Microsoft is giving two Windows 11 apps nifty extra powers – and one of them is AI-related (surprise, surprise)

Microsoft is trying out some interesting new changes in testing for Windows 11, including bolstering a pair of core apps for the OS – with one of them getting supercharged by AI.

Those two apps are Notepad and Snipping Tool, with new versions rolling out to testers who are in the Dev and Canary channels.

The big one is Notepad which is getting an infusion of AI in the form of an ‘Explain with Copilot’ option. This allows you to select any written content in Notepad and via the right-click menu (or Ctrl + E shortcut), summon Copilot to explain more about the selected text, as you might guess.

As Microsoft notes: “You can ask Copilot in Windows to help explain log files, code segments, or any selected content directly from within Notepad.”

Windows 11 Notepad Copilot Panel

(Image credit: Microsoft)

This feature should be available to all testers in those earlier Windows Insider channels in version 11.2401.25.0 of Notepad, though Microsoft observes that some folks may not see it right away. (This is labeled as a ‘known issue’ so it’s seemingly a bug with the deployment).

What’s going on with Snipping Tool? Well, a previously leaked feature is now present in version 11.2401.32.0 in testing, namely the ability to annotate screenshots with shapes and arrows.

That’s pretty handy for composing screen grabs for the likes of instructional step-by-steps where you’ll be pointing out bits to the person following the guide.

Elsewhere in Windows 11 testing, the Beta channel has a new preview version, but there’s not all that much going on here. Build 22635.3140 does make a small but impactful change, though, for Copilot, moving the icon for the AI in the taskbar to the far right-hand side (into the system tray).

Microsoft observes that it makes more sense for the Copilot button to be on the right of the taskbar, given that the panel for the AI opens on the right, so it’ll be directly above the icon. It’s worth remembering that regarding the Copilot panel, Microsoft just made it larger, apparently as a result of feedback from users of the AI.

Analysis: Cowriter MIA?

Regarding that Beta channel tweak for the Copilot icon, that seems a fair enough adjustment to make. Although that said, rumor has it the next update for Windows 11 – which will be Moment 5 arriving later this month in theory – will allow for the ability to undock the AI so it isn’t anchored to the right side of the desktop. Still, that remains speculation for now, and even then there will be those folks who don’t undock Copilot, anyway.

As mentioned, the big testing move here is the new Notepad ability, and it’s no surprise to see more Windows 11 apps getting AI chops. The integration with Copilot here is on a pretty basic level, mind, compared to previous rumors about a fully-featured Cowriter assistant along the lines of the existing Cocreator in Paint. Still, it’s possible this is an initial move, and that a more in-depth Cowriter function could still turn up in the future at some point.

That said, Notepad is not supposed to be a complex app – the idea is it’s a lightweight and streamlined piece of software – so maybe further AI powers won’t be coming to the client.

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Windows 11’s next big update could arrive in February 2024, packing some nifty features – but it might miss some tricks too

Windows 11 could be getting its next feature drop early in 2024, courtesy of what will be the fifth ‘Moment’ update for the operating system.

As you’re likely aware by now, a Moment is the name given to smaller feature updates that arrive outside of the big annual upgrade Microsoft pushes out for Windows 11 (which was 23H2 this year).

And we just heard from Windows Central (Zac Bowden) that Moment 5 should arrive in February (indeed its alternative name is the ‘February 2024 Moment’).

That said, the catch is that this will be the initial preview release, late in the month, so the full version of the Moment 5 update won’t actually arrive until March. On the second Tuesday of the month if the typical release cadence of Microsoft’s cumulative updates is adhered to – which would make the date to mark in your diary March 12.

What will this update pack in the way of new features? Well, don’t get your hopes up for anything too exciting, as we’re told this will be a more minor release compared to some of the previous Moments.

Even so, there will be a healthy dollop of tweaks and additions, and one smart piece of functionality is targeted at stylus users – namely the ability to write directly into text fields with their pen (something Microsoft has promised will eventually be an OS-wide capability in Windows).

