Windows 11 23H2 new features and changes (so far)

Here's everything we know that Microsoft may include with the release of Windows 11 23H2.

Windows 11 23H2 new features

UPDATED 7/21/2023: Windows 11 version 23H2 (codenamed “Sun Valley 3”) is the next feature update of the desktop operating system from Microsoft that is expected to arrive during the fourth quarter of 2023 (likely on October 10, 2023).

We are still many months away from the official release of version 23H2. However, the company is actively working on the next update, and some of the new features can already be found in the latest Insider previews.

It’s important to note that changes available through the Dev and Beta Channels are not tied to any specific release of Windows 11. However, most of the new improvements are expected to ship in the next feature update, and some others may arrive even before cumulative updates.

This guide includes the new features and changes as they appear through the Windows Insider Program and will be updated regularly to reflect the changes. Last updated on July 21, 2023, with the changes available on build 23506. This guide doesn’t include references to features in development that were not officially announced by Microsoft.

TL;DR

As part of the new features for Windows 11 23H2, Microsoft may include the following:

  • New Windows Copilot powered by AI.
  • New File Explorer interface.
  • New native RAR, 7-zip, TAR, and GZ support.
  • Ungroup and labels for apps in the Taskbar.
  • New Windows Backup app.
  • New RGB lighting controls.
  • New Home page for Settings with interactive cards.
  • Virtual drives (VHD, VHDX, and Dev Drive) management from Settings.
  • New Dev Home app for developers.
  • Updated passkey experience with new management settings.
  • Widgets with the option to disable the news feed and pin widgets to the desktop.
  • Microsoft Store with AI features.
  • Networking improvements in the Settings app.
  • New option to hide time and date in the Taskbar.
  • Updated Nearby Sharing interface with faster transfer speeds.

What’s new on Windows 11 23H2

Windows 11 23H2 is coming later this year, and these are the new features and changes that you can expect:

New Copilot powered by AI

As part of version 23H2, Windows 11 will introduce the “Windows Copilot,” a new chatbot AI that integrates with Bing Chat AI and first and third-party plugins.

The Copilot appears as a sidebar docked to the right where it won’t overlap with your desktop content and runs unobstructed alongside your app when clicking the “Copilot” button in the Taskbar or using the “Windows key + C” keyboard shortcut. Similar to the Bing Chat AI on the web and mobile and the AI experience on Microsoft Edge, the Copilot for Windows 11 can help you with complex questions, and you can ask for rewrites, summarizations, and explain content without opening the browser.

The experience uses “the same Microsoft account (MSA) or Azure Active Directory (AAD) account used to sign in to Windows.”

The new assistant can also help you take action, customize settings, and seamlessly connect across your apps. Also, developers can integrate their apps into the Windows Copilot through the Bing Chat plugins to build new experiences.

For example, you can ask the Windows Copilot things, such as: “Change to dark mode,” “Turn on do not disturb,” “Take a screenshot,” “Summarize this website” (Active tab in Microsoft Edge), “Write a story about a dog who lives on the moon,” and “Make me a picture of a serene koi fishpond with lily pads.”

The Windows Copilot is technically the experience that will replace Cortana since the company already announced that it will retire the digital assistant before the end of the year.

New File Explorer design

Although File Explorer will continue with its familiar look and feel, it will receive significant changes. For starters, Windows 11 23H2 will include a redesigned version of the file manager using the XAML programming code and the new WinUI 3 from the Windows App SDK (WASDK).

In this new version, you will find three main visual changes, including a new “Home” page design, a new “Gallery” view, and improvements to the header interface.

The redesigned “Home” page retains the familiar design, but it’s been updated to use the Windows UI Library (WinUI) framework. Also, the “Quick Access” folders (for Microsoft accounts), “Favorites,” and “Recent” sections are getting visual treatments using the same framework.

On devices configured with an Azure Active Directory (AAD) account, the page will now show file recommendations in a carousel view with support for thumbnails.

