Windows 11 Review: Microsoft’s OS Upgrade is Subtle, but We Like It

Microsoft made Windows 11 free of charge today as a rolling upgrade for most Windows 10 users. Windows 8 users will need to upgrade to Windows 10 first and then download Windows 11. Let’s discuss what we like and dislike about the upgrade before you decide whether to install it.

A transparent operating system is better, no matter if it’s MacOS on your MacBook or Google’s WearOS on your smartwatch. That user is you, tapping on your phone screen or typing on your laptop keyboard. Sorry, there are no Spinal Tap “goes 11” puns. Windows 11 is more like Windows 10.5 than it is a generational leap. This is not a problem.

Perhaps the change from Windows 10 to Windows 11 is subtle, as the leap from Windows 8 and Windows 10 was so huge. It was enough to allow Microsoft to skip an entire version number. This generation was about reversing the ship that had veered off-course. It was too much into tablet territory and trying to convince everyone that Windows tablets and laptops were just as cool as iPads. They aren’t, and that’s okay. I work on a Windows machine, do a lot of PC gaming on it, but I read news headlines at night on my iPad.

Windows 10 was initially well-received and has remained popular because it allows you to do what you want, rather than forcing its ideas onto you. It was also free*, which is indicated by an asterisk. This indicates that it was available to all users of a non-ancient computer.

Windows upgrades were expensive before 2015. Or, if you purchased a new desktop or laptop, the most recent OS was preinstalled. Apple’s OS X also adopted a similar free-to upgrade model. The idea of having to pay separately for an operating system for computers is almost extinct, except for system builders. This is a significant change from the time when you had $120 to Microsoft to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8

Who can get Windows 11 for free?

The list of compatible computers is a bit smaller than I expected. Base requirements include a 64-bit processor and 4GB memory. 64GB storage is also required. This last requirement can be a problem for some, especially with cheaper laptops. You might have problems if your CPU is older than the seventh-gen Intel Core series. Use the Microsoft PC Health Check app to verify. You can still install Windows 11 using workarounds, but you must do so at your own risk.

Visual cues

One thing that stands out in Windows 11 is the fact that the start menu and taskbar are now located at the bottom of the screen. They used to be aligned to the right by default. This is the biggest interface and visual change you will see from day one. There’s more to the site, but this UI shift seems like it’s there mainly for you to see that there’s something different underneath.

Windows 11 has a lot going on. It’s unlikely that casual users or the mainstream will notice much, but there are some notable upgrades worth noting.

Snap groups and multiple desktops

Once you are comfortable with the process, it is easy to organize a lot of windows in a way that allows you to see and access them whenever you want. You can also hide them when you don’t need them. While snapping windows to preset slots on your desktop is a feature that has been around for some time, the new Snap groups and Snap layouts provide a few new ways to organize your windows.

You can open a pop-up that displays a variety of layout options by hovering over “maximize” in the upper right corner of most windows. These apps can be minimized, or you can bring them back up in the same spots by hovering over the snapped window icons in your taskbar.

However, not all apps I tried let me snap their windows. System tools, web browsers, and other random programs all allowed me to snap their windows, but Photoshop and Steam didn’t (hovering over the maximize buttons did not bring up the pop-up menu with the options for snapping).

It can be useful if you have multiple monitors, need to open several web browser windows at once or have a large monitor. A laptop screen is usually not designed to allow you to view more than one window at a time.

Multiple desktops are a macOS feature that allows you to organize multiple aspects of your digital life. You can have all of your work apps, such as email, browsers, and video conference apps, on one desktop while all your gaming apps are on the other. You can hot-swap between them like on a Mac. It’s a simple change to how your open applications are displayed.

You can do this in Windows 10, but it’s not easy. Windows 11 Desktops come with their taskbar icons. Organizing multiple desktops is much easier than on a Mac.

Do you want to use the Widget?

Widgets are a favorite of gadget-makers. They can be described as small icons-like apps that sit in a group on your device’s interface. It’s usually useful little things such as the weather, stock price, and your most recent emails, or a newsfeed. They are available on your iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. Macs also have them (under the Usually Hidden Notification Bar, located on the right-hand side of the screen). Windows also used to include widgets. These were known as Gadgets, and they died with Windows 7.

They are back. The new widgets are easy to find thanks to their taskbar button. The semi-transparent panel appears at the left edge. Click the button to activate it. By default, it has widgets for the weather, your Outlook calendar, and any photos that you might have in OneDrive. There is also a To-Do List and some other useful information. The list can be customized a little, but it doesn’t have many options. Below is a newsfeed that looks almost like it was curated by the same people responsible for news curating in the Microsoft Edge browser’s home screen. To hide stories from a specific outlet, click on the menu icon in the news section. You can also hit the “manage my interests” button to personalize the feed. However, the default is pretty basic. There are many sports, Fox News, and celeb gossip.

Integration with Microsoft Teams

Why use Microsoft Teams over Zoom, Facetime, or Google Hangouts instead? Because it is fully integrated into Windows 11, you’ll be able to access it quickly and launch it much faster. Except for people working for Microsoft, I have never been invited to a Microsoft Teams Meeting.

It is interesting to see that Windows users can now join Facetime meetings using the new iOS “invite any” feature. There is a lot of competition in video meeting mindshare (face share).

Other quality of living improvements

Screenshots are a must as I often refer to settings menus, system tools, and other things on the screen in my writing. It’s simple on a Mac: Shift + Command + 4. It’s not that easy in Windows. Windows 11 has a slightly better built-in Snipping Tool. You can now take a screenshot by pressing Windows + Shift + S. However, the tool doesn’t automatically save the image to your clipboard.

Edge browser now offers a safe Kids Mode. You can access it by clicking on your profile in the upper right corner. It can also be customized to suit different age groups.

Auto HDR, a feature that was added to the Xbox Series, gives games that don’t support high dynamic range and increase in lighting, brightness, and contrast for a more HDR-like appearance.

I am waiting for a revamped Microsoft app store that will allow third-party services such as game stores and web browsers. Opera browser is now available, and Epic Games storefront will be soon. There is no word yet on browsers such as Chrome or Firefox, nor the Steam PC gaming storefront. Android app support will be available, at least initially from an Amazon-branded Android App Store rather than Google Play.

Who should have Windows 11?

Even though I am not a fan of the new Windows OS, there is no reason to abandon it. This is because any new PC OS launches unfinished. The best improvements and polished versions of any PC OS come later, from Windows 8 8.1 to Windows 10 Creators Edition.

I have used different preview builds of Windows 11 on multiple PCs over the past months. It’s been great, almost trouble-free, so I never thought about reverting to Windows 10.

Microsoft is still Microsoft sometimes. Some long-standing Windows problems have remained. There are many data-sharing and advertising personalization checkboxes that you need to uncheck when setting up the OS. The built-in Edge browser also hides the default search engine settings. (To switch from Bing to Google, for example), this is a submenu deep. It is more difficult to switch which apps do what default now. You need to assign each file type — such as.html,.htm, etc. Each one. This should be simplified eventually.

Windows 11 will likely come pre-installed on any new computer or laptop you buy. You don’t need to make a conscious choice in this case. Just follow the flow. You can download and install Windows 11 on any current-gen Windows tablet, laptop, or desktop. It is being slowly released to avoid huge rushes of downloading the same day.