Microsoft issued a substantial Windows Insider Build on Wednesday for the Dev channel, testing out a substantial improvement: Voice Access, as well as a couple of customization enhancements that should be welcomed by Windows users.
Technically, the new features offered in Dev Channel build 22518 for Windows 11 are new and untested code, which may not even make it to the stable channel. Still, there’s a good chance that at least Voice Access will hit the market, as it builds on Microsoft’s accessibility strengths.
Microsoft’s new build has also added a “Spotlight” feature that will provide new and updated wallpapers, and tweaked the Widgets feature to look like Windows 10.
How Voice Access works in Windows
Microsoft describes Voice Access as a new and distinct feature of dictation, which has been in Windows for some time. The two are similar in that Voice Access also uses speech recognition to control your PC. But while dictation is primarily used to create text, Microsoft says Voice Access can be used for everything from opening and switching between apps, browsing the web, and reading and creating mail.
According to Microsoft, Voice Access will be controlled by Settings> Accessibility> Voice within the Windows 11 setup menu. You will need to navigate here to toggle on the “main switch”, so to speak, to enable Voice Access. Once it’s on, you’ll obviously need an available microphone (either on your laptop or via a headset or headphones) to control it.
Here, you can activate Voice Access in one of two ways: through the Alt + Shift + C shortcut or saying “Activate voice access”. (That’s the only way Voice Access will be activated, Microsoft says.) You can turn it off completely by saying “Microphone off” or simply put it to “sleep” by saying “Voice access sleep” or “Mute”. In the last scenario, Voice Access can be reactivated by saying “Activate Voice Access” or “Activate Sound”.
Microsoft has a ton of commands available that can be used with Voice Access, most of which are designed for those who need additional accessibility options. But there is also a number that can be used as a modality – the way Microsoft describes the different ways of interacting with your PC, including the mouse and touchscreens. Suggested commands include “Open Edge” or “Open Word” or “search in [search engine] for [search term], ”As well as ways to navigate a document and add text to it.
All things considered, Voice Access is not something you should use, not at all. But it seems to offer new ways of interacting with your PC, for each user, and not just those that require additional assistance.
One of the most enjoyable things you can do within Windows is personalize your PC, using everything from Themes to custom sounds. For years, Microsoft has offered the ability to download custom theme packs for your PC. You have also been able to take advantage of Bing’s “picture of the day” and set it as your daily desktop background through the Microsoft utility. Now, Microsoft seems to be making this latest feature more accessible, via Spotlight.
If you want, you can simply right-click on your desktop and then choose Personalize> Background> Spotlight Collection after downloading the new build. “You’ll get beautiful new desktop images from around the world every day and fun facts about each image,” says Microsoft.
It looks like Spotlight will be a bit more active too – later in the day, the background will be replaced with a collection of up to five new background photos that you can cycle through by clicking a new Spotlight icon on the desktop. Double-clicking on the icon will open a landing page with more information about the images.
There will also be more changes to the Windows 11 taskbar; well, no, not the ability to resize the taskbar, anyway. Instead, Microsoft is reverting the Windows 11 widget icon to what is essentially the “news and interests” taskbar widget in Windows 10: a brief summary of the weather outside. Microsoft is also pushing the Widgets widget all the way to the left corner, where the Start menu used to reside. “For users who choose to align their taskbar [to the left], the entry point for the widgets will be to the right of the task view icon, ”says Microsoft, albeit without the weather and temperature information.
Microsoft is also expanding on some of the features it previously announced. For one thing, Microsoft is now putting the clock and calendar on all screens for all Dev Channel Insiders members, rather than the subset that previously tested it. Microsoft has also completed the transition to push the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) to the Microsoft Store, and modified some commands and the configuration option. (To upgrade to the Store version, just type wsl -update To get started.)
Microsoft has also modified the context menu in File Explorer to put commonly used commands front and center, although they are only available for .cer (certificate) and font files in this build.
For the full list of tweaks and changes, you can see Microsoft’s blog post.
As a senior editor at PCWorld, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other topics. He has previously written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.