Windows 11 gets smart interface changes and new voices

Windows 11 has a new preview out in the Dev Channel which comes with some smart tweaks for the interface, and some better, more natural, voices for Narrator.

Narrator – the built-in tool which reads out the contents of the screen for you, such as a web page, for example – now has two new natural voices in English US (female), which are called ‘Jenny’ and ‘Aria’. Users can select whichever they prefer, and once the voices are downloaded and installed, they work without an internet connection.

Microsoft has also introduced some new keyboard shortcuts for Narrator in order to more easily facilitate switching between different voices (and more besides).

The new preview build 22543 further applies some small, but nifty, tweaks to the desktop interface, including for resizing snapped windows. When you’re doing this, the snapped windows (aside from the main one) are blurred out and overlaid with their relevant app icon. It’s a pretty cool effect that makes it slightly easier to see exactly how much space you’re granting these snapped windows.

Furthermore, the media control fly-out panel on the lock screen has now been changed to match the controls in Quick Settings. This particular tweak is only rolling out to a limited number of testers at the moment, and feedback will be evaluated before a wider rollout commences. In other words, don’t be surprised if you aren’t getting this yet.

As ever, there are a bunch of fixes for Windows 11 delivered in this preview, and that includes the solution to a crashing issue with File Explorer that happens when dragging a file out of a ZIP. All the work done is summed up in Microsoft’s blog post on the new build (along with the inevitable known issues with an early preview – expect some unknown ones, too).

Analysis: Pacey progress with accessibility features

Continued progress on the accessibility front is good to see, in terms of the more natural-sounding voices for Narrator, which have already been welcomed by testers who use the feature. Presumably we will see more options for different voices rolling out before long.

Accessibility is something Microsoft has rightly been prioritizing in Windows, with the most recent major move being the introduction of full voice control capabilities (built using Nuance’s Dragon speech recognition tech), and a virtual keyboard you can type with using your voice. Work on accessibility has been going on for years, of course, and bringing in very useful features like eye tracking which debuted almost five years ago with Windows 10.

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Smart meter installations to be increased across the UK following lockdown

The British government has set out plans to increase smart meter installation in households across the country. In doing so, the government hopes to cut both energy bills and carbon emissions.

During the first quarter of 2020, domestic installation of smart meters fell by 15 per cent. This was partially because coronavirus-related lockdown restrictions stopped engineers from visiting homes and fitting the systems. 

Some 980,000 smart meters were still installed by large energy suppliers, but this broke a run of 12 consecutive quarters where more than one million smart meters were installed in households across the country.

Now Britain has started to exit lockdown, energy suppliers are beginning to install smart meters again. As of this week, all of the ‘big six’ energy providers have restarted their smart meter operations to some extent. These companies are also joined by OVO, which is the second biggest energy supplier in the UK.

According to the government’s advice, fitting a smart meter in your home could help you save up to £250 on your energy bills. So, with installations restarting, now is a good time to run an online energy comparison and switch to a supplier that's fitting smart meters in your area.

Smart meter benefits

In Britain, 21.5 million smart and advanced meters have already been fitted in homes and small businesses. It's thought that these smart meters will be instrumental in cutting up to £16 billion from the annual cost of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Plus, the nationwide roll-out of energy meters will also cut carbon emissions by 45 million tonnes, which is the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road for a year.

In the shorter term, getting a smart meter fitted in your home is a great way of instantly letting your supplier know if your energy usage changes over time, and your bills can be adjusted immediately to reflect this.

If you still rely on a meter reader visiting your home, your bill may not accurately show how much energy you’ve been using, and you risk receiving a nasty shock further down the line when your bill arrives. With a new smart meter, you can conveniently track your usage and get accurate bills every month. Plus, you can see where you’re using your energy on a daily basis and adjust your habits accordingly to lower your bills.

Smart meters are changing the way many customers use electricity in other ways, too. For example, some suppliers offer cheaper off-peak charging for electric vehicles, while others boost household income by helping renewable energy generators export green energy to the grid. In fact, in some instances, customers on smart tariffs have even been paid to use electricity during windy days when there is excess clean energy in the system.

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