Windows 11 deep dive: Checking out the Widgets pane

Windows 11 deep dive: Checking out the Widgets pane

Windows 11 has been out for about one year at this point, but it still only accounts for a portion of all Windows PCs, and for many users, it’s still new. There are a lot of new features and changes in Windows 11 compared to Windows 10, and to help you out, we’re taking a closer look at them. In this article, we’re taking a look at the new Widgets pane.

Widgets are a new way to get access to quick at-a-glance information from Microsoft products and services. It’s somewhat of a successor to the Live Tiles of Windows 10. Even since the Windows 11 launch in October of 2021, the feature has already changed a bit, so let’s take a closer look at the Widgets pane.

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Using and customizing Widgets on Windows 11

Accessing Widgets on Windows 11 is very straightforward. When you first use the new operating system, you’ll probably notice the Widgets icon on your taskbar, represented by the white and blue square icon that lives on the left side of the taskbar (though it was originally in the center). If you’ve been using Windows 11 for a bit, the icon may also be replaced by a weather indicator, which is one of the changes Microsoft has made since the Windows 11 launch. You can also open the widgets pane by pressing Windows keyW on your keyboard, or by swiping in from the left side f the screen if your device has a touchscreen.

As the experience is fully powered by Microsoft services, you’ll need to sign in with a Microsoft account to use Widgets. The Widgets pane will look something like this, although you may have different widgets added by default.

Screenshot of the Windows 11 desktop with the Widgets panel open

If you want to add widgets, click the + icon or your profile picture in the top right corner of the Widgets pane. Here, you can choose a variety of widgets provided by Microsoft, including Weather, Photos, Gaming, and so on.

Most of the widgets are self-explanatory, but others may be a bit more complex. The Photos widget show pictures from your OneDrive storage (not your PC), Entertainment highlights movies and shows on the Microsoft Store, and Family Safety lets you keep tabs on your Microsoft family group if you’ve created one. The Microsoft 365 widget is only available for commercial users of Microsoft 365, and highlights documents with recent updates, changes on SharePoint, and other activity inside your organization.

Screenshot of the Widgets panel showing the menu for adding new widgets

Once you’ve added all the widgets you want, you can also resize them so they look how you want them to. Some widgets are customizable, so you can track a specific league in the Sports widget, or specific companies in the Watchlist.  To resize a widget, click the ellipsis icon in the corner of the card, and choose from the sizes available. For widgets that can be customized, you’ll also see a Customize widget button.

It’s been rumored that third-party widgets may be supported at some point, though we have yet to see that come to fruition. Right now, all the available widgets come from Microsoft, though the company has at least been adding a few more since Windows 11 launched. There’s also a Game Pass widget currently available for Windows Insiders in the Dev channel.

Managing your news and interests

Aside from the widgets themselves, you may notice there’s a news feed when you scroll down the Widgets pane on Windows 11. This will show you news powered by Microsoft Start, which is the new name for Microsoft News and MSN News. The news list encompasses a lot of topics, and because of that, you might see a lot of things you don’t care about.

Thankfully, you can tailor your interests. To do this, click the Add widgets button or your profile picture, then click Manage interests at the bottom of the pop-up window. This will take you to Microsoft Edge to manage your interests directly in Microsoft Start. You can choose the topics you’re interested in from a selection of categories, as well as choose specific publications you’re interested in or that you want to ignore.

Screenshot of the Microsoft Edge browser showing the interests customization page for Microsoft Start, which affects the news shown in the Widgets panel

Once you’ve set this up, it will affect your experience in every app or page powered by Microsoft Start. For example, the new tab page in Microsoft Edge also includes a news feed, which will reflect the changes you make here.

If you don’t want to go through the trouble of setting everything up, you can always hide individual stories directly on the News Feed by clicking the X button. This lets you choose whether you’re not interested in a particular story or a specific publication, so you can still customize your feed this way and it’ll keep learning from your preferences.

Screenshot of various news stories in the widgets panel, with one of them having been hidden by the user. Users can choose to hide posts from a publication or indicate they're not interested in the topic of the news.

That’s about it for the Widgets pane in Windows 11. Admittedly, it would be a bit more exciting with third-party services also having widgets available, and we can hope that will be the case in the future. As it stands, you have to be somewhat invested in the Microsoft ecosystem, but Windows is so ubiquitous that this isn’t the case for everyone using Windows 11. Regardless, this feature may be interesting to a lot of users, and it has potential.

If you’re interested in trying Widgets and other Windows 11 features, you may want to check whether your PC meets the system requirements for the new OS. We also have a list of PCs that support the upgrade to Windows 11. And if you’re interested in what’s coming next, check out the Windows 11 features available in preview. In addition to a new Game Pass widget, Microsoft is also working on a full-screen Widgets panel.

About author

João Carrasqueira
João Carrasqueira

Editor at XDA Computing. I've been covering the world of technology since 2018, but I've loved the field for a lot longer. And I have a weird affinity for Nintendo videogames, which I'm always happy to talk about.

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