Microsoft Windows 11: A Radically Modernized Design
PC Magazine|November 2021
Many people thought there would never be a Windows 11—understandably, after Microsoft announced in 2015 that Windows 10 would be the operating system’s last version number.
MICHAEL MUCHMORE

New competition from Chrome OS likely made the case for a more significant interface update, though, and Windows 11 borrows heavily from Google’s lightweight desktop design. Despite its drastically new look, Windows 11 remains nearly functionally identical to Windows 10, with some new features and conveniences added. After six years of ho-hum upgrades, a major overhaul to the world’s most popular desktop operating system is welcome news: Windows fans finally have something to get excited about.

Despite the OS’s new look, we’re surprised that using it doesn’t feel that different from using Windows 10. Windows 11 looks nicer, with rounded corners for all windows, the Taskbar icons in the middle, simpler icons, and more elegant Settings dialogs, but it doesn’t feel totally alien or require a whole new process the way Windows 8 did. The new interface is attractive, but if you prefer the more familiar Windows 10-style look, you can stick with Windows 10.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

Much has been made over the system requirements for Windows 11, but they’re very low—a 1GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. You’ll also need a computer with a TPM security chip and Secure Boot capability. Those are less of a problem than some pundits are making them out to be, as they’ve been standard on most PCs for the last six or so years. The real limiter is the CPU model, which has to be from about the last four years. Microsoft recently re-released the tool that assesses your PC’s ability to run Windows 11, the PC Health Check app.

Word is out, though, that the CPU requirements may be more like recommendations than hard requirements— and that Microsoft will allow systems powered by older processors to run the software. The company stopped feature updates on the Windows 11 preview installed on some systems using older CPUs, but we can hope this situation improves.

Microsoft Windows 11

PROS

Beautiful, more consistent new design. Great window layout options. New video game options. Better multi-monitor functionality. New performanceimproving features. Planned support for Android apps.

CONS

Requires a recent CPU. Some interface changes may take getting used to. Some useful tools are going away, including Timeline and certain tablet gestures.

BOTTOM LINE

A radically modernized, more consistent design for Windows belies what it is really more of an evolutionary update to the world’s most popular desktop operating system.

Anyone with one of the newer chips should have no trouble installing Windows 11 via Windows Update. Microsoft has made a downloadable ISO disk image file for the beta Insider version available for installing Windows 11, allowing in-place upgrades or clean installations on a PC or in a virtual machine. I expect a similar installation option to be available for the release version of Windows 11 via a web page similar to the Download Windows 10 page. Some sources have reported that installing the OS this way bypasses the system requirements that have bedeviled some would-be testers.

As with Windows 10, there’s both a Home and a Pro version of Windows 11. You must sign in to an online Microsoft account to upgrade to Windows 11 Home, a fact that’s raised the ire of some commenters, though I really don’t think it’s worth getting worked up about. Those who are gung-ho about not setting up the OS are likely to be running the Pro edition anyway. If you don’t want to pay for that, and you object to signing in with an online account for your operating system, may I suggest Ubuntu?

A final note about installation is that you’ll be able to roll back to Windows 10 for 10 days after upgrading, if you decide you prefer the older OS version. Microsoft has announced support for Windows 10 through 2025.

A NEW LOOK (AND MORE) FOR WINDOWS

Those details out of the way, let’s look at what’s new in Windows 11. Most of the work went toward redesigning the interface rather than building new features, so—as I mentioned above—Windows 11 is more familiar than you may expect. It borrows ideas from Chrome OS, though you can still place app icons on the desktop background, which Google’s lightweight desktop OS doesn’t allow.

Windowing and multitasking remain far more advanced in Windows, too. The interface gets rounded corners (like those in macOS) for all windows, which is not a significant change but does give the OS a smoother look. Much of the new design brings a welcome new slickness and consistency to the Windows interface, but there are a few changes of which I’m not a fan, as you’ll see below.

TASKBAR, START MENU, AND FILE EXPLORER

For decades, the Windows Start button has lived in the lower-left-hand corner of the screen. So small detail though it may be, getting used to it being at the left edge of centered icons could be one of the bigger adjustments you have to make. The issue for me is that the Start menu has heretofore always been in the exact same place. Now, when you run more programs, it moves a bit more to the left. Not having to think about the Start button’s position was a plus in Windows versions going back more than 20 years. Happily, a Taskbar alignment option lets you move the Start button back to its position in the left corner.

I’m also not crazy about the new Taskbar itself, with its smaller, less informative buttons. With Windows 10, it’s totally clear which programs are running, as Taskbar buttons for running programs are wider if you choose not to combine them in Settings. Thankfully, you can still hover over the buttons to see a thumbnail of the app window and right-click to open the Jump List showing recent documents or other common actions for the app.

The Start menu gets a major overhaul in Windows 11. Pinned app buttons (they’re larger than icons but smaller than Windows 10’s tiles) are at the top of its panel. Recent and frequent apps and documents are in a section below them. The Start menu’s new mini-tiles are still good for touch input, but you lose info that live tiles offer, annoying as those could sometimes be. Another quibble I have with the new Start menu is that it’s harder to get to the All Apps view than in Windows 10. With that version of Windows, you can see all installed apps as soon as you open the Start menu; they’re in a list on the left while tiles for your pinned apps are on the right.

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