prebuilt and curated models from OpenAI, Meta and beyond. Her team helps companies like H&R Block ensure that their tools use the highest quality training data, guide you with clever prompts, and so on. “It’s really a best practices implementation in terms of responsible AI,” she said.

H&R Block notes that the tech will not file or even fill out your forms; it merely answers questions. But if you’re hesitant to even ask AI for tax advice, you have good reason. The tech is notorious for hallucinations, where it simply invents the answers to questions if it can’t find the right answer. Some experts worry that problem may never be solved. “This isn’t fixable,” Emily Bender, a linguistics professor at UW's Computational Linguistics Laboratory, told the Associated Press last fall. “It’s inherent in the mismatch between the technology and the proposed use cases.”

One answer to the problem is starting with the right training data. If the AI has reliable, trustworthy sources of data to pore through, it can find the right answer, saving you from hunting through the Kafka-esque bowels of the IRS to find the instruction form for Schedule B or whatever. And off-the-shelf large language models (LLMs) simply don’t have that data, explained Aditya Thadani, VP of Artificial Intelligence Platforms for H&R Block. Ask ChatGPT 4 a question, he noted, and you risk missing out on what’s new: The cut-off date for that LLM's data sources is April of 2023.

“The IRS has released a number of changes since then,” he told attendees at the H&R Block event. “They’re making changes well into December and January, well into the tax season. We’re making sure you get all that information.”

To try out the new system, TechRadar sat down with some sample data and asked a few test prompts: Am I missing any deductions? Can I deduct a car as a business expense? And so on. The chatbot offered reasonable prompts: A few paragraphs of information culled from H&R Block’s deep catalog of data, links to find more information, and so on. The company says it can answer tax theory questions, clarify tax terms, and give guidance on specific tax rules. And crucial to the entire experience: Live, human beings — CPAs even! — are always just a click away.

“When we are not absolutely sure? Don’t guess. Give a response that we are actually confident in,” Thadani said. And if you don’t get the response you are looking for from the AI, you can get it from the tax pro.”

Privacy matters: Who will see your data?

It’s hard to discuss any emerging technology without touching on privacy, and both Microsoft and H&R Block are very aware of the risks. After all, a person’s tax returns are highly personal and confidential – one reason they became such a hot-button in the US presidential elections. Should a company be allowed to train an LLM on your data?

“We’re sitting on a lot of really personal, private information,” Thadani admitted. “As much as we want to use that to answer questions effectively, we have to continue to find the balance.” So the assistant won’t remember you. It won’t ingest your tax forms to answer the questions you pose. And by design, other people won’t benefit from your questions down the road.

The new software also taps into one of the quirks of our modern software assistants. We don’t necessarily talk to them like adults. We’ve been trained to ask Alexa or the Google Assistant halting half-words and phrases. Meanwhile, chatbots can converse in natural language. H&R Block’s tool works fine in either space, Bird explained.

“It’s incredibly enabling because it allows people to speak in words they’re comfortable with,” she said. There’s the real power of technology in a nutshell: “Make a complex thing more accessible to people because the technology meets them where they’re at.”

Now if it could only help us deduct a few holiday pounds from the waistline.

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Hate the widgets board in Windows 11? Microsoft hopes you might change your mind

Windows 11 is bringing the ability to banish the clutter from the widgets panel to all users, you’ll doubtless be pleased to hear – maybe opening up this part of the interface to being used by a lot more folks.

Previously, we heard about the option to remove the news feed and adverts from the widgets panel – so it purely plays host to widgets, and nothing else – was going to be part of a package of measures for Windows 11 users in the European Economic Area (EEA).

However, it seems this is a change rolling out to all Windows 11 users, as Microsoft advised in a blog post for the new preview build in the Beta channel (22635.2841), as part of some fresh introductions to settings for the widget board.

Microsoft tells us: “One of the new settings enables you to just show widgets on your widgets board,” adding that: “The new settings experience is not limited by region.”

Note that this is in the process of being rolled out, so not all testers in the Beta channel will have it yet. Of course, it’ll take further time to be pushed to the Release Preview channel, and then onto the finished version of Windows 11 (hopefully).

Other tweaks to widget settings include the ability to change the Microsoft account used to pipe through the news feed (if you want it), so you don’t have to be stuck with the account that’s signed into Windows 11.

There are also some tweaks for Copilot, including the AI now appearing in the Alt-Tab menu (for quickly switching between apps in Windows 11), and the ability to use Copilot across multiple screens.

For the full lowdown on all the bits and pieces Microsoft is working on with this preview version, check out the blog post.


Analysis: A hopeful sign?

It seems like Microsoft is listening to feedback, because while widgets can be a useful little extra for Windows 11, there are certainly users who have shied away from the widgets panel due to its pollution with news content pulled from MSN (and ads to make matters worse).