File Explorer is also getting new design changes for the header interface. For instance, the navigation controls are now next to the address bar (and the search box on the right side), and the commands are now sitting under the address bar blending with the rest of the background instead of the header. In addition, the buttons are also getting visual treatments.

File Explorer new Home an header
File Explorer new Home an header / Image: Microsoft

In the address bar, the experience no longer shows the green progress bar. Instead, the tab’s icon will have a spinning animation, indicating that the location is loading. In addition, the address bar will now display the sync status for OneDrive files, and as you hover over the icon, a new flyout will open to show the correct storage quota.

Clicking the chevron button in the path will reveal an updated flyout design using the design principles of Windows 11. Finally, the address bar and search box now include rounded corners.

The new “Gallery” page introduces a new way to view and manage images. The new page includes a view for pictures identical to the one available in the Photos app, including larger thumbnails, rounded corners, hiding the file name, and using chronological sorting. On the page, you can use the “Manage Locations” option from the “Collection” menu to add or remove folders with images. The default settings only show the contents of the “Pictures” folder.

Gallery Manage locations

You will also find a new “Add Phone Photos” option in the command bar to connect your phone and access your images. When you click the button, it’ll open a link with a barcode you can scan with your phone to get started.

And there’s a new “Details” pane that offers more information and actions for a particular file, folder, or drive you select. For instance, when choosing a drive, the details pane on the right side will surface sharing options, activity details, file information, related files, and related conversations.

File Explorer details pane
File Explorer details pane

Furthermore, as part of the tabbing system, it’s now possible to drag a tab out of a window to create another instance of File Explorer.

Nearby Sharing 

The new version of Windows 11 will also include a redesigned share window and improved file transfer speeds, and you can now see your computers at the top of the list of discovered devices.

Nearby Sharing UI
Nearby Sharing UI

The redesigned share window is more modern and in line with the overall aesthetic of Windows 11. It also includes a new option to share files to OneDrive directly from the share window, and you can now send files directly through the Outlook app using the update share interface.

Nearby Sharing Outlook attachment
Nearby Sharing Outlook attachment

The company is using Wi-Fi Direct technology to improve file transfer speeds. Also, the experience will now show your devices at the top of the interface, making sharing files between your own devices easier.

Finally, the “Nearby Sharing” interface now offers a search box that enables you to find contacts across your accounts.

7-Zip and RAR support

Windows 11 23H2 is also expected to natively incorporate support for RAR and 7-zip archival formats with the new integration for the “libarchive” open-source project.

The support will add seamless integration to open and extract many archival file formats (such as “.tar,” .tar.gz,” “.tar.bz2,” “.tar.zst,” “.tar.xz,” “.tgz,” .tbz2,” “.tzst,” .txz,” .rar,” and “.7z”) in the same fashion you do today with Zip files through File Explorer. It’s also possible that Microsoft will add support to manage RAR and 7-zip with commands using PowerShell and Command prompt.

Quick Settings new volume mixer

Windows 11 also ships with a new enhanced volume mixer in Quick Settings. The new experience brings a modern volume mixer that allows quick audio customization per app, with additional control to swap devices on the fly.

New volume mixer
New volume mixer / Image: Microsoft

In addition, the company has added a new “Windows key + Ctrl + V” keyboard shortcut to open the volume mixer for faster control of the experience.

Furthermore, the development team made enabling the Windows Sonic or Dolby Atmos experience easier with a quick access list of installed spatial sound technology.

Snap Layouts suggestions

The operating system now also adds suggestions in Snap Layouts to help you snap multiple apps together. When hovering over the “Minimize” or “Maximize” button on an app (or “Windows key + Z” shortcut) to launch the layout box, you will see app icons displayed in various layout options to help recommend the best layout option that works best.

Snap Layouts suggestions

New Taskbar with app labels

Microsoft is working on bringing back the “Combine taskbar buttons and hide labels” settings to allow users to show labels in two ways, including “never combine” or “combine only when the Taskbar is full.”

