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Windows 11 will soon allow third-party Widgets — this is big

Windows 11 logo on a laptop screen
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Windows 11 Widgets are poised to get a lot more useful later this year, when Microsoft says it will begin allowing developers to build their own Widgets via the software giant's Adaptive Cards platform.

The news comes to us courtesy of a blog post (opens in new tab) attributed to Microsoft exec Panos Panay, and it's potentially a big deal. Widgets were a promising Windows 11 feature that proved deeply underwhelming at launch. 

In our Windows 11 review, I criticized Microsoft for not doing more with the operating system's new Widgets menu, a customizable pane of auto-updating Widgets which pops out from the left side of the screen whenever you mouse over the Widgets icon on the taskbar (or press Windows key + W). On paper, it sounds like a great feature — an unobtrusive smorgasbord of up-to-date information that can be tailored to your needs and summoned with the press of a button.

Windows 11 desktop showing widgets menu open

(Image credit: Future)

But in practice, it's not a very useful menu because Windows 11 Widgets are too limited to offer great value for most users. There are currently 11 Widgets you can enable (up from 8 at launch) to display up-to-date info about everything from the latest sports scores and news headlines to stocks and the weather. It's a decent array of information, but none of the Widgets are more useful or quicker to access than a bookmark in your browser to a page with the same data. 

There are some strange limitations on how you can use Widgets, too. For example, I really liked the idea of being able to quickly hit a key combo to open an auto-updating feed of the latest stories published by websites I read, but Windows 11 won't let you do that. Instead, the only way to customize what news stories it shows you on your Widgets menu is to select "Sources" (read: websites") and "Interests" to follow. Windows 11 then serves you stories based on those interests, and you further customize the feed by approving/disapproving individual stories (or simply telling it to hide stories from a specific source).

It all works once you figure out how, but in an unnecessarily complicated and imprecise way. Why not just let users tell Windows 11 exactly what sites they want to see updates from, even if those sites aren't in the official "Sources" list? And would it be so terrible to let us see the weather for multiple locations at once, like I can just by glancing at my iPhone's Weather app? 

Why can I only customize what news stories appear in my Widgets menu by using Microsoft's arcane system of "Interests" and "Sources"? And why do I have to open a web page to do it? How is this any better than a Chrome bookmark? (Image credit: Future)

At least Microsoft does appear to be listening to feedback from Windows 11 users, and the fact that third parties will soon be able to build their own Widgets means that Widgets menu may get a lot more useful later this year. Microsoft is explicitly encouraging devs to build Widgets as companions to PWA (Progressive Web App) and Win 32 apps, and that could lead to a much more vibrant and interesting Windows 11 full of customizable Widgets for apps like Audible, Spotify, Steam and more.

Microsoft isn't stopping there, either. The blog post also alludes to a vision for Windows 11 that allows developers to integrate cloud-based content from their app(s) into more areas of Windows, including File Explorer. 

According to Panay's blog post, "this would enable Windows to show your app and app content to users in the right context, providing a seamless app installation and content discovery experience across devices."

That could be good or bad for Windows 11 users, depending on what content Microsoft allows devs to show in apps like File Explorer. Getting useful indicators to things like recently-installed programs could be handy, for example, but seeing ads in core Windows apps (remember, we briefly saw Microsoft experimenting with ads in File Explorer earlier this year) would significantly worsen the experience of using Windows.

We'll just have to wait and see if Microsoft is on the right track with these updates. If you're as excited about the prospect of third-party Widgets as I am, it sounds like we won't have to wait too long -- third-party Widgets should start landing on Windows 11 as soon as the latter half of this year.

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. A lifelong PC builder, he currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.