Voice Access is also receiving some laudable attention, including support for multiple monitors, and powerful new voice shortcuts. The latter are customizable commands allowing for the opening of files, folders, or pasting a section of boilerplate text, for example (and they can be chained together for multiple steps).

Microsoft is set to make a bunch of minor tweaks – some of which are useful, like giving Notepad a character count, and being able to rename devices with the Nearby Share feature, to make them more easily identifiable at a glance (‘Darren’s PC’ for example) – but some of the work elsewhere is purely about complying with European regulations.

Specifically, these changes are bound up in compliance, and destined for the European Economic Area (EEA). They include the choice to uninstall the Edge browser from Windows 11, as well as the ability to strip Bing out of the taskbar search box (and instead have web results piped through from an alternative, like Google).

Enabling HDR in Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: March of progress

Unfortunately, Windows 11 users outside of the EEA won’t get those latter options, but they will benefit from another move to let the user uninstall a larger number of default apps – like Photos, for example.

Furthermore, Microsoft is introducing an option to specify that the widgets panel contains just widgets, with users being able to remove the news feed. Interestingly, we’re also told that Microsoft will make it possible for other third-party services to be integrated into the panel – so you could infuse the widget board with Google news, if you wanted to.

These widget-related possibilities are coming for everyone, fortunately, not just the EEA – and we can keep our fingers crossed that the other mentioned Europe-bound changes will be rolled out more widely, too. Plenty of folks would like the ability to declutter Windows 11 a bit more by getting rid of Edge, no doubt.

Of course, we must bear in mind that these changes are all rumors, though we’ve seen all the mentioned features going through testing of late, so all of this makes sense. The release date of February (for preview) and March is the nugget of info that needs more salt applied, but Bowden is one of the more reliable sources out there for info from Microsoft. It’s always possible that an intended timeframe might slip a bit, mind.

From what we’ve heard, this could be the last Moment update before the next-gen version of Windows is launched later in 2024. Whether that will be Windows 12, or something else (Windows AI?), or if Microsoft might stick with Windows 11 (making the upgrade version 24H2), we don’t yet know, but the theory is this might be the last Moment before that next big move arrives.

As per another of Bowden’s recent rumors, Microsoft is supposedly set to switch away from Moments, releasing fewer of these updates going forward, and making more changes and feature additions in the big annual upgrade. (And yes – in short, this is returning more to the way things used to be).

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Windows 11’s Photos app is getting another nifty new feature

Those who use the Photos application in Windows 11 will be pleased to learn that another useful new feature is inbound for the tool.

It’ll allow you to strip away, or replace, the background in a photo, and it comes in the latest version of the Photos app in testing.

Microsoft has made the process dead simple – if you want to remove the background, you just click on a button, and it’s gone. You can then copy the foreground object that you’ve preserved to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere, or you can opt to just save the pic as is.

Alternatively, you can hit the replace button to take out the background and put in a solid color for a background instead. The color you want can be selected via a simple palette.

As Microsoft tells us in a blog post, as well as this capability, the Photos app now lets you easily share a photo that’s backed up on OneDrive. Simply right-clicking on the photo facilitates sending a link via an email (or you can copy that link to the clipboard for pasting wherever necessary).

Microsoft also notes that it has applied “various performance and stability updates to improve the Slideshow feature, navigation between tabs, and opening images.”

All of these changes and a few other tweaks are wrapped up in version number 2023.11110.8002.0 (or better) of the Photos app, with the update currently rolling out to testers (that’s all channels, from Canary testers onwards).

Windows Photos App Background Replacement

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Analysis: Steady progress with Photos

Microsoft already brought a background blur feature to the Photos app (it entered testing a couple of months back), so this is another useful introduction into the mix. It’s good to see this core application (which is part of Windows 11 by default – though you’ll be able to ditch it soon enough) being developed further.