Windows 11 never combine Taskbar buttons

Although the ability to show labels without grouping them has been available as part of the Taskbar experience in previous versions, the development team introduced a new Taskbar that didn’t include many of the legacy features, including the ability to never combine buttons or show labels. However, the company has been working to bring back some of the legacy features, such as seconds for the clock in the System Tray, an interface optimized for touch, and quick access to Task Manager from the Taskbar context menu. And now, the company is making progress to allow users to show labels for apps again.

The context menu for apps in the Taskbar will also include a new option allowing you to terminate the application without opening the Task Manager. However, this option won’t be available by default. You’ll have to enable it from the “For Developers” page.

Taskbar right-click End task option
Taskbar right-click End task option

Also, the context menu for the network icon in the System tray will now include the “Diagnose network problems” option to troubleshoot and fix networking issues faster.

Diagnose network problems
Diagnose network problems / Image: Microsoft

Furthermore, the company is renaming “Chat” to “Microsoft Teams – Free,” and it’ll appear pinned in the Taskbar.

New Windows Backup app

After installing version 23H2, you will also find a new “Windows Backup” app, which is a new app that enhances the “backup and restore” system already available on Windows 11.

Windows 11 backup app
Windows 11 backup app

In the app, you can turn on backup for the apps you acquired from the Microsoft Store and enable backup for your profile folders, settings, and credentials.

Alternatively, you can also configure the backup settings through the “Windows Backup” settings page in the “Accounts” section of the Settings app.

If you previously configured the settings through the “Windows Backup” page, the app will label the setting as “Backed up.”

The experience is straightforward but doesn’t create a backup of your applications. Instead, it remembers the apps you have installed on your computer and their settings, and then, when you restore them, the system will download and install a fresh copy of the apps from the Microsoft Store and restore the settings.

Once you configure the backup settings, when setting up a new device or clean installation, the out-of-the-box (OOBE) experience will prompt you if you want to restore the apps (and settings, folders, and credentials) on the new setup.

If you accept, the system will restore the apps from the Microsoft Store, and the process will even pin them again in the Start menu and Taskbar. However, the app won’t install until you click the app on the desktop.

It’s important to note the ability to backup apps is only available for Microsoft Store apps, not legacy Win32 applications.

New RGB lighting controls

In this new version of the operating system, Microsoft is also updating the Settings app with a new “Dynamic Lighting” page that will make it possible to manage lighted accessories without third-party tools.

Dynamic lighting settings
Dynamic lighting settings

Currently, many accessories rely on third-party apps and integrations that are highly fragmented, and Dynamic Lighting will allow you to effortlessly set up and customize your devices with RGB lights directly from the Settings app.

The new page will be available from the “Personalization” section that will feature the  “Use Dynamic Lighting on my devices” toggle switch to turn the feature on or off. After enabling the setting, you will be able to control features like brightness, lighting effects (solid color, blink, and rainbow), speed effect, and color, and you will have the option to match the lighting with the Windows 11 accent color.

Also, developers will find APIs for Windows apps to control devices from the background and foreground, a page in the Settings page for users to customize how their devices behave.

Microsoft is also partnering with several manufacturers to implement Dynamic Lighting, including Acer, ASUS, HP, HyperX, Logitech, Razer, and Twinkly.

Some of the supported devices include ASUS ROG Scope II Wireless 96 Gaming Keyboard and Razer (BlackWidow, DeathStalker, Huntsman, Ornata, and Turret Keyboard Xbox One Edition). Also, for mice, currently, you can control the RGB lighting on the ASUS ROG Harpe Ace AimLab Edition Gaming Mouse, Microsoft Pro IntelliMouse, and Razer (Turret Mouse Xbox One, DeathAdder, Naga Left-Handed, and Naga Pro).

