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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Upcoming Windows 11 update could improve how you copy and paste

Windows 11 looks like it could offer some smart new tricks with copying and pasting in the future, including intelligently determining what you’re cutting or copying, then offering to open a relevant app to paste into.

Windows Latest uncovered clues pertaining to a Smart Clipboard and Smart Actions after digging around in the latest preview builds of Windows 11 and finding a number of experimental flags for these features.

Those flags refer to a ‘Smart Clipboard UX’ and ‘Smart Install App Recommendation’ among other bits of functionality, with Windows Latest theorizing that this Smart Clipboard would have a different keyboard shortcut – and be separate to the current Clipboard – and would allow users to directly transfer rich content straight into apps.

As an example, say you copied an email address. In this case, Smart Clipboard would immediately suggest to directly paste this into Outlook (opening the app, and placing the copied address in a blank message).

Depending on what you’re cutting or copying, different apps could be recommended as a destination, and the whole system would be powered by AI, meaning that Windows 11 should learn the tasks you commonly perform, and become more accurate with its suggestions as time goes on.


Analysis: Revamping even the most basic computing tasks

Cutting or copying and pasting is such a basic task, it’s something that’s doubtless pretty much hardwired into your daily computing activities – an action you perform without even thinking about it.

And while you wouldn’t imagine there’s much you can do with such a basic piece of functionality, it’s good to see that Microsoft is thinking about innovating in these kinds of spaces – the core nuts-and-bolts of the Windows 11 experience.

Machine learning-powered suggested apps for whatever you’re cutting or copying could be a neat addition to make working within Microsoft’s OS that bit more streamlined. And if you don’t want them, then you don’t have to use the new function; at least if it works the way Windows Latest is describing.

That said of course, all of this is just speculation based on some nuggets of info hidden away in Windows 11, and we don’t know if Microsoft has any firm plans to develop such a Smart Clipboard. It could remain experimental tweaking that never sees the light of day, for all we know. Or we might just see this Clipboard revamp later this year when the big 22H2 update rolls out, and if that’s the case, the feature should hit testing before too long.

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How to improve your digital front door with WebOps

Online shopping and ecommerce have become more important over the last two years. According to the Office for National Statistics, Internet sales accounted for 27.1% of all retail activity in the UK at the start of 2022. 

During the first four months of the pandemic, more than 85,000 companies implemented new online stores or joined ecommerce platforms in the UK, based on research by Growth Intelligence. Consumers were pushed to ecommerce, which went up from 81% to 95% in Europe according to a 2020 survey by McKinsey.

All this activity led to more companies building and launching sites to interact with their customers. However, these digital experiences need to be kept up to date over time, which can be harder than getting started in the first place. 

For instance, website updates involve both technical requirements and new content posting. Security updates, changes to site plug-ins and new digital services would all require developer and IT team support, while changing brand assets or adding more content might fall under the remit of the marketing team. However, all those changes will come in at the same time, making the process more complicated.

WebOps and Collaboration

The biggest challenge around managing web operations is the number of potential stakeholders involved. Aside from developers responsible for creating any code that runs those digital services on the site, there are the IT operations staff responsible for running the systems involved. There is the marketing team, responsible for the content and assets on the site, and there is the brand team that looks at the design and delivery side.

Each one of these roles will have a hand in the success of a site over time, and they will be responsible for business goals that the site is used for. However, much of the time, these teams will work in their own silos rather than together.

Website Operations – or WebOps – is about breaking down those boundaries that exist around website management. WebOps establishes joint processes and goals so that marketing, developers and IT operations staff work more effectively. It is based on the principles of DevOps and having more collaboration, rather than stakeholders working to their goals in separate silos. WebOps works by putting all website project work in context of that bigger business goal. 

This can involve getting over some of the pre-conceptions that teams have of each other. For example, marketing departments today are driven by technology rather than solely by advertizing. 

Rather than being solely about creative work like brand and positioning, marketing teams today have to build and track customer journeys, deploy personalization tools, and automate customer relationships. These activities rely on online interactions to track engagement and preferences, which then inform the unique next steps in a customer’s journey with the brand. 

Similarly, content marketing activities involve deploying the right assets to customers depending on their browsing habits and preferences using automation.

On the IT and software sides, solving potential problems around customer actions demands creativity too. New launches for the business will rely on integrating software and creative assets into novel, innovative experiences that perform well and are available under stress. 

