A comprehensive overview of Windows 11 22H2, the first major annual update of the OS - Ars Technica

Enlarge / Windows 11 22H2 will enter its next phase of development, according to rumors — and the OS itself.

Andrew Cunningham

Windows 11 has changed quite a bit since the version we reviewed was released in October, and Microsoft has released a steady stream of redesigned app updates, bug fixes, and user interface improvements.

But the company’s big annual Windows update is still important. Here Microsoft makes the most important changes to the look and feel of Windows 11 and under-the-hood features. This Sunday, suggested by rumors that Microsoft is already finishing work on what will eventually be released as version 22H2 of Windows 11, the first annual update of the OS. That build, currently available on the Windows Insider Beta channel as build number 22621.1, will serve as the foundation for next year’s Windows updates.

We cover new builds of Windows Insider fairly often, depending on how noticeable the changes are. But to save you the trouble of scrolling through months of articles, we’ve compiled all the most important differences between the current public build of Windows 11 21H2 (for the record, 22000.675) and the latest beta of version 22H2 .

Annual updates are no longer the same as before

First, a caveat: Microsoft intentionally changed how it updates Windows last year; the company is now releasing app updates and UI fixes when they’re ready instead of waiting for a major annual OS update that will return it to the days of Windows 10. The more flexible that schedule allowed Microsoft to fix some of Windows 11’s earlier shortcomings, including missing features and taskbar apps that are still not updated with the new look and feel.

It also means that this overview will not include all the Windows features that will be part of the 22H2 update when it launches. It’s likely that apps like the new Sound Recorder, which is currently in preview on the Dev channel, will be released to the public before the 22H2 update is formally released. Still testing features such as the tabbed File Explorer can also be done in time. Those and other changes can be included in the 22H2 update, they can be released before it comes out, or they can never release.

So this overview is just a snapshot of Windows 11 22H2 that currently exists. When it’s released to the public, we’ll take a look again, ignore any other new features we see, and devote more time to small changes that we won’t mention in this aging.

Microsoft account sign-in required

The Home edition of Windows 11 (and some of the next releases of Windows 10) all require an Internet connection and a Microsoft account sign-in setup, which directs users to embed themselves deeper into the Microsoft ecosystem. There are several benefits to this process, including automatic local disk encryption and recovery key backup, password-free sign-in, quick access to Microsoft Store apps and services such as of Microsoft 365 and PC Game Pass, and data sync for apps like OneDrive and Edge. But if you don’t use these things, want to sign in later, or prefer to stay with a good old-fashioned local account, no easy solution, wanting to sign out or creating a new local account when you get there on the desktop.

This isn’t true with Pro editions of Windows, which will still allow you to create a local account if you don’t connect to the Internet during setup. But that ends with the 22H2 version of Windows 11, which requires a Microsoft account no matter what OS edition you’re using. (The setup also prompts you to sign up for PC Game Pass and Microsoft 365, which I think about it is new in this version of Windows but may have been added recently).

The only officially allowed exception to this policy is if you select the “work or school” option during setup instead of the “personal use” option. It lets you sign in with your Microsoft account at work or school, if you have one, instead of a personal account. But if you just want to create a local account, or if you need to set up a PC without an Internet connection, there is no easy way to do that.

This policy only applies to new installations of Windows, and it won’t affect you if you’re upgrading a PC that’s already set up.

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