A full look at Windows 11 22H2, the OS’s first major annual update

Enlarge / Windows 11 22H2 is rumored to be entering its next stage of development and the operating system itself.

Andrew Cunningham

Windows 11 has already changed a lot since the release of the version we reviewed in October, and Microsoft has released a steady stream of redesigned app updates, bug fixes, and user interface improvements.

But the company’s big annual Windows updates are still important. This is where Microsoft makes the biggest changes to the look and feel of Windows 11 and the features under the hood. This week, suggested rumors Microsoft is finishing work on what will eventually be released as Windows 11 version 22H2, the operating system’s first annual update. This build, currently available to the Windows Insider Beta channel as build number 22621.1will serve as the basis for the next year of Windows updates.

We cover new Windows Insider builds fairly frequently, depending on how relevant the changes are. But to save you from wading through months of articles, we’ve rounded up all the most significant differences between the current Windows 11 21H2 public build (for the record, 22000.675) and the latest 22H2 beta.

Annual updates aren’t what they used to be

First, a caveat: Microsoft has changed the way it updates Windows over the past year. The company now releases many app updates and UI changes when they are ready instead of waiting for a major annual OS update like it would have done in the 10 Windows days. This more flexible schedule has already allowed Microsoft to fix some of Windows 11’s early shortcomings, including missing taskbar functionality and apps that still hadn’t been updated with the new look.

This also means that this preview will not include all of the Windows features that will be part of the 22H2 update when it launches. It’s likely that apps like the new Sound Recorder, currently previewed on the Dev Channel, will go public before the official release of the 22H2 update. Features that are still being tested, such as the tabbed file explorer, could also be done in time. These and other changes could be included in the 22H2 update, they could be released before its release, or they could never to be freed.

This preview is therefore only a preview of Windows 11 22H2 as it currently exists. When it goes public, we’ll take another look at it, 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 some later versions of Windows 10) all required an internet connection and Microsoft account sign-in during setup, pushing users to integrate deeper into Microsoft’s ecosystem . This process has some advantages, including automated local disk encryption and recovery key backup, password-free login, quick access to Microsoft Store apps and services such as Microsoft 365 and PC Game Pass, and data synchronization for applications such as OneDrive and Edge. But if you don’t use these, want to log in later or prefer to stick with a good old fashioned local account, there is no easy workaround unless you log out or create a new local account once that you have arrived on the desktop.

This was not the case with the Pro editions of Windows, which still allowed you to create a local account if you did not connect to the Internet during installation. But that ends with version 22H2 of Windows 11, which requires a Microsoft account, regardless of the edition of the operating system you are using. (The setup also pushes you to sign up for PC Game Pass in addition to Microsoft 365, which I think is new in 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 allows you to sign in with your work or school Microsoft account, if you have one, rather than a personal account. But if you just want to create a local account or need to set up a PC without an internet connection, there’s no easy way to do it.

This policy only applies to new installations of Windows and will not affect you if you are upgrading an already configured PC.