Windows 11 has already changed quite a bit since the version we reviewed in October was released, and Microsoft has put out a steady stream of redesigned app updates, bug fixes, and user interface improvements.
But the company’s big yearly Windows updates are still important. They’re where Microsoft makes the most significant changes to Windows 11’s look and feel and under-the-hood features. This week, rumors suggested that Microsoft is wrapping up work on what will eventually be released as Windows 11 version 22H2, the OS’s first yearly update. That build, currently available to the Windows Insider Beta channel as build number 22621.1, will serve as the foundation for the next year of Windows updates.
We cover new Windows Insider builds fairly frequently, depending on how noteworthy the changes are. But to save you the trouble of scrolling through months of articles, we’ve gathered together all the most significant differences between the current public build of Windows 11 21H2 (for the record, 22000.675) and the latest beta of version 22H2.
Yearly updates ain’t what they used to be
First, a caveat: Microsoft has changed how it updates Windows in the last year. The company now releases many app updates and UI tweaks when they’re ready instead of waiting for a major yearly OS update as it would have back 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 hadn’t been updated with the new look and feel.
It also means that this overview won’t include all of the Windows features that will be a part of the 22H2 update when it launches. It’s likely that apps like the new Sound Recorder, currently in preview in the Dev channel, will be released to the public before the 22H2 update is formally released. Still-in-testing features like the tabbed File Explorer could be done in time, too. Those and other changes could be included in the 22H2 update, they could be released before it’s out, or they might 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, note any other new features we see, and spend more time on minor changes that we won’t mention in this roundup.
Mandatory Microsoft account sign-in
The Home edition of Windows 11 (and of some of the later Windows 10 releases) all required an Internet connection and a Microsoft account sign-in at setup, pushing users to embed themselves deeper in Microsoft’s ecosystem. There are some benefits to this process, including automated local disk encryption and recovery key backup, passwordless sign-in, quick access to Microsoft Store apps and services like Microsoft 365 and PC Game Pass, and data syncing for apps like OneDrive and Edge. But if you don’t use these things, want to sign in later, or prefer to stick with a good old-fashioned local account, there’s no easy workaround, short of signing out or creating a new local account once you’ve gotten to the desktop.
This wasn’t true of the Pro editions of Windows, which would still allow you to create a local account if you didn’t connect to the Internet during setup. But that ends in the 22H2 version of Windows 11, which requires a Microsoft account no matter which edition of the OS you use. (Setup also pushes you to sign up for PC Game Pass in addition to Microsoft 365, which I think is new to this version of Windows but may have been added more recently).
The only officially sanctioned exception to this policy is if you choose the “work or school” option during setup instead of the “personal use” option. This lets you sign in with your work or school Microsoft account, if you have one, rather than a personal account. But if you just want to make a local account, or if you need to set a PC up without an Internet connection, there’s no easy way to do that.
This policy only applies to new Windows installations, and it won’t affect you if you’re upgrading a PC that’s already set up.