Microsoft is making some big changes to Windows, and some of those changes are happening now: the latest non-security Windows 11 preview update includes many adjustments that will be rolling out to everybody in the coming weeks and months.
The changes are for users in the European Economic Area (EEA) and are designed to comply with the Digital Markets Act, which becomes law in spring 2024. The DMA has significant requirements regarding competition and interoperability, and it's the same legislation that means Apple will be offering the option to sideload iPhone and iPad apps from non-Apple sources from next year.
So far it's unclear what features will be rolled out to everybody and what ones will be specific to Windows users in the EEA, but it does seem that the option to remove Edge and Bing-powered web search will be EEA-only. There's no technical reason why Microsoft can't extend it to everyone, but it clearly doesn't want to.
What changes is Microsoft making to Windows 11?
The most significant change is the ability to uninstall the Camera, Cortana and Photos apps, plus Bing web search and Edge in the EEA.
Windows will now also clearly label operating system features in Settings, Start and Search, so for example search results from the Search bar will say "system" against system features and apps.
Microsoft is also adding more interoperability, so in the EEA you'll be able to supplement or replace the Microsoft Start feed with content from other providers.
The changes you get will depend on where you tell Microsoft your computer is. As Microsoft explains, "Windows uses the region chosen by the customer during device setup to identify if the PC is in the EEA. Once chosen in device setup, the region used for DMA compliance can only be changed by resetting the PC."
Microsoft has also announced that its Copilot AI tech won't be in Windows for EEA users right now. The update currently being previewed doesn't include the feature, and Microsoft says its initial markets will be "North America, United Kingdom and parts of Asia and South America." The EEA is apparently still on the to-do list, however.
The changes are all currently in preview so that users can kick the tyres and identify any issues. There's no definite timescale for a wider rollout but Microsoft, like other tech firms, needs to be compliant in the EEA by March 6th, 2024.