Yes, we called Windows 11 “unnecessary,” and we still believe that the average person doesn’t need to switch to an unfamiliar, restrictive operating system. But it would be unfair to say that Windows 11 has not taken any steps either – yes, except for Windows 10. So we summon them.
I use Windows 11 myself every day as an integral part of my PCWorld program. As part of our re-evaluation of Windows “Windows 11 after six months”, the only aspect of Windows 11 I decline is the Start menu. It’s just disorganized and offers little value.
I think you’ll eventually upgrade your PC to Windows 11 if you haven’t already, so this article sheds light on some of its best parts. Rest assured, this story does not try to list all the features of Windows 11. Instead, these are significant features that we think justify an update. Our overview of the 6 new Windows 11 features worth trying out first, and how Windows 11 will look like Windows 10, can also be interesting if you decide to take this step.
There is absolutely no way anyone is trying to work on the Xbox. This means Microsoft can design its gaming console with the interface, Game Pass subscription service, and auto-resume features designed to buy, play, and resume games as quickly as possible. Let’s face it: on the Xbox, the Edge browser is an afterthought (and, by the way, a real pain to use).
Windows itself suffers from a fundamental dichotomy: it’s the operating system to work with and play. Windows 10 is more playful, and Windows 11 seems optimized for the working environment. Why? Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said it best: Windows is the “socket” of Microsoft’s subscription, and Microsoft’s most lucrative subscription is Microsoft 365, from home Office. That’s why Windows 11 was designed around Microsoft 365, QED
Mark Hachman / IDG
It’s more than a little cynical, but it’s okay. If the Start menu weren’t so useless, it wouldn’t be intrusive to suggest documents for work. Creating a rather stable row of icons on the taskbar and Start isn’t fun, but it helps keep you focused. I support this – after all, I argued that no one really wants to distract the animated emojis in Teams.
Microsoft’s director of products, Panos Panay, tends to introduce new Surface devices in a context of “flow” and “focus”, and the “focus time” of the redesigned Clock application reflects that Microsoft is thinking hard about such things. As a consumer, I believe it is worth dismissing the idea of ”business first, then play”, but there is no denying Microsoft’s efforts to help you become more productive.
You could probably say most people don’t buy an operating system to fiddle with under the hood. But if you need to delve into the Settings menu to tweak, the design of Windows 11’s new Settings menu certainly makes it easy to find what you need, make changes, and exit.
The settings not only use standard Windows 11 sidebar navigation to jump back and forth, but the new navigation system at the top of the screen allows you to navigate up and down ‘level’ fairly easily. Each subsection also has its own summary screen with its own graphics so “Network & Internet” shows what network you are connected to and how much data you have used at the top of the screen.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Windows also uses a number of visual elements to allow you to dive further down, with drop-down menus, buttons, and a pop-up menu leading deeper into the Settings menu. Most of them are not properly labeled so that submenus like Settings> Bluetooth and devices> Cameras tells you that the further you go, you will find the settings of the connected camera and the default image settings. Microsoft is slowly retreating the older Control Panel from obsolete.
Out of the box (OOBE) experience
Windows 11 gives you a fantastic out-of-the-box experience with an efficient startup process that visually represents how Windows 11 looks and works, guiding you through what Windows does and what information you need to provide to help it along the way. It’s also an easy way to instantly set up a new PC with Office apps (provided you have a Microsoft 365 subscription), and it also makes it easy to connect to your Android phone via Phone Link (formerly known as Your Phone).
Yes, you’ll need to enter a Microsoft account to continue, some people won’t be happy with. But for anyone complaining that Windows 11 is still something of a potion of various operating systems from the past, OBE completely denies it. If most users were asked about their attitude towards Windows 11 right after setup, I suppose Windows 11 would have a higher approval rating than it has.
I visited the Action Center, a small collection of controls that is located in the lower right corner of the main display. I still don’t like how the non-intuitive Action Center trigger is found in Windows 11; in Windows 10, all corner icons are essentially one collective “button” that you can click to open the Action Center. In Windows 11, you need to know that an icon like OneDrive is one button, clock / date another, and the Action Center itself opens when you click the volume or battery icon.