It’s interesting to see this happen just after the negative reaction to the changes being brought in for the EEA, and not other Windows 11 users, who would very much like these choices. So, maybe more of these options will be widely rolled out, after all. We remain unconvinced about that – as the motivation behind them is to comply with regulations in Europe – but who knows.

These are some very useful features, like being able to rid the Windows 11 search box of Bing (and its web results), or the choice to be able to uninstall Microsoft’s Edge browser. Time will tell, but the testing channels are worth watching closely going forward.

In terms of widgets themselves, another useful change rumored in the past is the ability to move them off their panel and pin them to the desktop.

Via Windows Central

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Hate Copilot in Windows 11? Free privacy tools can now get rid of the AI

DoNotSpy11, a free anti-tracking tool that aims to keep your privacy levels tighter in Windows 11 (and 10), just got an update that allows it to deal with Copilot – as did O&O ShutUp10 (we’ll come back to that later).

Tom’s Hardware spotted that the new version of DoNotSpy11 (v1.2.0.0) comes with support for Windows 11 23H2, the freshly unleashed annual update for this year.

The 23H2 update comes with Copilot, as you may be aware, and drops the AI into your taskbar as a default icon. If you don’t want that, DoNotSpy11 now allows you to disable that button – although you can already do this in Windows 11 anyway.

However, beyond that, DoNotSpy11 has an option to entirely ‘Disable Copilot’ which is a new introduction in the app’s raft of measures for maintaining privacy.

There are a lot more privacy options here besides that, including disabling various elements of Windows 11 telemetry (data on usage of the OS sent back to Microsoft), getting rid of lock screen notifications, disabling widgets, and more.

DoNotSpy11 also makes a big effort to tackle a lot of Microsoft’s attempts to sneak adverts into the UI of Windows 11. That includes disabling ads in File Explorer, suggestions in Windows Ink Workspace and the Settings app, as well as Start Menu app suggestions, and more besides.

Another similar offering, O&O ShutUp10 (which supports Windows 11 as well as Windows 10), tackles Windows privacy issues and tweaks settings to evade Microsoft’s telemetry in a similar vein.

That app was recently updated to also disable Copilot, and remove the taskbar button.

You can check out and download DoNotSpy11 here, or O&O ShutUp10 here, both of which are free.


Analysis: Two long-standing options

Both DoNotSpy11 and O&O ShutUp10 have been around for some time (indeed, the former used to be DoNotSpy10 before Windows 11 existed).

We should note that the original version (the initial DoNotSpy10 for Windows 10) allegedly carried an advert-pushing plugin (ironically, for something designed to keep your privacy). This wasn’t malware, but we’re told it was identified by some antivirus apps as a potentially unwanted program (or PUP). At least the free version of DoNotSpy10 had this anyway, when it first launched, but that’s no longer the case (the product description of DoNotSpy11 is clearly marked as ’ad-free’ thankfully).

One advantage of the alternative O&O ShutUp10++ is that it doesn’t have to be installed – it can just be run directly from the download folder, which is useful.

However, in either case, you proceed at your own risk, although that’s true for any piece of third-party software for Windows 11.

Having the ability to ditch Copilot is certainly going to be a tempter for some folks who don’t want the AI on their desktop. While many users are embracing Copilot, and are excited about its potential, there will always be more cautious types who don’t want the AI on their desktop – particularly not now, in its initial stages, when Copilot’s powers to interact with Windows 11 settings are still very limited.

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Windows 11 just got a pile of nifty new features – and something you might hate

Windows 11 just got a whole bunch of new features which are now available to all-comers.

As you may, or may not, realize, the Moment 3 update turned up in the Windows-verse quite some time back, but not everyone running Windows 11 was able to install the new functionality.

When Moment 3 was first made available, it wasn’t to all PCs – just those with the ‘Get the latest updates as soon as they’re available’ option turned on. And on top of that, the update remained a staggered rollout even among those selected users, with only some folks receiving it.

Now, though, following the release of Moment 3 features in preview late last month, the full upgrade – tested and complete – is now available to anyone who wants it.

Fall into that category? Then all you have to do is head to Windows Update and check for the latest updates, and you’ll get Microsoft’s freshly released patch (KB5028185) which enables Moment 3 features.


Analysis: Some cool functionality is here – and something unwanted too

Is Moment 3 worth having? We think so, as it brings some nifty additions to the mix for Windows 11. For starters, there’s a good deal of work on the accessibility front, with the help system for Voice Access commands being revamped to give users a much better understanding of how everything works, plus there are new commands too (for selecting and editing text). On top of that, Microsoft now supports more dialects for Voice Access and more languages for live captions.