Not everyone wants a fancy image editor, and some are quite happy using the (relatively) basic apps Microsoft provides with Windows 11, doubtless because they’re pretty straightforward. So, adding an easy-to-use way to remove or swap out backgrounds, in just a few clicks, is definitely a nifty touch for those kind of everyday users (as is the convenient background blur option, too).

Via SamMobile

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Windows 11 gets a nifty change to make logging onto Wi-Fi easier

Windows 11 has a new preview version that makes a few marked improvements on the wireless front, including a feature that makes it dead easy for visitors to log on to your Wi-Fi network at home.

Preview build 25977 is out in the Canary channel (the earliest test version of Windows 11) and comes with the ability to let someone join your Wi-Fi just by scanning a QR code.

How it works is you head to Wi-Fi properties, and when looking at the Wi-Fi password, a QR code is now displayed. All guests need to do to log on to the Wi-Fi network is scan that QR code with their device’s camera, and it’s done.

So, there’s no need to manually enter the password for your Wi-Fi router or to have to dive into Settings and the Network and Sharing Center and fiddle around in those submenus either. It’s a much more convenient method, in short.

Another Wi-Fi-related change is happening in this preview build, this time pertaining to privacy.

Microsoft has introduced functionality to let you manage the apps that have access to the list of Wi-Fi networks in your local area (as those networks could be used to pinpoint where you are in the real world). If you don’t want an application to have that power, you can simply block it (this ability lives under Settings > Privacy & security > Location).

There’s more on the wireless front, but this time with Bluetooth, as this Windows 11 preview has ushered in support for using Bluetooth Low Energy Audio hearing aids.

If you own such a device, you can now directly pair it with your PC in order to stream audio, take calls, and so on, which is very cool. You’ll need to own a Windows 11 device that supports Bluetooth Low Energy Audio, though.

For the full list of changes and small tweaks here and there, there’s the usual lengthy blog post provided by Microsoft.

Analysis: A new spin on the globe, too

Some of those extra tweaks include a small but pretty useful one which is also worth noting. You know the internet connection icon in the system tray, on the far right-hand side of the taskbar?

Currently, if there’s no connection, it’s a disconnected globe icon, but the slight change is that if the PC is in the process of connecting – but isn’t yet connected – you’ll see an animation to indicate this. In other words, the globe will only appear if you’re definitely offline and no connection is present, or in the process of coming into being.

There’s some useful work on the network side of things here, then, particularly the addition of quick logins for Wi-Fi with that QR code (something that has been available on Android for some time now, as you may be aware).

While we’re picking up on smaller details, it’s worth mentioning that for testers actually intending to grab this Canary build, there’s a big issue on the gaming front. Microsoft observes that “some popular games may not work correctly” with build 25977 (and indeed possibly recent builds just before it).

We aren’t told which of the best PC games these might be, but it’s certainly something to be aware of if you indulge in a spot of gaming on your rig.

Via Windows Latest

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Windows 11 gets a bunch of small but useful changes – including something nifty for Notepad

Microsoft has pushed out a new preview build for Windows 11, and made some useful changes in the earliest development channel – plus the company has applied some nifty tweaks for default apps in testing, too.

Let’s start with the freshly deployed preview build 25941 in the Canary channel, which introduces a toggle to turn on dynamic refresh rate (in Advanced Display settings). This allows Windows 11 to adjust the refresh rate of the screen on-the-fly, so when you don’t need to be running at the display’s maximum refresh, it can be toned down, thus saving a bit of power with your high refresh rate display.

Another related tweak is that when choosing a refresh rate, Windows 11 will now mark rates (with an asterisk) that can’t currently be selected due to the resolution you’re running at (but could be used at a different resolution).

Build 25941 also has a raft of bug fixes as detailed in Microsoft’s blog post introducing this new preview version.

Elsewhere in testing, Microsoft has rolled out updates for the Snipping Tool and Notepad apps in Windows 11 (for Canary and also Dev channel testers).