Passkey support

Windows 11 is also improving the passkey experience by allowing users to create and use passkeys with the Windows Hello experience. Once a passkey is created, users can use Windows Hello (face, fingerprint, PIN) to sign in. In addition, users can use their phones to complete the application login process.

The enrollment process involves going to a website that has enabled passkeys on Windows 11. Create a passkey from your account settings. And sign out of your account and sign in using your passkey.

On your phone, you can load a website that has enabled passkeys. Create a passkey from your account settings. And then, go to the website on Windows 11 and sign in using your passkey saved on your phone.

In addition, the development team is adding a new “Passkeys” page on Settings > Accounts, which allows you to view, search, and delete your passkey. (You can use this guide to learn more about using passkeys.)

Currently, you can use the passkey experience in the Canary version of Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.

Microsoft Paint in dark mode

The company is even updating its Paint app with dark mode support, which you will be able to turn on manually or automatically based on the system color.

Microsoft Paint dark mode
Microsoft Paint dark mode

In addition, you will also find improvements to the zoom controls and more flexibility and control over the view of your content on the canvas. You can still use the presets menu to zoom in and out, but now, there’s also a slider for finer granularity increments. Furthermore, the app introduces a new fit-to-screen option that optimizes zoom to match your window size.

Finally, this update introduces new visuals for the “Image Properties” dialogs to match the design style across Windows 11. Also, the app brings enhancements for accessibility and usability of the dialogs and improved access key and keyboard shortcut support.

Virtual drives from Settings

As part of the Storage settings, Windows 11 23H2 is also adding the ability to create and manage virtual drives, including VHD, VHDX, and Dev Drives.

Windows 11 Dev Drives
Windows 11 Dev Drives

The settings are available from the “Disks & volumes” page, where you will be able to create and attach existing virtual hard disks that will be accessible from File Explorer.

The wizard makes creating a VHD or VHDX easy since it walks you through every step, from selecting the virtual drive format, size, and partition type, to the format settings.

The “Dev Drive” feature is similar to the traditional virtual drive. However, it allows developers to create virtual hard disks using the Resilient File System (ReFS), which, combined with a unique performance mode capability in Microsoft Defender for Antivirus, offers up to 30 percent file system improvement in build times for file I/O scenarios. The new performance mode is more secure than a folder or process exclusions.

New Dev Home app for developers

Microsoft will introduce a new open-source “Dev Home” app to improve how developers set up, test, and build applications.

Dev Home app
Dev Home app

The app has been designed to streamline the workflow with several new features, including using the Windows Package Manager (winget) command tool to make it easier and faster to set up a development environment, connect to GitHub, and use the new “Dev Drive” feature on Windows 11 for better file system performance and a new dashboard to track your workflow.

In addition, you will be able to use the app to configure your coding environments in the cloud using Microsoft Dev Box and GitHub Codespaces.

Finally, the app features a dashboard that you can customize to improve managing any project, including those that involve Windows, cloud, web, mobile, or AI.

Widgets changes

The Widgets dashboard has already gone through several design changes, and for version 23H2, the company plans to bring the option to allow users to turn off the news feed completely. This means that you will have the option to view the board only with your widgets, or you will be able to have both, including your widgets and news feeds with content curated from the MSN network.

Microsoft is exploring the idea of implementing the ability to pin widgets on the desktop in addition to showing them on the dashboard.

Furthermore, you will find a new Focus Session widget as part of a Clock app update (version 11.2305.6.0 and higher) through the Microsoft Store.

Microsoft Store

Microsoft is announcing that it’s bringing AI to the Microsoft Store app, among other features. According to the company, the Microsoft Store app will soon include a new “AI Hub” with apps that will “curate the best AI experiences built by the developer community and Microsoft.”

The store will use AI to generate and suggest search tags for apps to improve discoverability. Additionally, as part of the AI improvements, the store will “improve” the ability for customers to scan reviews by using AI to compile thousands of reviews into a simple summary.

