The world’s most popular desktop operating system now has a significantly redesigned, more consistent design that belies what is really an evolutionary development.
- New design is more beautiful and consistent.
- Window layout options are fantastic.
- Updates to video games that are strong
- Features that improve performance
- COMPATIBILITY WITH ANDROID APPLICATIONS
- A recent CPU is required.
- Some changes to the user interface, including as the new Start menu and Taskbar, require some getting used to.
- Timeline, tablet gestures, and Action Center are among the useful capabilities that have vanished
Microsoft has taken a risk by updating its operating system, albeit many of the improvements are only cosmetic. Apple and Google have both been nibbling at the margins of the market-leading desktop operating system with slick new designs, prompting Microsoft to release Windows 11. Despite its dramatically changed appearance designed to compete with the competition, Windows 11 performs similarly to Windows 10—with a few notable additions and conveniences. This substantial revamp to the appearance and feel of the world’s most popular desktop operating system is great news after six years of drab upgrades: Windows supporters now have something to get excited about.
Despite the fresh design of the OS, we were shocked to find that it isn’t that different to use than Windows 10. It still runs all of the old apps, and much of the added functionality consists of reupholstering and rearrangement of the furniture. Sure, Windows 11 has rounded corners for all windows, the Taskbar icons are in the middle, the icons are simpler, and the Settings dialogs are more elegant, but it doesn’t feel foreign or require a whole new process like Windows 8 did. Although the new design is appealing, if you prefer the more familiar look of Windows 10, you may want to continue with Windows 10.
Windows 11 is still in development. In a special Feedback Hub app, similar to Windows 10, you can tell the firm what you’d want to see added to the program, and you might be surprised at how often it listens. The Windows Insider Program allows anyone to sign up for preview builds of the OS. This allows you to try out new features before they’re released to the wider public. The next big upgrade, 22H2 (also known as Sun Valley 2 by Windows analysts), is expected to include new Start menu settings as well as updated stock apps.
What Are the Requirements for Windows 11 and How Do You Get It?
On October 5, 2021, Microsoft released Windows 11. The upgrade will first be available on new and recent PCs, and then it will be made available to all Windows 10 computers on a rolling basis, based on certified hardware combinations. By the middle of 2022, the rollout will be complete. According to AdDuplex’s most recent poll (January 2022), Windows 11 is installed on 16 percent of computers, which is noteworthy given that Windows is installed on 1.3 billion devices.
Non-upgrades, such as DIY PC builds, virtual machine installations, and non-Windows 10 PCs, have yet to be priced. I expect standalone licensing prices to remain the same as they were for Windows 10—$139.99 for Home and $199.99 for Pro editions—but Microsoft has yet to announce such a plan, even after the release of Windows 11.
The system requirements for Windows 11 have gotten a lot of attention, but they’re actually rather low: 1GHz CPU, 4GB RAM, and 64GB storage. There will be no longer be a 32-bit version of the OS, therefore you’ll need a 64-bit processor. A PC with a TPM security chip and Secure Boot capabilities is also required. Because they’ve been standard on most PCs for the last six years or so, they’re less of a nuisance than the internet portrays them to be. The actual stumbling block is the CPU model, which must be within the last four years. Microsoft recently rereleased the PC Health Check software, which examines your PC’s ability to run Windows 11, and revealed that more PCs will be able to update to it.
Windows 11 should be easy to install via Windows Update for anyone using one of the latest CPUs. Microsoft has made a free ISO disk image file for installing Windows 11 beta Insider available, allowing for in-place upgrades or clean installations on a PC or virtual machine. Microsoft’s Download Windows 11 page now offers a comparable installation option for the release version of Windows 11. Some sources claim that using the ISO installer to install the OS bypasses the system’s hardware requirements, but this isn’t recommended because you won’t be able to acquire future OS upgrades if you install it on unsupported hardware.
Windows 11 has a Home and a Pro version, just like Windows 10. To upgrade to Windows 11 Home, you’ll need to check in to an online Microsoft account, which has enraged several commenters, but I don’t think it’s an issue worth getting worked up about. Those who are adamant about not installing the OS will almost certainly be using the Pro edition. If you don’t want to pay for it and don’t want to need an internet account to log in to your operating system, may I propose Ubuntu?
A final word on installation: If you prefer the previous OS version, you can roll back to Windows 10 for 10 days after updating. Microsoft has stated that Windows 10 will be supported until 2025.