With the Snipping Tool, users now get the benefit of a ‘combined capture bar,’ a panel that easily allows you to switch between capturing screenshots and video clips. And with those videos, screen recording has been bolstered so you can record the PC audio and a voiceover using a microphone should you wish.

As for Notepad, this is getting an auto-save feature. Anything you write will be saved, and sessions will be saved when you close Notepad, coming back up when you next start the app.

Analysis: Small tweaks with bigger results

Dynamic refresh rate is a neat feature to see arrive in Canary (it was previously in Dev channel, too), and hopefully this will be inbound for beta builds before too long, and shuffling its way through to the release version of Windows 11.

It’s going to be of considerable benefit to laptop owners, as the energy savings to be made by lowering the refresh rate (where possible – such as when you have a screenful of text you’re reading, which really doesn’t require any smoothness) will add up to longer battery life when out and about.

As for the beefed-up Snipping Tool, that’s a more streamlined experience, and the support for voiceovers will doubtless be welcomed by those knocking up, say, a quick help video on how to do something on the Windows 11 desktop.

It’s certainly useful to give Notepad auto-save – it’s a favorite app for some folks – for obvious reasons (and there’s the ability to switch it off, if you don’t want it). What’s also cool about this is that you don’t have to engage with any dialog boxes (such as confirming ‘Do you want to save?’). Notepad just keeps the content saved without prompting you when you close the app, bringing the text back when it’s reopened.

Via Neowin

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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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Windows 11 has a nifty new feature – but enabling it is a hassle

Windows 11 now has widgets to let you monitor how your system is running, albeit the way of getting them going is rather clunky.

The catch is they come as part of a new app being introduced for Windows 11, which is currently in preview, called Dev Home. As the name suggests, this is for developers (to help make them more productive and streamline their workflow for creating software), but it has an interesting extra option.

As Ghacks reports, Dev Home allows you to add widgets for monitoring system resources, meaning you can see at a glance on the widgets board how your CPU, GPU, system memory, or network are performing currently.

This is the same info available in Task Manager – in the Performance tab – but having it right there on the widgets panel, if you want, makes it far more convenient to check what’s going on if, say, your PC appears to be hit with a bout of slowdown.

As you may realize, going into Task Manager is a slightly convoluted process (though there is a handy keyboard shortcut to get there quickly – by pressing the Ctrl+Shift+Escape keys together).

The system monitoring widgets also provide some useful extra touches. For example, the CPU performance widget displays the top three active processes and a button to end them (in other words, to kill the task right there and then, if it is causing problems or has become unresponsive – an option coming to the taskbar in Windows 11, too).

Analysis: Hopefully these widgets will become more broadly available

Obviously this app is specifically for developers, so consumers aren’t going to want to use it as such. However, there’s certainly nothing to stop the average user from installing the Dev Home preview app (from the Microsoft Store) to get this ability.

Is it worth doing that? For some who are really keen to see system resource readouts on the widgets board, it’s at least good to have the option. Although in all honesty, it’s maybe a step too far for many folks, who aren’t going to want to install developer software (that takes up space, of course).

Do note, though, that you don’t ever have to run Dev Home, or do anything beyond installing it. Once set up, you can use the widgets without ever going near the Dev Home app again (but you must leave it installed).

What we’re hoping is that if Microsoft sees this as a reasonably popular option – assuming it is, naturally, and we can imagine it’ll get some traction among widget fans – then maybe the company will consider making these system-monitoring widgets more broadly available. In other words, have them accessible to everyone without the need to install Dev Home.

Note that currently, we’re told that the updating of these widgets in real-time doesn’t appear to be working properly, which is presumably a bug. That’s the other thing to remember for now – this app is still in preview, so it may be wonky while Microsoft irons out various issues that are doubtless present.

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Windows 11 gets a nifty tweak to kill frozen apps, catching up with macOS

Windows 11 is getting the ability to kill an unresponsive app, known as ‘force closing’ (or force quitting) right from the taskbar in what’ll be a very useful tweak for the OS.

