Microsoft has added Windows 11 to the Beta channel of its Insider preview scheme and issued a new build which replaces flashing taskbar icons - indicating attention is required - with what it calls a "red pill."
There are three Insider channels: Dev for the latest builds, Beta for builds tied to a specific upcoming release, described as "reliable", and Release Preview for supported builds just before general availability.
Windows 11 has been added in the Beta channel, though right now the Beta and Dev builds are the same, 22000.100.
Microsoft noted that "if you are in the Dev Channel, now would be the right time to consider switching to the Beta Channel if you want to stay on more stabilized builds." Future Dev versions will have changes that will not show up in the first Windows 11 release.
There were a few new features in the new build, which came out at the end of last week. Perhaps the biggest was what happens when a running but unfocused or minimised application demands attention, such as when a new message arrives in a chat application. Technically the application might be calling SetForegroundWindow, which in the bad old days of Windows might pop up over the application the user was working in, or make a specific FlashWindows API call. This flashed the application icon on the taskbar – but in Windows 11 the flashing will stop.
"We have updated this design so that it still grabs your attention but with a calming treatment that minimizes the impact of unwarranted distractions," Microsoft said. "The subtle flashing eventually stops, and you will see a slightly red backplate and red pill under the app icon continuing to note a background activity needs your attention."
The "pill" means a horizontal line under the icon. In our install, we did not see much flashing at all when Outlook tried to interrupt, just a fetching pink background and a small red line under its icon.
The red pill (and pink background) replaces flashing icons
There was not much else new for features in the build: a revised "hidden icons" flyout, a new settings shortcut in the Notification Center, new animations in the Microsoft Store and other minor tweaks. The list of fixes was longer, though there are still some "known issues" like "you might be unable to enter text when using Search from Start or the Taskbar." Lack of much new in this build may be evidence that the first release of Windows 11 is about done, fixes aside.
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Microsoft also gave more background on why Windows 11 is as it is. An article called "Inside the new look and feel" explains some of the research that led to things like the redesigned (and neutered) Start menu.
"Windows users were given slips of paper to represent different operating system features and asked to arrange them in a way that they felt worked best," Microsoft said. The outcome was the discovery that people want to access their document, website or streaming content and then for Windows "to get out of the way." The team therefore set out to reduce clutter, and to reposition the Start menu in the center.
Microsoft said that "we've also rejuvenated Settings to keep pages from feeling overwhelming and make finding what you need easier." This was done with a "consistent navigation system," which sounds good, but also with "progressive disclosure, which allows advanced settings to remain hidden until you want to look at them."
However, it is not clear how hiding, for example, the important "Turn Windows features on and off" under Settings > Apps > Optional features > More Windows features would make it easier to find. The mitigation here is search, which does work so that if you type, for example, Telnet, a link to "Turn Windows features on or off" appears. One person's simplicity may be another's frustration if they cannot find the feature they need, or puzzlement over those that are missing.
It is apparent that Microsoft has set out to make Windows seem simpler, though most features are still there for those who look, or know what to type in the command window.
On the same theme, Microsoft program manger Craig Loewen has introduced a simpler way to install Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). "The process to set up WSL was previously too complicated, involving turning on multiple settings and installing multiple packages," he said. Previously, it was necessary to take steps like enabling the Virtual Machine Platform and the Windows Subsystem for Linux feature, before actually installing a distribution from the Microsoft Store. Now, "you can install everything you need to run WSL just by running wsl.exe –install," said Loewen. This ability is not only in Windows 11, but also backported to Windows 10 via an update.
Since the targets for WSL are developers and more technical users, it is unlikely that many have been put off by the steps to install. That said, simplifying WSL installation, combined with the coming ability to run GUI Linux applications, may help to extend the technology to a wider audience. ®