Windows 11 review

 Windows 11 review

For the past six years, Windows users have watched on the sidelines as the tech landscape changed at a breakneck pace. All the while, Windows 10 remained largely unchanged. When Microsoft's sporadic "feature updates" did arrive, they were often plagued with bugs, some so damaging the updates were suspended. And yet, despite its rocky path, Windows 10 will go down as a success, a stopgap to the mess its predecessors left behind. It brought back the traditional desktop interface, gave PC owners reliable performance, and popularized touchscreen displays and hybrid 2-in-1 laptops. 

But Windows 10 has struggled to stay fresh. Tired interfaces and ancient software plague the operating system used by more than a billion people. This is where Windows 11 comes in. I've been using some version of the OS for the last month or so and spent the past few days with the final product. 
Overall, Windows 11 is a step in the right direction. While it won't revolutionize the way you engage with the digital world, this latest release builds upon the foundations of Windows 10 while bringing modern aesthetics and some useful productivity features. But the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the pane. Some changes are sure to frustrate users, and in terms of new features, there isn't much hiding behind this new coat of paint. 

Keep in mind that this OS is very much a work in progress. As such, so is this Windows 11 review. We'll update this writeup regularly to keep you up to date on the changes being made to Windows 11.

Windows 11 review: Download and setup 
Windows 11 launches on October 5, 2021 as a free upgrade to Windows 10 for anyone with a compatible PC (see below) who want to make the switch. Microsoft says it won't be until mid-2022 before the OS is made available to all eligible computers, but you can skip the line and download Windows 11 manually if you choose. It will also come pre-installed on all new PCs.
You don't have to make the switch to Windows 11, even if your system checks all the compatibility boxes. If you decline the option to upgrade, that's OK because Windows 10 currently has an end-of-life date of October 14, 2025. That gives it four more years of important feature updates and security patches before Microsoft takes it out to pasture. By that time, Windows 11 should be a well-oiled machine (and you might need to update your hardware anyway).

If you've downloaded Windows 11 but want to revert back to Windows 10, Microsoft gives you 10 days to do so. 

Windows 11 review: System requirements may force you to buy a new PC
To even run Windows 11, your PC needs to comply with the recommended system requirements. You need to have at least an 8th Gen Intel Core processor (which launched in late 2017), or AMD's Ryzen 2000 or later. Qualcomm processors made for PCs from the Snapdragon 850 onwards will also work. 

Other requirements include at least a dual-core 1-GHz 64-bit processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 64GB hard drive. Your display must be at least 9-inches with a 720p or higher resolution, and your graphics card will need to be compatible with DirectX 12 or later with the WDDM 2.0 driver.

What has caused much confusion is the need for a TPM, or Trusted Platform Module, a security chip on the CPU. The good news is that this has been a requirement in Windows systems since 2016, so if your Windows laptop was released after that year, you will have TPM 2.0. You don't need to comb through your specs or try to remember when you purchased your laptop to figure this all out. Microsoft has released a handy PC Health Check app that will quickly run a check to verify whether your system meets all of the necessary requirements. 

Windows 11 review: Becoming fluent in Fluent 
Microsoft developed its Fluent design language in 2017, creating a vision for the future aesthetic of its operating system. Under this system, Windows transforms from its rigid origins to a softer OS with rounded corners, transparency, and pops of color. We saw glimpses of it in recent Windows 10 updates, but that was touch-up paint on a fading canvas. Windows 11 feels like a full makeover. 

It starts with some gorgeous new wallpapers, though the more attention-grabbing change is the Start Menu located in the center of the Taskbar. Shifting the icons over hasn't impacted my workflow in any measurable way, but I prefer the more symmetrical look. If you don't, that's OK. Microsoft makes it easy to shift the Start Menu back to the left side of the Taskbar.
Press on the Start Menu and up pops your favorite apps except that this time, they aren't in tiles. Yes, Live Tiles — those rotating squares of info introduced in Windows 8 — are dead, replaced by a simple grid of app icons with a uniform gray background. Below those apps is a "Recommended" section showing recently opened files and apps. 