Delivering these kinds of projects effectively involves planning ahead and understanding workload across the whole team, rather than looking at individuals or specific departments alone. All of these tasks involve processes and timelines, which can be shared and made more visible to everyone.

This visibility can make a big difference to WebOps teams, as it helps everyone understand their responsibilities and priorities in context. For instance, it can be all too easy to assume that tasks are simple, or can be accomplished in timeframes that are not realistic. 

For example, marketing may assume that updating a website is the same as accepting an update to an application on their desktop, while IT operations teams may think brand refreshes are simply about new logos. The work required on both the IT and the marketing sides is often more involved and more complex than it is given credit for.

All sides in this have more in common than they might think. WebOps approaches can help define the goals that all the stakeholders have around website developments. This involves looking at the overall business goals that the organization has, and then how each team contributes to those aims. 

For instance, IT teams will see how brand updates can make a difference to company performance and customer acquisition goals, while the marketing department will find out exactly how much work goes into updating all the sites that a company may operate for security.

Making it easier to serve content

This recognition of what really goes on across teams or departments is an essential building block for more collaboration. Once teams understand the pressures they are under as part of delivering an overall goal, it is easier to make changes so that everyone pulls in the same direction. This makes work around website projects easier for everyone.

Similarly, you can break down some of the silos that exist around how sites are implemented and maintained. Rather than relying on developers to manage content updates, you can decouple your content management system (CMS) from the web front-end systems. This means that marketing teams can launch new content and iterate on their campaigns as soon as they’re ready. That agility is what drives results, as it allows marketers to quickly respond to market opportunities and serve customers with experiences that resonate. 

Using headless content management systems alongside your website platform like Drupal or WordPress means that marketers can implement their updates faster, rather than having to break into developer workflows to get changes made. This can also make it easier for them to review the effect that those content changes might have, rather than relying on back and forth between different teams, which slows down the whole process.

The aim for WebOps

WebOps is about removing the barriers between teams that exist around website development. Rather than compartmentalising teams and their goals, WebOps ensures everyone involved understands what their work builds towards. It presents a unified approach to how websites are managed across technical, brand and experience parameters.

This understanding is essential to keep up with the demands that customers have for a better digital experience. 

Company websites are the digital front door for more businesses than ever before, so simplifying the process to host, update and manage those sites is essential. With WebOps, all companies can improve their internal processes and deliver results faster.

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Windows 11 finally catches up with macOS to improve Bluetooth

Windows 11 is improving how Bluetooth devices are displayed on the Taskbar, with a new interactive overview of battery life and options to connect to these devices in an upcoming update.

Since Windows XP in 2001, there's been a constant Bluetooth icon in the Taskbar that would show you options such as available devices, as well as a link to the Bluetooth Settings in the Control Panel.

But with wireless devices more common than ever before in 2022, Microsoft has decided to make the process simpler by replacing this 20-year method with an overview of the devices that are paired to your PC, without having to leave the app or the desktop.

This is yet another example of the company making processes easier for users in Windows 11, but there's still more work to do in this area, with features that macOS users have had for years.


Analysis: From three clicks to one

Windows 11 old Bluetooth settings

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Connecting to wireless devices has never been as straightforward as connecting to a Wi-Fi network in Windows. Simply adding a Bluetooth section in Settings or the Control Panel felt unnecessary, especially with smartphones and Macs reducing the process to two steps.

The Taskbar in Windows 11 has had a Quick Settings feature since its launch in October 2021, so you can directly access 'Focus' mode, audio settings, and more without leaving the app you were currently in.

With Bluetooth being available in this panel as well, it will be very handy to those who have multiple devices connected to their PCs. This is rolling out to users who are on Windows Insider build 2567 and above. If you've not signed up to be a Windows Insider to help test early versions of Windows 11, this new and improved Bluetooth functionality will hopefully arrive later this year.

It should be worth the wait, especially if you have multiple game controllers or headphones, it can help alleviate the confusion to be given a quick overview of what's not connected, and quickly resolve that.

Having a battery status for each device will be a great help too in reminding users to charge them when needed.

Quick settings for Bluetooth in macOS

(Image credit: TechRadar)

However, there's still more that can be done in this area. Other features such as switching between noise-canceling and equalizer modes for headphones could be a great help, similar to what Apple users have had on their Macs for a few years.

But it's still a great step in the right direction to start with, and a much-needed feature in a time when many of us use Bluetooth devices almost every day for our PCs.

Via WindowsLatest

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