Microsoft slowly but surely admits it was wrong about the Windows 11 taskbar

man sleeping underneath his laptop
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Windows 11 just got its first preview build in the new Canary channel – the earliest test versions of the OS going forward, possibly representing the foundations of Windows 12 – and while nothing much of note was introduced on the face of it, a hidden gem has been unearthed.

Twitter-based leaker @PhantomOfEarth pointed out @XenoPanther’s discovery of a bunch of strings tucked away under the hood in build 25314 referring to taskbar grouping.

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What does this mean? Well, it’s a tantalizing hint that as previously rumored, Microsoft is going to bring back the ‘never combine’ option when it comes to grouping apps on the taskbar.

In other words, rather than having multiple instances of the same app automatically grouped together on the taskbar (stacked vertically), you can have each of them separated into individual entries (horizontally) on the bar.

Elsewhere in build 25314, there are some minor tweaks, the most significant of those being a change to File Explorer, something a new Windows 12 concept video visually explores, namely the addition of Access Keys. These are single keystroke shortcuts labeled by a single letter in the context menu of File Explorer – simply hit the relevant key to swiftly execute the command in question.

Furthermore, those using Azure Active Directory will now see recommendations for files they might find useful or relevant at the top of File Explorer Home.


Analysis: It seems like Microsoft is finally listening on the taskbar

When cooking up Windows 11, Microsoft made some mystifying decisions with the interface, leaving out some core bits of functionality seen in Windows 10, most notably with the taskbar. The ability to never combine (stack up) running instances of the same app was one of those features that got dropped.

To see a glimmer of hope that it might be inbound for the future, then, is certainly welcome. Although we still question exactly why it has taken so long for Microsoft to look at implementing this. And we must remember, this is only tinkering in the background in early testing for now – eventually it’s possible nothing could come of it, though we’re trying not to entertain that possibility, frankly. The lack of this feature is a deal-breaker for us, personally, in Windows 11.

As for the other notable taskbar omissions Microsoft made with Windows 11, drag-and-drop support was returned to the bar not so long ago. And in the future, we may also see the resurrection of the ability to move the taskbar from the bottom of the screen to the sides or top. (Currently, it’s locked down at the foot of the screen for Windows 11 users, whereas those on Windows 10 can move it around, of course).

So, it seems that Microsoft is slowly rethinking and reversing course on its taskbar philosophy with Windows 11, and frankly, it’s about time. Especially given all the feedback and voices shouting about these bits of functionality being stripped away for no good reason – not that we can think of, anyway. And don’t give us any excuses about streamlining or simplifying the UI, these can be options in Settings that no one who’s bothered about this sort of thing ever has to look at.

In short, Microsoft, please keep going along this path of reversal, because, you know, we’d like to get back to a Windows 10 level of functionality with the taskbar, if that’s okay?

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).