This functionality was previously spotted hidden in test builds of Windows 11, and caused a fair bit of excitement at the time, so it’s good to see Microsoft confirm it is indeed inbound.

The move represents a far more convenient and easy way to deal with a misfiring app than the current scheme of things in Windows 11, where you have to head into the Task Manager and hunt around a bit to accomplish the same feat.

The Verge reports that Microsoft let us know that the ability is coming to Windows 11 at its Build conference for developers.

Quite a bit of stuff has been announced at Build, in fact, and a bunch of minor but important changes along similar lines – like native support for dealing with RAR or 7-Zip files in Windows 11 (instead of having to download and install a third-party utility).

And of course there’s a huge change that has been announced, one we’re viewing with a little trepidation – namely the introduction of AI into Windows 11 in the form of Microsoft’s Copilot.

Analysis: Mirroring the Mac – finally

So, what’s the big deal here? When apps go rogue and freeze up, they can simply hang around, slowing down your system’s performance (perhaps) and generally being annoying.

To force close such an unresponsive app right now in Windows 11, you have to open Task Manager, which is a bit of a faff in itself, unless you know the keyboard shortcut (press Control+Shift+Escape together). Then you must scroll through the list of running processes to find the rogue app, select it, and click the ‘End Task’ button.

With the new option, all you have to do is right-click on the app in the taskbar, and select ‘End Task’ from the context menu – a far easier and quicker way of taming the application that’s gone awry.

As Mac users will realize, this exact ability is something present in macOS, so Windows 11 is catching up to Apple’s desktop operating system in that respect – and it’s about time, to be honest.

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Google Chrome will soon get a nifty feature to cut through clutter on the web

The Chrome browser and Chromebooks are getting a smart new feature in the form of a Reading Mode, Google has revealed over at BETT.

The education tech show is currently underway in London, and Google unveiled plans for this Reading Mode to come to ChromeOS (meaning Chromebooks) as well as the Chrome browser.

The idea of the Reading Mode is it pops up a separate panel to the side of the web page in the browser window, enabling the viewing of that page in a cleaner format and offering greater clarity for simply reading the content.

In short, it strips away the clutter on the web page, so you can wave goodbye to distracting pictures, videos, icons, and buttons to concentrate purely on reading the actual text.

As 9 to 5 Google, which spotted this, points out, Reading Mode is inbound at some point later this year for the Chrome browser, and will debut on Chromebooks with ChromeOS version 114.

Analysis: Closer to the Edge

This is a welcome option for both ChromeOS and more widely the Chrome browser, as making web content more accessible has got to be a good thing – even if the Reading Mode took a long time to arrive (which it most certainly did).

Cutting out clutter to help focus on the core written content of a web page will be helpful in a range of scenarios, and clearly one of those is in the classroom for those who live with learning differences such as dyslexia and ADHD (which as Google points out, is one in five children in the US).

The Reading Mode will come with plenty of customization options so users can fine-tune it to their own needs, too. That’ll include the ability to change the font, and make the size larger if necessary, as well as adjusting elements such as character and line spacing, or the background color. For example, if you want a dark background rather than white, there’s a menu option to make that happen.

If this functionality sounds familiar, that’s because Google is playing catchup in this case, and you may have already played with this kind of streamlined browsing experience in Microsoft Edge (or other browsers).

The Edge browser has an Immersive Reader feature sporting a lot of similar capabilities to those announced by Google here (and more besides), and it was introduced some three years ago.

Immersive Reader can be kicked into gear by clicking the appropriate icon at the far right of the URL bar. (Although it may not be supported with every web page, you can still pull content out of a page by selecting the text and using the right-click context menu to invoke Immersive Reader).

The big difference between Google and Microsoft’s respective takes here is that Edge transforms the web page into its reading-friendly mode, whereas Chrome pops up the Reading Mode version in a panel next to the web page which is still displayed (side-by-side). Quite why Google has adopted this approach, we’re not sure, but as noted, you can expand the Reading Mode panel to be wider.

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