Windows Gets a New Look (and More)
Because the majority of the work on Windows 11 was devoted to modernizing the interface rather than creating whole new features, the OS is more familiar than you may think. It takes concepts from Chrome OS, but it still allows you to set app icons on the desktop backdrop, which Google’s lightweight desktop OS does not allow.
Windowing and multitasking in Windows are also significantly more advanced. All windows in the UI have rounded corners (like in macOS), which is a minor modification that gives the OS a more polished appearance. The new design incorporates Microsoft’s Fluent Design System and its new Mica material. This semi-transparent appearance is becoming more common in included programs and utilities. Much of the new design gives the Windows interface a welcome new slickness and uniformity, but there are a few changes in Windows 11 that I don’t like, as you’ll see below.
File Explorer, Taskbar, and Start Menu
The Windows Start button has been in the lower-left corner of the screen for decades, so getting used to it being at the left edge of centered icons could be one of the most significant adjustments you need to make. The problem for me is that the Start menu has always been in the same location. However, if you run more programs, it shifts to the left a little more. In Windows versions dating back more than 20 years, not having to think about the location of the Start button was a big bonus. Fortunately, a Taskbar alignment option allows you to restore the Start button to its proper location in the left corner.
The redesigned Taskbar itself, with its smaller, less-informative buttons, does not appeal to me. If you don’t select to combine them in Settings, the Taskbar buttons for running apps are wider in Windows 10, making it very evident which programs are active. Fortunately, you can still hover over the buttons to see a thumbnail of the app window and right-click to launch the Jump List, which displays recent documents and other popular app operations.
In Windows 11, the Start menu has been completely redesigned. The top of the panel has pinned app buttons (which are larger than icons but smaller than Windows 10’s tiles). A section underneath them contains recent and frequently used apps and documents. The new mini-tiles in the Start menu are still ideal for touch input, but you lose the information that live tiles provide, as bothersome as they might be. Another issue I have with the new Start menu is that accessing the All Apps view is more difficult than in Windows 10. As soon as you open the Start menu in that version of Windows, you’ll find a list of all installed apps on the left, with tiles for your pinned apps on the right.
File Explorer, with its revised left panel controls and folder icons, is a nice illustration of Windows 11’s new style. The top ribbon has been simplified, and it is significantly less crowded and distracting than the previous File Explorer’s. The top-left New button creates new folders or documents that are supported by your apps, and the same display choices (list, details, and different-sized icons) are available for files. File compression, selection, and Properties settings, as well as the old Folder Options dialog, are now available through the overflow menu. In Windows 11, the right-click context menus, which have gotten longer and longer over time, get shorter, smarter, and clearer. They now only show the most frequently used alternatives.
Windows 11 Widgets
The Widget panel in Windows 11 displays tiles for news, weather, financial quotations, sports scores, and more. It isn’t entirely new, as the News and Interests Taskbar popup in Windows 10 is very similar, and a recent update made it even more similar by adding a weather indication to the taskbar. Third-party developers can deliver material through Windows 11’s widgets in addition to Microsoft-produced first-party tiles in the Widgets panel. Touch screen users can simply open them by swiping in from the left, and you can also make the widget panel full-screen if you want a larger view. A new movie or TV show is displayed in the Entertainment widget, while the Family widget is useful for individuals who use Microsoft Family Safety parental controls. Read How to Use Widgets in Windows 11 for more information.
Quick Settings and Notifications
The Windows 10 Action Center has been divided into two independent panels and tap targets by Microsoft. This is similar to Apple’s redesigned macOS notification area, which was once a single, clean panel but is now a collection of smaller popups. Although Windows 11 isn’t as awful as macOS, I still prefer the single Action Center panel for notifications and quick settings. I like the ringed number that shows how many alerts you have, similar to those on several mobile app icons. Touch users can access the Notifications panel by swiping in from the right.
When you click or tap the Wi-Fi, speaker, or battery icons, the Quick Settings panel appears. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode, Battery Saver, Focus Assist, and Accessibility keys by default, as well as sliders for audio level and screen brightness. Connect (for external displays and audio), Keyboard Layout, Nearby Sharing (like AirDrop for PCs), Night Light, and Project are among the options available through the Pencil symbol. Although you can still check the state of each of the three symbols in the Taskbar by hovering over them, I prefer to have only sound settings appear when I hit the speaker icon and only Wi-Fi options appear when I press the Wi-Fi indicator.
