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Microsoft to test new experimental Windows 11 features

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Testers will get access to features that may never ship

Image: Microsoft

After revealing last week that Windows 11 is getting a bigger than usual update in February with Android apps, taskbar improvements, and much more, Microsoft is now detailing its plans for Windows 11 testing throughout 2022. The software maker says it plans to experiment more with features for Windows 11 testers to evaluate that may never ship.

“As part of this ongoing evolution, Insiders will see us lean more heavily on the Dev Channel as a place to incubate new ideas, work on long lead items, and control the states of individual features,” explains Amanda Langowski, the lead for the Windows Insider Program. “In some cases, these concepts will never ship, but by experimenting more, we can better refine experiences, and deliver solutions in Windows that truly empower our customers to achieve more.”

We’ve seen some A/B testing like this before, where a subset of Windows Insiders will get access to a feature before Microsoft rolls it out more broadly to testers. In the future though, there could be variations on features that won’t be fully documented by Microsoft. A number of Windows enthusiasts look out for new features every time Microsoft releases a new build, using flags in the operating system to switch hidden features on and see what Microsoft is experimenting with.

A user types on the Surface Pro 8 from behind. The screen displays the Windows 11 start menu on a white and blue background.
Windows 11 features are about to get more experimentational.
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

“We also recognize that some of our more technical Insiders have discovered that some features are intentionally disabled in the builds we have flighted,” says Langowski. “This is by design, and in those cases, we will only communicate about features that we are purposefully enabling for Insiders to try out and give feedback on.”

The Dev Channel for Windows 11 testing will now be truly where experimental features appear, leaving the Beta Channel to include features that are closer to what will ship to everyone. That could mean that new features even show up in the Beta Channel first, if they’re closer to shipping.

Microsoft is now planning to give Windows 11 testers a window in which they can switch from the Dev Channel to the Beta Channel, to avoid the more experimental features that are on the way. That will likely coincide with the February release of features, including Android app support, taskbar changes, and the redesigned Notepad and Media Player apps.