Hands-on with Windows 11 (and this time it's official)
PCWorld|August 2021
Microsoft has a ton of new features that weren’t in the leaked version, and we’ve tried them out in this deeper hands-on.
MARK HACHMAN

A few weeks ago, we went hands-on with an unofficial leaked build of Windows 11. Now Microsoft has officially released Windows 11 to Windows Insiders, with many brand-new features we haven’t seen before, including entirely new looks for the gorgeous Settings app, File Explorer, the Notification Center, and more. Behind the scenes, there’s even more.

If you’re interested in downloading Windows 11 for yourself (go.pcworld.com/ dwbt), the process is simple: Simply join the Windows Insider program, make sure that your PC meets the Windows 11 compatibility requirements (see page 7), and then download the Windows Insider beta. In this report, we’ll show you what we saw in the official build, and what’s really new from the leaked beta. Microsoft has also indicated additional features that will show up under specialized conditions, such as after you reset your PC and start fresh.

We tested a new install of Windows 11 Insider Preview build 10.0.22000.51 on a Surface Laptop 4, powered by an AMD Ryzen 7 Surface Edition processor. We still have the leaked build running on a separate Microsoft Surface Pro 7+ tablet, though we’re seeing the opportunity to upgrade if you join the Windows Insider program there, too.

We’ve written previously that Windows 11 represents “something more than Windows 10, but far less than what we’d consider a ‘true’ next-generation operating system.” This still holds true. While Microsoft maintains the same functionality in Windows 11 as it does within Windows 10, the look and feel of the operating system has changed. This will probably affect your muscle memory a bit, as well as your unconscious way of navigating through Windows. On balance, however, Microsoft has made some intriguing improvements to Windows 11. For reference, you can view our earlier video hands-on of the leaked Windows 11 build at go.pcworld.com/lk11.

VIDEO: MICROSOFT’S WINDOWS 11 INTRO Watch now: youtu.be/Uh9643c2P6k

WINDOWS 11 SETUP

Downloading the build took about 20 minutes or so on my 400Mbit/s home broadband connection, and then required about 10 additional minutes to install and reboot. Because this was an in-place upgrade, Microsoft didn’t show the traditional “OOBE” (Out of the Box Experience), and instead left preferences in place. Microsoft said Monday that if you’d like to entirely reset your PC, you’ll see the new OOBE experience, as well as something new: the choice to rename your PC as part of the setup experience.

I did see a new screen as part of upgrading the PC to the Windows Insider program, however. I was asked for my preferred browser settings (including search engine) as shown in the screen at left.

WINDOWS 11 FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Right from the beginning, Microsoft tips you off that this is a new version of Windows with a new lock screen that employs a different font. Notably, it doesn’t offer any of the familiar contextual text that usually accompanies the Windows lock screen until a few seconds pass. It even looks a bit like a lock screen Google might show you as part of Chrome OS. Microsoft’s startup sound for Windows also returns in Windows 11, with a soft chime that signals you’re ready to work.

A quick flick of my finger on the lock screen, and I was into Windows 11 proper. Since I bounce around various Windows laptops, I found that a Minecraft background had snuck back onto my desktop.

As we revealed with the leaked build of Windows 11, there are two fundamental changes that immediately greet your eye. The first is the centered Taskbar on the bottom of the screen, with a cluster of your most frequently used icons right in the center. The second major changes appears as the very leftmost icon: the new Start button, which opens up a simplified version of the Start menu.

The Start menu is still a bit of a shock. Live Tiles have totally disappeared, and are replaced with a list of rather simplified, albeit pretty, icons. Microsoft also clarified what we suspected: The Recommended files seen at the bottom of the Start menu are the most recently opened files from your PC and OneDrive.

If this all looks familiar, it should. As we’ve noted previously, Windows 11 draws heavily from Windows 10X, the simplified version of Windows that leaked (go.pcworld.com/10xl) back in January and that Microsoft later killed (go. pcworld.com/10xk). Like Windows 10X, Windows 11 uses the same cluster of icons at the center of your taskbar, with a Start menu that pops straight up from a new Start logo on the left side.

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