In a new Windows 11 insider build, Microsoft has placed a search bar on the desktop for some users, explaining that this is the first stage of an experiment of removing widgets from the Taskbar.
This can be found in Windows 11 Build 25120 (opens in new tab), which is available in the Dev Channel if you're signed in to the Insider program. Microsoft has said that this won't appear to all of its users who are signed up to the program, but a restart may solve this for some.
While you can access widgets through a button on the bottom left of the Taskbar, this is the first instance in which you can directly use a widget on the desktop.
However, we've been here before thanks to Windows Vista. Even though Microsoft is calling this an experiment, it could be the start of fixing widgets as a whole, something that's been a sore point for Windows users since 2006.
Analysis: A major fix that needs to happen
Widgets have always felt like a challenge for Microsoft that it never managed to solve. Before Windows Vista arrived in 2006, there were a bunch of third-party apps that would place widgets all over your Windows XP desktop, showcasing news readers, media controls, weather notifications, and more.
By the time they officially arrived in Vista, they landed with a terrible name, called Gadgets, and were a drain on your CPU, which led to many users switching this feature off.
As the years passed and newer Windows releases arrived, gadgets fast became a distant memory. They were brought back when Windows 11 was released in October 2021, but they've always felt restrictive.
This is mainly due to the fact that third-party developers don't have access to widgets yet. Apple's take on widgets has worked well in iOS and iPadOS 15, due to the fact that developers have embraced them, and you can re-arrange them on your home screen whenever you wish.
While they're still restrictive to a column in macOS for now, they're still more useful than Microsoft's take, thanks to developers.
However, this is a promising first step by Microsoft, even if it's just a search bar. Placing OneDrive, shortcuts to folders, or Xbox Game Pass widgets on your Windows 11 desktop would work well. These could cut down the steps from the desktop to your OneDrive in one go for example, but we could be getting ahead of ourselves, as this is an experiment, and features have been removed by Microsoft in the past.
Apple may be planning similar changes to macOS 13 at WWDC in June, which could place widgets on a Mac desktop. But hopefully we see this as a big feature in Sun Valley 2, Windows 11's next major update, once it arrives later in 2022.