Windows 10’s uneven settings windows and dialogs are one of the more vexing aspects of the operating system. Sometimes you use the new Settings app to uninstall a software, and other times you use the old Control Panel. In Windows 11, that discrepancy nearly completely vanishes. Although the window employs the new appearance, some detailed controls, such as sound devices, still display the content in the old style. Light and dark mode settings are still available under Personalization > Colors, and the modes appear considerably better than they did in Windows 10, especially the dark mode, which makes effective use of transparency. When compared to macOS, Dark Mode can now confidently hold its head high.
Although you can still adjust the system sounds in Settings, the new Windows 11 default sound set is clean, fast, and modern.
Multitasking with Snap Layouts
Windows has traditionally outperformed macOS in terms of how you can arrange app windows on-screen, and Windows 11’s new Snap Layouts feature widens the margin. Hovering the cursor over the maximize button at the upper right of any window brings up this tool—it seems a little hidden to me, and I hope and expect Microsoft to make it more visible in some way. When you hover your mouse over the maximize button, you’ll see a variety of layout options, including two windows side by side, three with one huge and two mini windows, and so on, as shown below.
Snap Layouts display in the Taskbar as choices, allowing you to access a group of programs or a single app. When you open a collection of programs on an external display several times, the layouts are also kept.
Multiple virtual desktops are still available in Windows, which I find really handy for isolating business apps and websites from personal ones. To switch between them, I either use the Ctrl–Windows Key–Arrow keyboard combination or the Windows Key–Tab keyboard shortcut. With Windows 11, you can now navigate back and forth with a four-finger swipe, similar to how Mac users have done for years, though only on a trackpad rather than directly on the screen. The ability to select distinct desktop backgrounds (also known as wallpapers) for each desktop is also new.
Integration of Teams Chat
By default, Microsoft’s Teams chat and videoconferencing app is prominently displayed in the Taskbar. In some ways, this decision makes sense: With the growing importance of virtual meetings, Microsoft may be able to capture a portion of the videoconferencing business. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Teams surged from 20 million to 145 million active users, but it’s unclear whether it’ll be as widely adopted as Microsoft hopes. Adding a Skype Meet Now button to the notification area of Windows 10 had no effect. (Skype, on the other hand, remains a fantastic and capable communication tool.) However, assuming Windows 11 becomes the dominant version, the operating system’s widespread use may help Teams chat gain traction.
To begin, select the chat icon. You’ll be prompted to enable the app access to your Microsoft account and contacts throughout the installation process. After this initial setup, you’ll get a list of all your contacts if you press the symbol again. To begin a conversation, simply click on one of the icons. Because your friends are unlikely to have used Teams chat yet, the app includes an invitation to join Teams (which is free for personal use) with the first message. When you’re in a video chat, you’ll notice a second Taskbar icon for Teams next to the centered chat icon; this looks like an unnecessary duplicate to me. However, one of the most compelling features of Windows 11’s Teams app is that it allows you to send free SMS messages to anyone with a cellphone from your PC!
A More Effective Screenshot Tool
Snip & Sketch, a new feature in Windows 10, is a fantastic tool for taking screenshots. You can take a snapshot of an area (rectangular or free-form), a window, or the entire screen by pressing the Windows Key-Shift-S keyboard shortcut, which you can then paste from the clipboard or open in an image editor. Instead, Windows 11 has a new Snipping Tool. It’s named after an older, less functional screenshot tool that was a popular choice among Windows users. Before taking a screenshot, the Snipping Tool provides an optional timer delay. Other options for capturing screenshots in Windows 11 include the tried-and-true PrtSc key, the Game Bar, third-party screenshot applications, and so on. For further information, see How to Take Screenshots in Windows 11.
Tablets with Windows 11
Unfortunately, Windows 11 removes a couple of its best tablet and touch-friendly features. Most significantly, you can no longer activate the task-switching view by swiping in from the left, a move I frequently employ on my Surface Go tablet. You can no longer close an app by swiping down from the top. This omission isn’t as significant because you can still close the window by pressing the X in the upper right corner, as you would in desktop mode.