Windows Ink in text fields

As part of the Windows Ink improvements, it’s now possible to use handwriting in text fields. In addition, the update rolls out improvements for accuracy and a scratch-out gesture for when users need to make edits.

The improvements are currently only available in English (U.S.), and you can manage the experience from Settings > Bluetooth and devices > Pen and Windows Ink under “Shell Handwriting.”

Other changes

As part of additional changes, Windows 11 23H2 will also include various other improvements for notifications, input, and the Settings app.

In the “Date & time” settings, Windows 11 is improving changing time zones, including cases of low confidence in location data. It displays a non-dismissible notification for accepting or rejecting the change and prompts the user for confirmation before adjusting the time zone.

Also, if location settings are disabled, a warning is now shown to the user, urging them to enable location settings to ensure accurate time zone adjustments.

Furthermore, this feature update also introduces new natural voices in Japanese and English (Great British), allowing Windows Narrator users to comfortably browse the web, read and write mail, and do more.

Notifications

The system will now be able to detect if the user is interacting with toasts or not and provide a suggestion to turn the toast banners off for such apps.

Input

The update will roll out Emoji version 15 on Windows 11, with new designs that include more hearts, animals, and one new smiley face.

New emojis design
New emojis design / Image: Microsoft

In this release, Windows 11 23H2 introduces new natural voices in Spanish (Spain and Mexico), allowing Narrator users to comfortably browse the web, read and write mail, and do more. The new Spanish (Spain) voices are Microsoft Alvaro and Microsoft Elvira and Microsoft Jorge, and Microsoft Dalia for Spanish (Mexico).

Windows 11 is also introducing new natural voices in Chinese that allow Windows Narrator users to browse the web and read and write mail more easily. Additionally, Natural Narrator voices use modern, on-device text-to-speech and, once downloaded, are supported without an internet connection.

The development team is also rolling out a new color font format to COLRv1 to display richer emoji with a 3D-like appearance.

Emoji new font color
Emoji new font color / Image: Microsoft

Lock screen

The Lock screen flyout has been updated to align with the design language of the operating system and more, including rounded corners and mica material.

Lock screen new network flyout
Lock screen new network flyout

Start menu

The Start menu isn’t not receiving new visual changes, but the ranking for sowing the most recently used files has been updated and now considers when the file was last used, the file extension, and more.

Apps

Starting with the preview, the new Outlook is now an inbox app.

Settings app

As part of the Settings app experience, the development team is introducing a new “Home” page with interactive cards representing various device and account-related settings grouped by commonly accessed functions.

The Home page includes two sections. At the top, you will find some basic information about the system, including a preview of the desktop, the device name, and the option to change the computer name.

On the right, you will find the networking status along with the name of the network adapter. Clicking the item will take you to the “Network & internet” settings section.

Settings home top view
Settings home top view

Also, you will notice the status of Windows Update and when was the last time the system checked for updates. Clicking the item will take you to the “Windows Update” settings.

At the bottom, you will find the interactive cards, which currently support up to seven cards, including “Recommended settings,” “Cloud storage,” “Account recovery,” “Personalization,” “Microsoft 365,” “Xbox,” and “Bluetooth Devices.”

Settings home cards view
Settings home cards view

Here’s an overview of each interactive card:

  • Recommended settings: Adapts to your specific usage patterns, providing timely and relevant settings options.
  • Cloud storage: Offers an overview of your cloud storage use and lets you know when you’re nearing capacity.
  • Account recovery: Provides recommendations for your Microsoft account security with options to add additional recovery info.
  • Personalization: Surfaces customization with one-click access to update your background theme or change color mode.
  • Microsoft 365: Provides a quick glimpse of your subscription status and benefits and the ability to take key actions.
  • Xbox: Offers a view of your subscription status and options to manage the subscription.
  • Bluetooth Devices: Simplifies your Bluetooth device management experience.