Elsewhere, some important bits of the Windows 11 interface have also been improved, such as the Settings app, Task Manager, and widget board. We discuss these changes in more depth here.

Unfortunately, there’s a sting in the tail here with what Microsoft calls the expanded rollout of “notification badging for Microsoft accounts” on the Start menu. What does that mean? More folks – but still not everyone – will be receiving nag prompts on the Start menu to sign up for a Microsoft account (or to finish configuring their account).

We’ve been voicing our opposition to this move since Microsoft kicked off this badging scheme (which would be better named badgering, as we’ve noted in the past), but it seems the software giant is determined to push ahead with it for now. These are thinly disguised adverts by any other name, even if they are designed to ‘help’ the user as Microsoft argues.

Whatever the case, the odds of seeing these badges are increasing with the delivery of Moment 3, and the update is not something you can avoid, of course. (Windows 11 Home users can only postpone a cumulative update for a short time, as they are mandatory and will be automatically installed eventually).

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Hate writing emails? Gmail will soon do it for you on iOS and Android

Tired of writing emails from your phone? Google’s AI-powered Help Me Write tool for Gmail is coming to Android and iOS to help you draft replies in no time.

Since Google I/O 2023, Google has been releasing a bunch of in-development AI tools such as its updated Google Bard chatbot and Help Me Write, its new writing assistant. Help Me Write was previously only available to enrolled Workspace testers on desktop, but now those users will be able to use it in the Gmail app on their smartphone. This hopefully points towards a wider rollout soon.

Help Me Write works in two main ways. It can edit an email you’ve already written – for example, it can shorten it if it’s too wordy, make it more sound more formal, or insert emojis to create a more casual vibe with the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ option. 

Alternatively, if you’re in a rush you can provide the tool with a quick prompt and it’ll draft the whole thing for you. You can then edit it yourself, or use the same refinements (see image below) as before to tweak the length and tone.

In testing we’ve found the AI is generally better as an editor than a writer, but if you’ve got to draft a bunch of replies to tedious emails, then letting the AI take over the bulk of the work can be a major time-saver.

To get started with Help Me Write on Android or iOS you’ll need to download the Gmail app and sign into the account that has access to the Workspace prototype. Then, when you next compose an email you should see a Help Me Write prompt appear in the bottom right corner of your screen.

The update is steadily rolling out, so even if you’re signed up for Workspace Labs you might not yet see the Help Me Write option in Gmail on mobile yet.

How to get Help Me Write

A phone on an orange background showing the Gmail Help Me Write feature in an email

(Image credit: Future)

To get access to Help Me Write and some other AI tools it’s working on you’ll need to sign up for the invite-only Google Workspace Labs and get approval.

To request this, make sure you’re logged into your Google account on your browser of choice and go to the official Workspace Labs sign-up page. After reading through some details you’ll find some consumer acknowledgments that you’ll need to check off before you can hit ‘Submit’. Do this and you’ll be signed up to Workspace Labs.

As the tools are only in beta don’t expect them to be perfect – we’d recommend reading any AI-written emails before sending them off in case you find any huge errors. You’ll also find that the AI currently uses US English – so if you’re living in a region that uses 'colour' instead of 'color' or calls aubergines 'eggplants', you might find you have to correct the AI a fair bit.

If you want to try out some other powerful AI tools, check out our guide to the best ChatGPT alternatives.

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Hate how Windows 11 looks? Windows 2000 mod (with Clippy) brings the nostalgia

Windows 11 is all about modernizing the desktop environment compared to Windows 10, but what if you wanted to go the other way and travel back in time?

You can turn back the clock with various mods, naturally, but a new effort transforms your Windows 11 installation to look like Windows 2000, complete with some functioning legacy apps and interface elements – such as Clippy. (Yes, the famous paperclip ‘assistant’ with a bad habit of interfering with your work when it wasn’t needed).

There are, however, some sizeable caveats as you might expect…

Windows Central reported on this project, which was undertaken by Redditor ExoGeniVI. The main point to be aware of is that it requires the installation of StarDock WindowBlinds, a third-party app for customizing Windows in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.

It uses a Windows 2000 theme (created by prozad94, a couple of years back) to bring back that OS in all its glory – or gray drabness, rather – and goes further than this with a bunch of other tweaking under the hood of Windows to add some past software versions into the mix (plus some nostalgic icons, too – like Fallout).

On the app front, we’re talking Internet Explorer 5.5 and Microsoft Office 2000, with the latter boasting a working Clippy, albeit with some slight visual glitches (the assistant’s transparency effect doesn’t render properly, being turned into a pink square background instead).

