Windows 11 has changed quite a bit since the version we reviewed in October was released, and Microsoft has released a steady stream of redesigned app updates, bug fixes, and UI improvements.
But the company’s major annual Windows updates are still important. This is where Microsoft makes the major changes to the look and feel of Windows 11 and its under-the-hood features. This week, rumors suggested that Microsoft is finishing work on what will eventually be released as Windows 11 version 22H2, the operating system’s first annual update. That build, currently available to the Windows Insider Beta channel as build number 22621.1, will be the foundation for the coming year of Windows updates.
We cover new builds of Windows Insider quite often, depending on how notable the changes are. But to save you the trouble of scrolling through months of articles, we’ve rounded up the key differences between the current public version of Windows 11 21H2 (for the record, 22000.675) and the latest beta version of version 22H2.
Annual updates aren’t what they used to be
First, a word of warning: Microsoft has intentionally changed the way it updates Windows over the past year; the company now releases app updates and UI tweaks when they’re ready instead of waiting for a major annual OS update like in the Windows 10 days. That more flexible schedule has already allowed Microsoft to fix some of Windows 11’s early shortcomings, including missing taskbar features and apps that still weren’t updated with the new look and feel.
It also means that this overview does not include all Windows features that will be part of the 22H2 update when it launches. It’s likely that apps like the new Sound Recorder, currently in preview on the Dev channel, will be released to the public before the 22H2 update is formally released. Features that are still under testing, such as the tabbed file explorer, may also run on time. Those and other changes could be included in the 22H2 update, they could be released before it comes out, or they could never be released.
So this overview is just a snapshot of Windows 11 22H2 as it currently exists. When it’s released to the public, we’ll take another look, notice all the other new features we see, and spend more time on minor changes that we won’t mention in this roundup.
Mandatory sign in to Microsoft account
The Home edition of Windows 11 (and some of the later Windows 10 releases) all required an internet connection and a Microsoft account login when set up, forcing users to embed themselves more deeply into Microsoft’s ecosystem. This process has some benefits, including automated local disk encryption and recovery key backup, password-less login, quick access to Microsoft Store apps and services like Microsoft 365 and PC Game Pass, and data sync for apps like OneDrive and Edge. But if you do not If you use these things, want to log in later or prefer to keep a good old fashioned local account, there is no easy solution other than logging out or creating a new local account once you get to the desktop.
This was not the case with the Pro editions of Windows, which still allow you to create a local account if you don’t connect to the Internet during installation. But that ends in the 22H2 version of Windows 11, which requires a Microsoft account no matter what edition of the operating system you’re running. (Setup also forces you to sign up for PC Game Pass and Microsoft 365, which I to think is new to this version of Windows, but may have been added more recently).
The only officially approved exception to this policy is if you choose the “work or school” option instead of the “personal use” option during installation. This allows you to sign in with your Microsoft work or school account, 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’s no easy way to do that.
This policy only applies to new Windows installations and will not affect you if you are upgrading from a PC that has already been set up.