Windows 11’s new preview build has hidden features that have been uncovered, and they include some changes for widgets and the taskbar which feel like a step backward in some ways.
The new preview build 25324 of Windows 11 (which has just landed in the Canary channel) has been poked and prodded by PhantomOfEarth, who has used a Windows configuration tool to dig in and find hidden features. One of which is an option to display widgets on the taskbar next to the system tray, as flagged up on Twitter.
As I speculated, Microsoft is experimenting with displaying Widgets on the taskbar next to the system tray in build 25324 (hidden) when the taskbar is left aligned, similar to Windows 10’s News and interests featurevivetool /enable /id:43214488huge thanks to @Nytrona https://t.co/1AdGuGxxYF pic.twitter.com/EstID36yRDMarch 23, 2023
Note that this is an option to display the widgets on the right side – in the style of the old ‘News and interests’ panel – when the taskbar is left-aligned (meaning the Start menu and search box are over on the left, rather than centrally positioned as is the default with Windows 11).
Further movement – literally – has been spotted on the widgets front, with the discovery of animated widgets on the taskbar, as shown in one of the leaker’s other tweets about the preview build.
Canary build 25324’s new animated Widgets icons (mentioned in blog post, https://t.co/gGlHaVvUpT) are pretty nice. The little things can be the cool ones, and this is definitely the case here (imo). If you want the eye candy:vivetool /enable /id:42934589 pic.twitter.com/ple4HrJbPLMarch 23, 2023
In Microsoft’s blog post introducing build 25324, the company noted that it has actually started rolling out animated icons for widgets, clarifying that only a few icons are supported right now (weather, finance).
So, only a limited amount of Canary testers will be seeing this to begin with, and it’ll roll out to more folks soon enough, but meanwhile, the feature can be enabled using ViVeTool. (That’s the Windows configuration utility PhantomOfEarth does all their digging with).
Note that Microsoft has also made the widgets board larger with this preview build, upping it to a width of three columns (if screen real estate allows) and providing separate sections for widgets and news feed content. Again, this is a change only rolling out to a limited number of testers, as Microsoft is evaluating feedback to ascertain how popular this move is.
Analysis: Step back in time
This essentially amounts to experimenting with the reintroduction of the mentioned ‘News and interests’ panel (albeit in a slightly different take) that debuted way back with Windows 10. Indeed, if you look at the screenshot of the left-aligned taskbar provided in the top highlighted tweet, it kind of feels like Windows 11 is stepping back in time to become Windows 10.
In short, it’s more taskbar clutter, and that’s an idea I could well live without. I didn’t like News and interests when it was swanning around on the Windows 10 desktop, covering way too much taskbar space and popping up, waving at me, when I didn’t want to hear from it. So I don’t particularly relish the return of the panel in Windows 11. No thanks, Microsoft; let’s not go there again.
That said, this is still just early-stage experimentation, with some of it remaining hidden away in the preview build, and the other bits only being seen by a small section of testers. It’s perhaps no surprise that Microsoft is carefully gauging reaction to the widget and taskbar-related changes made here, as we suspect there may be some heated feedback.
As for the animations for widget icons, we don’t mind those. They even look quite cute, with the sun popping behind the clouds in one of the sample weather icon animations. However, the worry with these is that folks with lower-spec hardware won’t want any unnecessary fanciness potentially slowing down performance on the desktop – but again, there’ll doubtless be an option to disable these animations.
We can’t help but feel Microsoft needs to stop messing around with widgets for the moment, though, and focus on other more requested taskbar work, such as bringing back ‘never combine’ for apps on the bar.