Windows 11 with Windows 2000 mod

(Image credit: Microsoft / ExoGeniVI / prozad94)

Analysis: Windows 11 Gray Mode

The sheer effort involved in getting all this stuff working is impressive, and as ExoGeniVI points out in the Reddit thread showing off the project, these apps actually work. Internet Explorer 5.5 loads some websites just fine, for example. However, it isn’t recommended for serious use (naturally, given how ancient it is – the security holes in IE 5.5 are wide enough for a busload of cybercriminals to be driven through, no doubt).

Indeed, this project is one of those firmly in the category of ‘showing it can be done’ rather than anything with any real practical application. As one person asked: “Why though?” To which ExoGeniVI replied: “Too much time on my hands.”

Fair enough, and with having to restore their PC twice during the process of completing this endeavor, ExoGeniVI also shows why you very probably don’t want to get involved in this level of tweaking.

The safe thing to do, if you want Windows 11 to simply look like Windows 2000, is just to use StarDock WindowBlinds to apply prozad94’s classic skin – with no ancient apps involved – and leave it like that. Even if you’re so inclined, we can’t imagine you’d want to live in such a bland, gray, Windows environment for all that long. Would you?

Via Review Geek

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Windows 11 gets overhauled Your Phone app with a new name that people hate

Microsoft has announced that it's releasing an update for the Your Phone app from today (April 1) on PCs with Windows 11, which includes a new name – Phone Links – and a redesign that lines it up with other updated Windows 11 apps.

The Your Phone app has been a useful tool since its release in October 2018. It enables you to link up your Android phone with a Windows PC, where you can sync up your contacts, messages, and some apps that are compatible.

The new Phone Links app, available as a new update as well as a companion app on the Google Play Store, features the same new design that Paint and Windows Media Player have been given in other updates to Windows 11.

However, the new name has already proved to be divisive, and makes us wonder if Microsoft is coming up with  these terrible names on purpose.


Analysis: Another bad name from Microsoft

Phone Link app in Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft has had a reputation over the years for having terrible names for its products. Whether it's Zune for its iPod-rival, or the Kin phone, which sounded outdated as soon as it launched back in 2010.

Microsoft's most recent naming confusion had been its Xbox Series consoles. Released back in November 2020, the Series S and the Series X made gamers wonder what the letters stood for. Microsoft still hasn't explained the reasoning, and probably never will.

Considering the Xbox has had '360' and 'One' to mark major releases, it's probably best to just go with the flow when it comes to Microsoft's gaming names.

To be fair, Your Phone wasn't exactly a good name to start with – users just accepted it, mainly due to how good the app has consistently been.

But, Phone Links carries on Microsoft's terrible naming tradition. Granted, your PC does link up with your Android phone, but it makes the name feel a bit on-the-nose.

Name it WinPair, Continuity, or Matchup, just to give the app some excitement at least.

But regardless, the app looks better thanks to its Windows 11 redesign, and there's still plenty of opportunities for how the app could improve for Android users in the future, especially with apps from the Amazon App Store coming to Windows 11 soon.

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Windows 11 gets overhauled Your Phone app with a new name that people hate

Microsoft has announced that it's releasing an update for the Your Phone app from today (April 1) on PCs with Windows 11, which includes a new name – Phone Links – and a redesign that lines it up with other updated Windows 11 apps.

The Your Phone app has been a useful tool since its release in October 2018. It enables you to link up your Android phone with a Windows PC, where you can sync up your contacts, messages, and some apps that are compatible.

The new Phone Links app, available as a new update as well as a companion app on the Google Play Store, features the same new design that Paint and Windows Media Player have been given in other updates to Windows 11.

However, the new name has already proved to be divisive, and makes us wonder if Microsoft is coming up with  these terrible names on purpose.


Analysis: Another bad name from Microsoft

Phone Link app in Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft has had a reputation over the years for having terrible names for its products. Whether it's Zune for its iPod-rival, or the Kin phone, which sounded outdated as soon as it launched back in 2010.

Microsoft's most recent naming confusion had been its Xbox Series consoles. Released back in November 2020, the Series S and the Series X made gamers wonder what the letters stood for. Microsoft still hasn't explained the reasoning, and probably never will.

Considering the Xbox has had '360' and 'One' to mark major releases, it's probably best to just go with the flow when it comes to Microsoft's gaming names.

To be fair, Your Phone wasn't exactly a good name to start with – users just accepted it, mainly due to how good the app has consistently been.

But, Phone Links carries on Microsoft's terrible naming tradition. Granted, your PC does link up with your Android phone, but it makes the name feel a bit on-the-nose.

Name it WinPair, Continuity, or Matchup, just to give the app some excitement at least.

But regardless, the app looks better thanks to its Windows 11 redesign, and there's still plenty of opportunities for how the app could improve for Android users in the future, especially with apps from the Amazon App Store coming to Windows 11 soon.

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