The down-swipe, however, is more straightforward and requires less skill for a handheld device. However, new three-finger swipe motions have been added to expose the Task View and reduce (but not close) a desktop app. A three-finger swipe to the side changes between running apps. The Task View button on the Taskbar can be used, but it’s not as quick as a swipe of the thumb. Switching tasks is more crucial to tablet users than accessing Widgets, which you can now do by swiping your thumb. Tablet users will benefit from additional stylus choices and on-screen touch keyboard tricks in Windows 11. Haptic feedback is included in the new Surface Slim Pen 2, which is always a benefit. When you delete previously written text or push the Back button to activate the Whiteboard app, this latest-generation pen (available on Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio) buzzes in your hand. You can get the complete digital inking experience in that software, which has evolved to the point where it feels precisely like writing with ink. You can highlight text, write freehand (although sloppily), and draw diagrams, for example. You can even turn your handwriting into digital text. The on-screen keyboard now allows you to set custom backgrounds and supports swipe text entering. It now has a large collection of emoji and gifs. Microsoft has created emoji that are influenced by Fluent design. You may access a small panel with a large range of symbols, special characters, and emoji by pressing Windows Key–. (period) on Windows 11, just as you could on Windows 10. The new emoji, according to Microsoft’s Judy Safran-Aasen, Program Manager for the Windows Design Team, “would scale to the expansive set of Unicode emoji” and are “more modern and expressive emoji to use in your hybrid communications, allowing you to add fun, expression, and personality to your communications.” To me, they appear to communicate a more instantaneous feeling.
The wonderful speech dictation capability in Windows 10 has a new name: voice typing (which works on both tablets and non-tablets). In recent years, Windows’ voice-to-text feature has vastly improved, and it now employs machine learning algorithms to fix its estimates and punctuation. To use the tool, hit the Windows Key-H keyboard shortcut or the mic icon on the on-screen touch keyboard, as you did with the prior dictation capability. Then simply dictate your content into the on-screen text space.
Android Support in a New App Store!
The Microsoft Store app (commonly known as Windows’ app store) receives a slick design overhaul, just like the rest of the interface. The Store now has movies, TV series, and games in addition to apps. Read our roundup of the top applications for Windows 11 for some inspiration on what to install.
The ability of Windows 11 to run Android apps is a standout feature, though it comes with some drawbacks. You may either install them through the Amazon Appstore, which is integrated into the Microsoft Store for Windows, or as a sideloaded APK. Although Android apps are now available on Windows 11, the capability is still in preview.
Developers no longer need to write using the UWP app type to be featured in the store, which is perhaps even more significant for the store. Even Microsoft’s massive Visual Studio development suite is now available. Progressive Web Apps, which are essentially websites with some extra code that gives them app-like capabilities, will also be available in the Store, according to Microsoft.
Stock Apps have been updated.
Standard software such as an improved Photos app, the FLAC-capable Groove Music player, Voice Recorder, two Paint apps (3D and a rebuilt old Paint), Mail, Calendar, and so on are included in addition to the apps available in the Store. As Windows 11 development advances, we can expect the last two to be considerably enhanced. We’ll keep the existing applications in the initial release, although with rounded corners, but new versions will be built on Outlook.com’s fantastic Progressive Web App versions. Microsoft has already begun to include the updated Paint software (though I’ve grown to appreciate the newer Paint 3D), as well as new versions of Notepad (with a dark mode!) and Calculator.
A new media player program has just replaced Windows Media Player and the Groove music player. If you previously stored music in Groove, your collection and playlists will be immediately transferred to the new Media Player after your PC has been updated. The new player does not replace the Movies & TV app, which is the primary video player and catalog app for Microsoft Store purchases; it also supports the cross-platform Movies Anywhere system.
Chromium-based chromium-based chromium-based chro Microsoft Edge is the default browser, with Internet Explorer no longer being available as a stand-alone software. However, businesses that require IE capability for their bespoke business apps can use Edge to access it if it is enabled. Microsoft’s decision to demand Edge for several OS-related functions like the news widget and built-in search has been criticised by web commentators, but you may still use your preferred browser as the default link opener. To make switching easier, the business is also testing a Set Default Browser button.
The redesigned Clock app is particularly noteworthy, since it now has a feature that assists you in completing tasks. It still has alarm clocks, timers, and a global clock, but its Focus Sessions feature works with Spotify to provide appropriate background music for your chores, as well as the To Do app to allow you to check off those tasks after they’re completed.