As someone who never used the Live Tiles for their intended purpose, I prefer the new setup for its simpler interface, and the recommended section is useful for getting back to a file you might have closed without remembering what folder you put it in.
At the top of the Start Menu is a search blank or you can use the standalone Search tool next to the Start Menu in the Taskbar. As a universal search, it will look both locally on your system and on the web for anything from answers to random questions to the location of files. The feature worked well, showing me a preview of the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Philadelphia Eagles game before taking me to the web.  

Unfortunately, this is where the search falters: forcing you to use Edge and Bing. Changing my default search engine in Edge to Google was easy enough but it didn't swap out Bing when using the universal search tool. Sorry Windows users, you're still stuck using Bing.
You'll notice a few other changes to the Taskbar. For one, Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant, is no longer pre-installed and is only available as a separate app. There is also a Task View icon (for virtual desktops) and Widgets (more on this below) along with Teams Chat. Yes, Teams now lives in the Taskbar by default because Microsoft thinks Windows 11 users should be bombarded by its products. 

The millions of Windows users who don't use Teams can remove the icon, but they'll need to do so from Settings — there is no simple right-click, unpin option for pre-installed apps. Those who do use the video conferencing software can launch video calls, host chats, or bring up the full Teams app. I'm sure some will find this convenient, but most Windows 11 users will wonder why something they'll never touch is featured so prominently on the desktop. 

Fortunately, the File Explorer, where your documents, photos, videos, and downloads are stored, got a new look. The top bar was simplified with a "new folder" option on the left side. Also, icons in the top bar are no longer stacked on top of each other, resulting in a much cleaner interface. I just wish Microsoft took this opportunity to improve the functionality of the app; moving things around and accessing your files works exactly as it did before. 
When it comes to making Windows 11 fluent in Fluent, there are a few literacy gaps. Take the Device Manager, where you have to navigate using tiny, low-res icons to see system components. Microsoft didn't think to update the Control Panel, either. It has the same outdated icons and awkward spacing as before. It gives me the feeling that these aesthetic updates are skin deep — dig too far under the surface and you're bound to find an outdated interface.

To make matters worse, Windows 11 feels less customizable than Windows 10. One inexcusable missing feature is the ability to drag and drop files or apps onto the Taskbar. Instead, you have to right-click, select "Show more options" then "Pin to Taskbar." You also can't adjust the height of the taskbar or move it to the top or sides.

Windows 11 review: Notifications and Action Center 
The Action Center and Notifications features remain in the bottom-right corner of the screen but work differently in Windows 11. Instead of being grouped together, the Action Center stands alone, and is accessible by clicking on a group of icons (Wi-Fi, Battery, Volume) in the Taskbar. Doing so presents a pared-down interface with only your most important settings: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode, Accessibility, Battery Saver and Volume/Brightness sliders. You can add functions but Microsoft was smart about which ones to include by default.
To the right of the Action Center is the Notification pane which shows your personal calendar along with new emails, upcoming meetings and other events. Oddly, you can't do much to the calendar — right-clicking or double-clicking on a date doesn't let you add an event or reminder as it does in Windows 10. 

Windows 11 review: New Microsoft Store 
How often do you use the Microsoft Store? Probably nowhere near as often as the iOS and Android app stores. There's a reason for that. For one, Microsoft's version lacks popular apps, and those it does contain just aren't very good. Microsoft is taking the right steps to make its digital store the type of place you'd actually want to shop in. The new Microsoft Store for Windows 11 looks fantastic and is more organized than almost any other app store I've used. 

Apps are organized into categories: Gaming, Entertainment, Productivity and Deals. You may not need to go that far because a handy list of "Essential" apps can be found on the home screen (no, they aren't just Microsoft apps). There is also a featured games list and, my favorite, a list of the top free apps.

 But as it stands, iTunes, a 2-star app, is the top pick. This really underlines the problem Microsoft faces: devs haven't been porting apps over to Windows. It's bad enough to give Microsoft fans flashbacks of the Windows Phone days.

Microsoft wants to rectify this issue by making its store more compelling for devs. Most importantly, the Windows Store can host any kind of app. Before, if developers wanted to bring their apps to the Windows Store, they had to employ a specific Microsoft framework. Now, they can choose from a number of technologies including the traditional desktop Win32 format, Microsoft’s UWP mode, and even progressive web apps.


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