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Microsoft today announced the rollout of the first major feature upgrade to Windows 11. Many of the changes are incremental and focus on user interface and productivity enhancements, but there are some useful additions — including a new password security feature.

Mostly, Windows 11 version 22H2, known as the Windows 11 2022 Update, is about polishing up the user experience, while rounding out the feature set with some additional enterprise-targeted capabilities, according to Stephen Kleynhans, a vice president analyst at research firm Gartner.

“On its own, it isn’t a huge update, and for anyone already using Windows 11, it doesn’t represent a major change,” Kleynhans said in an email reply to Computerworld. “Rather, it removes some of the rough spots and inconsistencies in the initial Windows 11 release and makes it a little nicer to use.”

[ Review: Windows 11 22H2: Small but welcome changes ]
A few new features, such as the system-wide live captioning and improvements in screen reader will be really impactful for some users, Kleynhans noted, but most importantly, “this is the version of Windows 11 that is ready for enterprises to move to.

“I expect to see most enterprises make the move from Windows 10 to Windows 11 during 2023,” he said.

Released to original equipment manufacturers on Oct. 5, 2021, Windows 11 faced strong adoption headwinds from the start. While Microsoft allows anyone to manually install Windows 11 regardless of the CPU, an automatic upgrade is possible only if three critical components of the computer meet requirements — the CPU, the RAM, and the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), a secure cryptoprocessor.

Microsoft updated its support page with instructions on how to install the Windows 11 upgrades, as well as the minimum hardware requirements for that to happen. The free upgrade offer for Windows 11 does not have a specific end date for eligible systems.

What’s missing from Microsoft’s first Windows 11 feature update, according to Kleynhans, are some user experiences that could use further improvements. “Things like a resizable start menu and repositionable taskbar are still missing and will disappoint some users,” he said.

With the latest update, Microsoft is touting an expansion to its Amazon App Store, which now offers more than 20,000 Android Apps available for use on Windows 11. Android app functionality will mirror that of Microsoft apps, with the abilty to resize and use Snap to arrange open apps.

Security upgrades
Microsoft is pitching Windows 11 22H2 as a platform aimed squarely at the hybrid worker and workplace. Security upgrades are a big part of adopting the platform for a hybrid environment, where remote workers are more often targets of malware and cyberhacking efforts.

With the Windows 2022 Update, Microsoft spent a significant amount of time boasting about its better security. Many of those improvements, however, rely on system hardware and TPM 2.0 rather than anything specifically new in Windows 11.

One example of a hardware-based security upgrade: Devices running Intel 8th-generation chipsets and higher will have virtualization-based security (VBS) and hypervisor-protected code integrity (HVCI) enabled by default, according to Wangui McKelvey, general manager for Microsoft 365.

“The two technologies protect you from both common malware and ransomware, as well as more sophisticated attacks,” McKelvey said in a blog post.

With the Windows 11 2022 Update, Microsoft also enabled Windows Credential Guard by default with devices running Windows 11 Enterprise.

“Credential Guard uses virtualization-based security to isolate secrets so that only privileged system software can access them, making it harder for attackers to compromise your network,” McKelvey said.

The Windows 11 2022 Update does also add a new password protection feature to its Defender SmartScreeen. When Windows detects a user typing their Microsoft password, the Defender SmartScreen analyzes where that password is being entered. It checks the application integrity, what websites that application is connected to, what network connections are open, what certificates they’re signed with, and more.

“This allows Defender to help ensure the user is securely entering their Microsoft password into an appropriate location. And more importantly, [it] allows Defender to detect when that’s not the case. For example, when the user is being credential phished, using a compromised network, and even reusing their password across services,” said Jason Weber, Microsoft’s vice president of Web Defense. “These underlying protections are built into the Windows kernel, which allows Defender to help protect applications running on Windows.”

Another feature, Smart App Control, prevents employees from running malicious applications by blocking untrusted or unsigned applications. Using artificial intelligence, Smart App Control only allows processes to run that are predicted to be safe based on existing and new intelligence processed daily.

“This is great for smaller organizations who don’t manage their devices or have unsigned line of business applications and have clean installations of the 2022 Update. For enterprise organizations who do have these needs, we recommend using Windows Defender Application Control,”McKelvey said.

Other upgrades to productivity and user interfaces
Another upgrade in the Windows 11 2022 release includes a drag-and-drop function for the taskbar, allowing users to right-click and pull applications and documents in and out of the bar.

For touch-first or touch-only devices, the Windows 11 2022 Update will include new Snap Layouts. The feature will address users who tend to have too many tabs at the edge open at one time to be able to productively use them. Edge tabs can now be snapped side by side. The Snap feature can also be used through finger touch to more easily arrange windows.

windows 11 snap function image
The Windows 11 2022 Update allows touchscreen users to arrange open pages with a mouse or finger.
Microsoft also added improvements to a user’s ability to control applications and functions using finger swipes. Users of touchscreen devices can now open the Start menu by swiping up with their finger and close it by swiping down. Additionally, users can switch between pinned apps and a full app list by swiping left to right, and they can access Quick Actions by swiping up.

Microsoft also added meeting features to Windows Studio Effects2 to help make video and audio calls. Effects like Voice Focus are aimed at filtering out background noise, and Automatic Framing automatically works to help the camera frame a user and follow them if they move during meetings, Another feature, called Eye Contact, also assists in making a user appear to looking into the camera even while looking at the monitor or notes below it.

eye contact feature photo
Microsoft’s Windows Studio Effects will now include features such as Voice Focus, Eye Contact and Auto Framing to improve the quality of video conferencing.

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