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The hottest new features coming in Windows 11's March 2024 update

Microsoft OfficeImage: StackCommerce

Microsoft on Thursday released its “official” list of the features arriving in the next point, or Moment, update of Windows 11, including many we already knew about. A few — including new Copilot control updates and the ability to use your Android phone as a webcam — appear to be new.

Between the features Microsoft included within earlier Windows 11 preview releases and Microsoft’s official announcement today, Microsoft is now telling us what new features you should expect to arrive on your Windows 11 PC in the coming weeks. But you won’t receive them right away; while we referred to this incremental Windows 11 update as the February 2024 Moment in our previous report, Microsoft has missed this window.

Microsoft is now offering two time periods for you to receive these feature updates: first, during the March 2024 optional non-security preview release, assuming you’ve opted in to receive updates as soon as they’re available. “Most of these new features will be available then,” Microsoft says. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait a month longer.

“We anticipate broad availability for most new features by the April 2024 security update release for all eligible devices,” Microsoft added in a blog post, allowing itself some wiggle room to push the latest Windows 11 features out at an even later date. Microsoft isn’t officially referring to this as a “moment” or “update,” either — just a release of new features.

New Copilot Skills, plugins, shortcuts, and commands

Remember, Microsoft’s AI-powered Copilot was released both as a chatbot and a control center of sorts for controlling your PC. But there were just a token number of actions it could take, including switching your PC to dark mode. Now, there are a whole lot more. They include:

Turn on/off battery saverShow device informationShow system informationShow battery informationOpen storage pageLaunch live captionsLaunch narratorLaunch screen magnifierOpen voice access pageOpen text size pageOpen contrast themes pageLaunch voice inputShow available Wi-Fi networksDisplay IP addressShow available storage spaceEmpty recycle bin

Microsoft calls these actions “Copilot Skills,” and they’ll roll out in late March, Microsoft says.

Mark Hachman / IDG

Put another way, you’ll be able to open Copilot and then type “Show battery information” to (presumably) view the Windows Settings page about the battery status of your PC. If you don’t know where that is, this will be helpful. (It would be even more helpful for Copilot to include a standard command to explain what it can do to control your PC.)

Copilot will also move to the lower right-hand corner of your PC, instead of its traditional home on the Taskbar. Microsoft already quietly added a few new task-specific Copilots within Copilot — including a vacation planner, cooking assistant, and fitness trainer — and has now formally added plugins from OpenTable to facilitate reservations. Shopify, Kayak, and Klarna will be added soon as well.


Use your smartphone as a webcam

Microsoft is also kind of dropping a bombshell with the ability to use your Android smartphone or tablet camera as a webcam in any video application. While this was originally expected to be part of the actual feature release, Microsoft says that it is “gradually” rolling out this feature to all of its Insider Channels. That presumably includes Release Preview, so the feature should be available soon.

Microsoft says that you’ll need to be running the Link to Windows phone application, version 1.24012 or above, and own an Android phone running Android 9.0 or higher.

Photos, Clipchamp get better editing tools

Praise be to Gates — Paint 3D’s best feature, Magic Select, is now a feature within Photos. Last year, we hoped that an AI-powered ability to remove an object from a photo would be added to the Photos app, and it’s coming. What Microsoft calls Generative Erase will roll out to Photos today, allowing you to remove your ex- from a holiday photo and intelligently replace the background. Photos probably won’t allow you to replace that person with a Santa Claus or holiday elf, but maybe later.

Microsoft is also providing an easy way to trim any unwanted silences within a Clipchamp audio track via AI. That’s available today.


Voice Shortcuts

Voice Access has been available within Windows 11 for months, and Windows 11’s voice capabilities include both dictation and actual control of the PC. Voice Shortcuts are an offshoot of that, allowing you to perform tasks like finding and opening a specific folder or app using just your voice.

It’s not clear how detailed Voice Shortcuts will be — for example, if you’ll be able to “code” a voice macro to open Outlook, search for any emails from your boss, and open them. But you’ll be able to use shortcuts across multiple displays, which is another improvement. And more languages will be available too: French (France and Canada) plus Spanish (Spain, Mexico) and German.

Mark Hachman / IDG

Nearby sharing and the rest

Microsoft also bundled several of the smaller features inside a second blog post, such as the newfound ability to share files via your preferred apps for work or your own personal account, and to share faster than you have before. Some of the smaller additions are referenced in our earlier Windows 11 preview of the new Moment.

Microsoft is boosting Snap Layouts, for example, so that it uses AI to better understand what apps you have open and where you’ll prefer they end up on your desktop. You’ll be able to ink in more apps, such as Photos, Paints, WhatsApp, and Messenger, and adjust the Widgets board into categories for work and play.

Interestingly, Microsoft didn’t mention anything about its plans for the EU, which involve the freedom to remove many default Windows apps, even Microsoft Edge. It’s possible that either Microsoft is deliberately downplaying those changes, or else European customers will receive their own updates.

With that said, though, Microsoft’s new Moment looks more, er, momentous than it did before. Expect Microsoft to roll on to more AI-powered updates due in the second half of 2024.

This story was updated at 2:27 PM with additional information.

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

Recent stories by Mark Hachman:

Finland’s ‘Windows95man’ is taking Eurovision by stormMicrosoft’s Copilot AI is stealing one of Midjourney’s best featuresMore workers are using AI, but they’re ashamed to admit it

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