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What to expect from Microsoft’s Windows 11 hybrid work event

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What’s next for Windows?

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Microsoft will reveal how the company is building Windows for the future of hybrid work next week. A special event, Windows Powers the Future of Hybrid Work, will take place on April 5th and feature Windows and Surface chief Panos Panay and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. It’s expected to cover a variety of new Windows 11 features for security, productivity, and management, both in the client and cloud.

So what exactly are we likely to see next week? We’ll likely get early glimpses at Microsoft’s vision for building Windows for a new world of remote work. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has emphasized how important the move to hybrid work is for Microsoft. “Hybrid work represents the biggest shift to how we work in our generation,” said Nadella last year. “And it will require a new operating model, spanning people, places, and processes.”

Microsoft has made several changes to Microsoft Teams throughout the pandemic, making it easier to use for remote participants and workers adjusting to the reality of hybrid work. While Windows 11 includes some improvements to multiple monitors, multitasking, and Teams integration, it’s clear Microsoft has an opportunity to build a lot more into the core of the operating system.

A smarter clipboard

One of the first new Windows 11 features we’re expecting to see next week is a smart clipboard. Windows 11 already has a clipboard where you can store and paste multiple items, but Microsoft has been working on suggested actions that you can take with items in your clipboard. These could be suggestions to call a number through Microsoft Teams or Skype if you’ve copied one or send an email if you’ve copied an email address.

References to this smart clipboard and suggested actions feature have been appearing in recent Windows 11 dev builds, so it’s likely this is a productivity feature we’ll see Microsoft highlight.

Tabs in File Explorer

Another feature that has appeared in recent Windows 11 dev builds is tabs in File Explorer. This highly requested feature first appeared as Sets in Windows 10, before Microsoft canceled the project to bring tabs to every app. Now it looks like tabs are set to return to File Explorer in Windows 11 soon.

Tabs support is currently hidden within Windows 11 dev builds, and Microsoft said last month that it would start testing experimental features in Windows 11 that might never ship. It’s possible that tabs in File Explorer are just an experiment, but if Microsoft is aiming to improve Windows 11 productivity, then this feature looks like an ideal example for its April 5th event.

Tabs in File Explorer.
Image: Rafael Rivera (Twitter)

A new Windows email app

The built-in mail app for Windows 11 needs a total overhaul, and it looks like one is on the way. Microsoft has been testing a new Outlook app that will eventually replace its built-in mail app on Windows. Codenamed Monarch or “One Outlook,” the app first leaked more than a year ago as a web-based and lightweight alternative to the win32 Outlook app.

ZDNet reported recently that Microsoft is planning to officially announce this new Outlook app in the spring, so the April 5th event sure sounds like as good a time as any.

Microsoft Teams and a 3D metaverse

Microsoft has promised to bring 3D avatars to Microsoft Teams in the first half of 2022, so it’s likely that we’ll get a good look at these next week. These new 3D avatars are designed to combat meeting fatigue, so you don’t always have to enable your webcam. They’re also part of a broader push toward a metaverse environment for Microsoft, and you won’t need to put a VR headset on to use them. Microsoft will use AI to listen to your voice and then animate these avatars accordingly.

We’ll also likely see some of Microsoft’s visions for the future of hybrid work and the metaverse with Windows 11 and Microsoft 365. Microsoft has been building immersive meetings for Teams and an entire Microsoft Mesh platform over the past year, and Nadella is bullish on the metaverse.

Image: Microsoft

“We feel very well positioned to be able to catch what I think is essentially the next wave of the internet,” said Nadella during Microsoft’s earnings call earlier this year. “I think the next wave of the internet will be a more open world where people can build their own metaverse worlds, whether they’re organizations, game developers, or anyone else.”

We’re also expecting to see some more Teams features and perhaps additional integration into Windows 11. Microsoft already has a Teams client built into Windows 11, but businesses have to install a separate one to use work accounts. Tidying this up in Windows 11 should undoubtedly be part of Microsoft’s plans to improve hybrid work with Windows 11.

Microsoft Edge

Microsoft has been adding plenty of productivity and security features to its Edge browser to make it stand out from Chrome, Firefox, and others. We’re expecting to see further additions focused on hybrid work and productivity.

Edge’s PDF reader looks like it’s set to include some much-needed improvement soon with full support for a table of contents, thumbnail views, and much more. Reddit users have also spotted the return of a Workspaces feature, which essentially works like a virtual desktop for your browser. Microsoft originally started testing this feature last year, and the latest Edge Canary builds show that it might be about to return.

A new option for Edge workspaces.
Image: Leopeva64-2 (Reddit)

Security and management

It wouldn’t be a Microsoft business-focused event without some security and management announcements. We’re expecting Microsoft to announce some new security and management features for Windows 11 and Windows 365 next week. These will likely fall under Microsoft’s broad Endpoint Manager, which includes Intune, Autopilot, and Configuration Manager.

Microsoft has been on a mission to improve security in Windows 11, particularly with its TPM and Secure Boot requirements. A recent addition is a vulnerable driver blocklist for Windows Defender, and we’d expect to see other improvements to protect Windows 11 against the complications of remote work.

The Verge will be covering Microsoft’s Windows event on April 5th, so stay tuned for all the latest news.