Microsoft updates Windows 11 with improved Copilot, Widgets, and more

Illustration of Windows 11 running on a tablet
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft is starting to roll out a new update to Windows 11 that includes a whole host of improvements and new built-in features. Copilot in Windows 11 is getting more options to control your PC as part of this update, alongside a new Generative Erase option in Photos, Voice Shortcuts for accessibility, improved Snap layouts, changes to the Widgets system, and more.

While the Windows 11 update is available starting today, Microsoft says not all features will be enabled straight away. Copilot’s new options will start rolling out in late March, enabling new skills like being able to ask the AI chatbot to enable the battery saver mode or to launch accessibility features like Narrator or Magnifier. Copilot will also be able to show available Wi-Fi networks, storage space, and even empty your recycling bin.

More AI-powered features are also coming to the built-in Photos app. A new Generative Erase feature will let you remove unwanted objects from a photo by simply selecting and deleting them. It’s similar to the magical AI selective photo erasers found on Google and Samsung devices. Clipchamp, Microsoft’s video editor, is also gaining the ability to remove awkward silences from a video.

Selecting a dog’s leash with a tool and magically erasing it with
GIF: Microsoft
The new Generative Erase feature in Photos.

Microsoft is also improving the Widgets and built-in Snap layouts features in Windows 11. Widgets have always been useful but marred by Microsoft’s feed of junk news from MSN. Now, you can finally disable the “Microsoft Start” feed, and the Windows Widgets board is also interoperable as part of Microsoft’s Digital Markets Act commitments to the European Commission. That means Google could build a plug-in for the Widgets board that shows content from Google News, for example.

The Snap feature in Windows 11 that makes it easy to resize app windows is getting smarter in this update, so it will now remember your frequently snapped apps and automatically suggest layouts.

If you own a Windows-powered tablet that has a stylus, this latest Windows 11 update also includes the ability to write directly into text boxes across the OS. This includes Windows Ink support in apps like Photos, Paint, WhatsApp, and more.

Windows 11 settings screen with a floating stylus handwriting “start menu” in the find field.
Image: Microsoft
Windows Ink now works across more apps and anywhere you can input text.

The built-in casting feature that lets you send content to a nearby display in Windows 11 is also getting tweaked for the better. You’ll now get notifications for suggestions to use the Cast feature when multitasking, and there are improvements to Cast to offer help to find nearby displays and fix connection issues.

If you’re someone who shares Windows content to other devices or you own an Android phone, this latest Windows 11 update has some improvements to make it easier to share content to and from devices. Nearby Share now has faster transfer speeds if you’re sharing with people or devices on the same network, and you can also give your PC a friendly name so it’s easier for others to recognize you. The Phone Link system in Windows 11 will now include the ability to access recent photos or to use your phone as a webcam on video conferencing apps.

Last but not least, Microsoft is making some accessibility improvements in Windows 11. A new Voice Shortcuts feature lets you create custom commands to automate tasks in the voice access feature of Windows 11. This is like a macro for your voice, so in a single voice command, you could do things like automatically open a URL and perform a number of actions.

Screenshot by Tom Warren / The Verge
You can finally remove the junk news feed in Windows Widgets.

You’ll also be able to use voice access on multiple displays, including number and grid overlays on secondary displays. Microsoft is also improving its built-in Narrator feature in Windows 11, adding natural voices that use on-device text-to-speech once they’ve been downloaded to a device.

Microsoft will start rolling out this new Windows 11 update today, but it may take some time to be available on your own device. If you want to get it immediately, you’ll need to enable the “get the latest updates as soon as they’re available” option in Windows Update and then check for updates.

“Most of these new Windows 11 features will be enabled by default in the March 2024 optional non-security preview release for all editions of Windows 11, versions 23H2 and 22H2,” explains Yusuf Mehdi, executive vice president and consumer chief marketing officer at Microsoft. “As is our normal practice, we will closely monitor the rollout of these new Windows 11 features and continue to share timely information on the status of the rollout and known issues (open and resolved) via the Windows release health dashboard and @WindowsUpdate.”

Other big changes should be coming to Windows soon in the European Union. Microsoft is making changes to comply with the Digital Market Act, which include allowing users to remove Cortana and choose their search provider for Windows Search. The features will begin rolling out on an optional basis ahead of the March 6th compliance deadline.

“We’ll start enabling DMA changes via our controlled feature rollout technology in February’s optional non-security releases and we will post a public update on DMA progress soon,” Aaron Grady, a product manager for Windows, said in an emailed statement.