Windows 11 may bring Live Tiles back from the dead — sort of

A screenshot of Start Menu Companions on a Windows 11 Insider Preview build.
Albacore @thebookisclosed on X/Twitter

The latest Windows 11 Canary build 26212 has quietly introduced support for what is being called “Start Menu Companions.” These are small widget-like apps designed to appear alongside your pinned apps or the “All apps” list in the Start Menu.

By the looks of it, these companions would offer at-a-glance information such as weather updates, stock prices, and more. And yes, they share a lot in common with the now-defunct Live Tiles feature from previous versions of Windows. They lack the bright colors and blocky shapes, but they would function in a very similar way.

Interestingly, Microsoft has not officially mentioned the introduction of Start Menu Companions in the release notes for build 26212. The discovery of this feature was made by Albacore on X (formerly known as Twitter), providing a peek into what could soon be available for testing within the Windows Insider Program.

It's time for the Start menu to become extensible!✨
Windows 11 β build 26212 quietly introduces support for "Start Menu Companions." They're apps that provide Adaptive Cards which display on a floating island (docked ➡️ or ⬅️) alongside Start
Used Widgets data as a quick demo 😊 pic.twitter.com/FddrpC99h3

— Albacore ☁️ (@thebookisclosed) May 9, 2024

It appears that developers will have the capability to create applications that offer widget-like content using adaptive cards — an approach that enables the display of UI blocks of information in a platform-independent manner. Users will have the flexibility to configure these companions from the Windows 11 Settings, where they can install multiple companions and use toggles to enable or disable them as desired. According to Albacore, these companions appear to be heavily focused on web content, resembling the sidebar widgets already found within Windows 11.

Start Menu Companions seem to be reminiscent of the now discontinued Live Tiles, the animated icons initially introduced with Windows 8. Back then, Live Tiles was launched by Microsoft as an effort to unify its platform with Windows Phone OS. They were designed for quick and easy access to essential information with just a glance at your phone or desktop. In Windows 10, they were relegated to the Start Menu, and then eventually discontinued entirely in 2021 with the release of Windows 11.

The design of the Start Menu has been one of the biggest sticking points of those updating to Windows 11 from Windows 10. The feature has been criticized not only for its limited usefulness, but even its functionality, with it recently being called “comically bad” by a former Microsoft developer. Start Menu Companions wouldn’t fix those issues, but it would certainly bring back some of the familiarity of the Windows 10 Start Menu.

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