In this feature update, the Settings app also makes it easier to control whether to use cellular when Wi-Fi is available but poor, using a new toggle that has been added to Settings > Network & Internet > Cellular.

On Settings > Network & Internet, inside the “Advanced network settings” page, you will now be able to open the advanced properties for network adapters and internet properties available through Control Panel.

Network more adapter settings
Network more adapter settings

As part of the networking changes, Windows 11 23H2 introduces support for bridging adapters through the netsh command. “Passpoint” Wi-Fi networks will now support enhanced connection performance and will display a URL in Quick Settings to provide information to users about the venue. And the instant hotspot feature available with Phone Link now supports WPA3. 

In addition, the operating system will add extra options to the “Data Usage” page that allows for daily and weekly data limits. The page will also now show how far a data limit has been exceeded.

On Settings > Network & internet > Wi-Fi and “Manage known networks,” you will find a new option to view Wi-Fi passwords for your known networks.

Windows 11 new find Wi-Fi password option
Windows 11 new find Wi-Fi password option

On Settings > Bluetooth & devices > Devices, you will have the ability to join Bluetooth Personal Area networks. The option will appear for paired devices like Phones that are sharing the internet over Bluetooth.

Furthermore, this update redesigns the lists displayed on Settings > Apps > Startup Apps and Settings > Apps > Advanced App Settings > App Execution Alias pages to be more consistent with other Settings pages. And on Settings > Apps, the “Startup” page receives an update to make it easier to access more information about the apps listed.

Finally, the “For Developers” page is now located on Settings > System.

On Settings > Time & language > Date & time, it’s now possible to hide the time and date from the Taskbar by turning on or off the “Hide time and date in System tray” option.

Hide time and date in the System tray

On Settings > Personalization > Taskbar, you can now turn on or off the “Open search on hover (when available)” toggle switch to control whether the Search home should open automatically when hovering over it.

Taskbar settings open Search on hover
Taskbar settings open Search on hover

One Settings > System > Power & battery, the company is updating the “Energy recommendations” page with two new options to configure dark mode and adjust the refresh rate to conserve energy.

New energy recommendations
New energy recommendations

Out-of-box experience

Microsoft is also updating the experience after completing the out-of-box experience. 

If you choose “Development Intent” in the “Let’s Customize Your Experience” page during the out-of-box experience, Dev Home will be automatically launched on the computer after logging in.

In the case that you choose “Development Intent,” the Get Started app will be automatically launched after logging in and reaching the desktop for the first time after setup. 

Or if you choose to “Restore,” the Get Started app will automatically start after you log into your device for the second time after completing the out-of-box experience. The Get Started app will show you a personalized flow to learn key apps and settings, notify you that the system has been restored on your device, and show you how to access your restored apps on the Start menu or Taskbar.

Finally, as part of the backup and restore experience, you can configure the backup preferences in the second-chance out-of-box experience (SCOOBE), so your apps, settings, credentials, and files are backed up in the cloud.

SOOBE backup settings
SOOBE backup settings / Image: Microsoft

Voice Access update

Windows 11 23H2 will ship with two new experiences to make text authoring easy with voice access. Users can now use “correction” commands to correct words that are misrecognized.

You can say “correct (text)” or “correct that” to correct a specific piece of text or last dictated text. The correction window appears with a list of options labeled with numbers.

In addition, you can say “click (number)” to select any option from the list. If you choose an alternate word from the window, the selected text will be replaced by the word. Also, it’s possible to say “spell that” to dictate the correct spelling of the text or “spell that” or “spell out” command to dictate the right spelling of non-standard words such as usernames or topics.

A spelling window appears where you can dictate letters, numbers, symbols, and phonetic alphabet. You will receive suggestions as you spell out the text. You can say “Click 1” to enter the text you spelled out or say “Click (number)” to pick a suggestion.

Finally, every word and phrase dictated using spelling experience is added to the Windows dictionary and shows up as suggestions when you try to spell the text next time.