Windows 11: Microsoft uncertain about its update policy
Microsoft initially said the latest features would be added to Windows only once, in the fall. That’s not entirely true. The company may disturb some users in passing.
Microsoft recently said it will deliver its first real Windows 11 update this month, including an improved taskbar and taskbar weather widget. But how these features will be implemented on PC won’t be immediately obvious. Windows 10 and Windows 11 users are used to receiving notifications about upcoming Windows feature updates, either in the Windows Update subsection of the Windows 10 Settings menu or through a pop-up notification. Microsoft recently said that Windows will have one big feature update per year going forward. However, Microsoft intends to make improvements to Windows outside of these major releases, through point and minor iterations.
In a blog post explaining what’s next for the Windows Insider program, the firm explained how it will deliver updates to its Beta and Dev channels outside of official releases. The mechanisms used have been explained in the context of the Insider Program, but they can and likely will be used to deliver updates to the stable channel of Windows 11 (and possibly 10, too). They are known as Feature Experience Packs, Web Experience Packs, and Online Service Experience Packs, and these three will appear in Windows Update.
Microsoft is shaking up the delivery of updates
Historically, the latest features were shipped with the latest releases. Microsoft was shipping them both in “Service Packs” for older versions of Windows, and porting them to Windows 10 and Windows 11 in feature releases like, for example, the Windows 10 Creators Update. But the vendor has tried to decouple various elements of Windows into their own development tracks, so they can be maintained and updated on their own schedule. Latest example: some of Windows’ built-in apps are now usually updated through the Windows Store.
In 2020, Microsoft introduced a new update mechanism: the Windows Feature Experience Pack, which tries to accommodate small improvements that fall through the cracks. “Is it fair to characterize WFEP as an update channel for experiences that aren’t tightly coupled to the operating system, aren’t apps in the store, and aren’t features on demand?” then asked one user – and the answer was a simple “yes”. An example of a new “feature” is using the screen slicing function (Win + Shift + S) to create an image of your screen and paste it directly into a folder of your choice in File Explorer to save the screenshot there. So yeah, something new – but nothing that doesn’t deserve a full feature update.
Deployment of a dashboard
Experience Packs online services appeared last October, as part of Windows 11 Insider Preview Build 22489. The Redmond company used this service to add a “dashboard” to the Windows 11 Settings > Account submenu, displaying the status of Microsoft 365 subscriptions, for example. At the time, Microsoft said it would roll out the new dashboard to a very small group of Insiders.
The Microsoft Account Dashboard is currently available to a subset of Windows 11 Insiders. (Credit: Microsoft)
” The difference between [les packs d’expérience de fonctionnalités et les packs d’expérience en ligne] is that Windows Feature Experience Packs can provide broad improvements in multiple areas of Windows, while Online Services Experience Packs focus on providing enhancements for a specific experience, such as the recent Your Microsoft account settings,” Microsoft explained. “For example, under Windows Update it would appear as ‘Online Service Experience Pack – Windows.Settings.Account’ with a version number.”
Occasional updates available at any time
We don’t yet know what a “Web Experience Pack” entails, but we can imagine it will be something web-related in Windows. It is possible that we may see smaller representations of web pages in the Widgets menu, eventually. However, this somewhat compromises Microsoft’s plan to move to a single annual version of Windows features, since these small “one-off” versions could be launched at any time. On the one hand, those of you who prefer Windows to be left to its own devices may be upset that there is now an easy way for Microsoft to modify Windows. On the other hand, individual teams of developers within the group will now have additional tools to respond to user feedback more quickly.
What we don’t know, however, is how the Redmond firm will use these new capabilities. Will one-time updates become mainstream? Will Microsoft announce them? For users worried about this fuss, just pause them until you’re sure what Microsoft is rolling out. Otherwise, everyone should see some additional features coming to Windows 11 in the coming weeks.