When it comes to setting apps as the default for specific file kinds, Windows 11 makes things a little more complicated: instead of choosing an app to handle all photo files, you now have to modify the setting for each file type.
New Technologies and Gaming
Major new Windows updates rarely leave PC gamers out, and Windows 11 is no exception. Game selection and technology are two areas that benefit. For starters, the Xbox app integrated into Windows 11 gives you access to the Xbox Game Pass library of games. Games like Halo Infinite, Twelve Minutes, and Age of Empires IV fall into this category. Xbox Cloud Gaming, Microsoft’s streaming game platform, is also supported by the app. It effectively puts PCs on par with Xboxes, with the added benefit of allowing users to choose how much hardware power they want to devote to their games. Jordan Minor, a gaming critic for PCMag, goes so far as to say that with Windows 11, Microsoft turns every PC become an Xbox.
Windows 11 introduces Auto HDR and DirectStorage, two new gaming technologies. The first widens the color spectrum to reveal more detail even in non-HDR games. The second technology, DirectStorage (a subset of the Xbox Velocity Architecture), allows games to load faster by bypassing the CPU and loading straight from graphical memory.
Other technical improvements in Windows 11 include Dynamic Refresh, which can help save laptop batteries by lowering the high refresh rate of a screen while it’s not in use. The Wi-Fi 6E standard is also supported by the OS. TPM and Secure Boot requirements are part of Microsoft’s effort to improve the OS’s security technologies, which is a topic worthy of its own page. In fact, PCMag lead analyst Neil Rubenking has authored one called Windows 11 Is Ultra-Secure: Don’t Mess It Up! that you should read.
The new OS is essentially comparable to Windows 10 in terms of raw performance on traditional synthetic benchmarks. Our hardware team performed gaming and productivity benchmark testing on the same PC running Windows 10 and then again after upgrading to Windows 11. The researchers discovered that Windows 11 is just as good, with minor advances in frame rates and a little advantage in productivity testing. We haven’t yet put DirectStorage through its paces, but expect a PCMag piece on the subject in the near future.
Accessibility is only the beginning.
Microsoft detailed new accessibility capabilities in Windows 11 to join existing ones like Narrator, Magnifier, Closed Captions, and Windows Speech Recognition, as well as support for third-party assistive gear and software, in a follow-up blog post to the one announcing the new OS. New Contrast themes, revised closed caption themes, and AI-powered Windows Voice Typing, for example, are all included in Windows 11. The new OS also includes APIs for developing assistive software, as well as accessibility settings in the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL).
What is no longer available in Windows 11?
It’s only natural that some historical functions no longer work with Windows 11’s new approach. A few of conveniences that I enjoy but that appear to be underutilized are being phased out. In Windows 11, Aero Peek and Aero Shake are disabled by default, but you can enable them in Settings.
Although the Cortana AI voice assistant isn’t preinstalled by default on Windows 11 PCs, it is still available in the app store. Live tiles are also no longer available, as Widgets have taken their place. Tablet mode has been replaced by “new functionality and capability…for keyboard attach and detach postures,” according to Microsoft. The Windows 10 Timeline is another victim, albeit the Recommended part of the Start menu still displays your recent documents and programs.
It’s time for a fresh set of windows.
Aside from a few minor quibbles, we’re glad to see Microsoft paying attention to its flagship product. The corporation has shifted its focus in recent years to its Azure cloud computing services, which is understandable given its profitability. Windows 11 delivers a fresh new design, handy new features, updated default programs, expanded capabilities, and improved performance. That might be enough to entice some Chrome OS or Mac customers to switch. Regardless, it’s still early days for this new desktop OS, which is used on 1.3 billion PCs, so we expect Microsoft to fine-tune and perfect Windows 11’s design in future updates—and we’ve already seen this in action with the reintroduction of the Weather icon to the taskbar.
Windows 11 keeps the majority of Windows 10’s extensive feature set while adding more appealing, modern interface elements and additional conveniences like Snap Layouts and Widgets. As a result, despite some growing pains and unfamiliarity, Microsoft Windows 11 remains a PCMag Editors’ Choice-winning desktop operating system, although with a slightly lower four-star rating. We anticipate Microsoft making a continual stream of enhancements. Apple macOS, which is now more refined, is also a PCMag Editors’ Choice winner.
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