Mark Hachman / IDG
Many people still have doubts about how Windows 11 represents individual controls. For example, the volume slider doesn’t tell you which device is used to play the audio, unless you click the little “visor” menu to the right. Focus Assist cannot be modified without opening the appropriate settings menu. But the Action Center itself requires no further, um, action, except in a small number of cases, and is aesthetically consistent with the rest of the Windows 11 operating system. It’s a step forward.
It was a minor but important improvement to Windows 11 from the get-go, especially important as (hopefully!) More and more people are moving to lots of large external monitors in addition to their main display. The enhanced snap view allows you to snap a window by hovering over the traditional “full screen” icon in the upper-right corner of the window, and then selecting which of the small number of templates you want the window to fit into. The rest of the screen can be used to place other windows.
Let’s be fair: sites like PCWorld.com are designed to accommodate smaller displays, and there’s plenty of extra white space to the left and right that can be used for ads or left blank. Snap View can be an effective use of this space. Almost the only thing Microsoft didn’t foresee in Snap View is ultra-wide monitors that can use three or four vertical columns instead of the default two.
Windows 11 also removed the timeline (to the disappointment of some), which makes the whole experience cleaner.
I’m not convinced that many of the updated native applications for Windows 11 are improvements per se – just visual updates and / or reorganization. Windows Media Player is more than that – it’s a real leap forward, at least for this particular application. With the withdrawal of Groove Music, Media Player stepped into audio playback and video, and there is even the long-awaited equalizer to run (!) The new media player is not part of Windows 10.
Yes, enthusiasts will ask: is this as good as the iconic gameall VLC App? No, it’s not. But while VLC will seemingly play almost any codec under the sun, Microsoft has focused on the most popular formats… well, we think. We never found a list of file formats supported by the Windows 11 Media Player application.
Android apps on Windows 11 are a bit of a gimmick as you’re limited to a limited number of apps from the Amazon Appstore for now. Chances are you already have an Android phone (and you can load these apps onto your phone) or an iPhone, which means you just don’t care.
Android applications are somewhat similar to the Linux applications that Microsoft provides as part of the Windows subsystem for Linux. They have special purposes that may be attractive to those who don’t want to hunt a website or app. But there is potential to improve this if Microsoft and its partners decide to do so. How it is managed and what specialized benefits it may offer is not yet known.
DirectStorage and AutoHDR
We’ve been burned down before by Windows features that either didn’t work or just never appeared. But we’re cautious and optimistic about DirectStorage, which can promise an extremely significant reduction in game loading times for both hardware and Windows 11. To be clear, DirectStorage is available on Windows 11, but not a single publicly released Windows game that handles it during the press.
Still, DirectStorage does feel like a relatively safe investment, as Microsoft would be a fool not to push it as hard as it can. Windows gamers are Windows enthusiasts, and if this block covers Windows 11, it could be a turning point for the operating system – although Windows 10 will also support DirectStorage, albeit to a lesser extent. Auto HDR, a Windows 11 feature that allows older games to simulate HDR visuals with a great effect (sometimes), can also become a very tempting icing as HDR monitors will become more common.
Some “new” features are not new
No one has asked about Windows 11. Microsoft has let consumers believe that Windows 10 will be the “last Windows”, and the arrival of Windows 10X and its transition to Windows 11 has been met with perplexed expressions by tech enthusiasts. The same approach applies to some of the changes made to Windows 11, which echoes our “unnecessary” characteristics. We’re not going to tell you that a permanent Start menu is worth upgrading to Teams Chat, for example. Others, such as Windows Dictation, are already coming to Windows 10, as is the nicely revamped Microsoft Store app. Widgets are just a slightly enhanced version of the News & Info feature that is also available in Windows 10.
What we showed above are some of the real differences between Windows 10 and 11. We encourage you to take a close look at the latest operating system from Microsoft, if you haven’t already. And if you’re still a little nervous, don’t be! Check out our story on how to bring Windows 11 back to Windows 10 – we’ll show you what to do and how fast you need to act.