Windows 11 Is the Overhaul Microsoft Needed

The design changes make for a pretty update that's more than skin deep.

Image for article titled Windows 11 Is the Overhaul Microsoft Needed
Screenshot: Microsoft

Today Microsoft announced the next big chapter for its ubiquitous operating system: Windows 11 is here, and while there’s some awkwardness to work out (specifically in the way Microsoft is handling Android app integration), Windows 11 feels like the big facelift Microsoft really needed.

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With elements like rounded corners for app windows, a new centered task bar (which can still be left-aligned if you prefer), and a generally sleeker and more minimalist UI, Windows 11 shares some of its aesthetic with other modern OSes—most notably macOS and, to a lesser extent, Android. And while Microsoft’s slick visual update might feel a bit scary to some folks, to me this change is encouraging: a sign of a fresh start for Windows.

You see, one of Windows 10's biggest strengths has also become one of its biggest weaknesses: it’s backwards compatibility. Even with all the millions of hardware configs and evolving PC designs, Microsoft has done an exemplary job of making sure apps that ran on Windows a decade ago still work almost flawlessly today. And if they don’t, there’s usually a small tweak you can make to fix them.

Unfortunately, as we’ve upgraded from Windows 95 to Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP, and more recent versions of Windows, the look and feel of Windows 10 has become rather messy. Depending on where you look, you can see the remnants of previous versions of Windows. Exhibit A: Live Tiles, which were originally introduced in Windows Mobile after being adapted from Microsoft’s Metro design in Windows 8.

I really like the smaller and more stripped down Start Menu in Windows 11, especially with Dark Mode enabled.
I really like the smaller and more stripped down Start Menu in Windows 11, especially with Dark Mode enabled.
Image: Microsoft

Look elsewhere, and Windows 10 is littered with multiple settings menus that serve similar purposes, except that some feature a clean, modern design befitting of Windows 10, while others look like they’ve been ported directly from Windows XP (and it gets even worse if you dive deep into things like the Device Manager or the Advanced Power Settings section). Features brought over from Windows 8 (which came out back in 2012!) like Windows Tablet Mode feel a bit outdated.

With Windows 11, Microsoft has a big opportunity to address many of these issues while creating a consistent look and design across the entire OS. That might sound like a minor upgrade, but carries with it some potentially profound effects.

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New windows snap layouts in Windows 11
One of the best Windows features will get even better thanks to new Snap Layouts.
Image: Microsoft

When you have a more consistent design and user experience, you give people more confidence in the platform. This is clearly something Microsoft execs have thought about: one new feature ensures windows will remember where they’re supposed to be after you connect to or disconnect from an external display. On top of that, Microsoft is also adding new Snap Layouts for Windows, so you can more easily create a desktop arrangement that works for you. Even little things like being able to create personalized desktops for different use cases (e.g. work, personal, gaming, etc.) makes it easy to switch between different use cases without having to reconfigure your apps and windows all the time.

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On top of that, by getting rid of Windows 10's discrete tablet mode and simply using the same general layout (with some added space between icons), Microsoft is creating a more consistent user experience across all sorts of devices. Windows 11 will reportedly support the same set of gestures regardless if you’re using a touchpad or a touchscreen, so 2-in-1 devices should function more intuitively, too. Not to mention the new touch keyboard in Win 11 looks like a big improvement.

closer look at the Windows 11 task bar.
Even for someone who is forced to use video chat apps all the time, I don’t feel like I need to have such tight integration with Teams.
Image: Microsoft
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I’m even cautiously optimistic about the new Windows 11 Start Menu, which looks more like the kind of launcher you’d get on an Android phone as opposed to the sprawling mess you get in Windows 10. By splitting the Start Menu and Search into two different icons on your task bar, Microsoft is making it faster to access the 20-30 apps people use on a regular basis, while still making it easy to find less frequently used apps, even if it takes a couple extra seconds of typing. And for anyone who has to factory reset laptops on a regular basis, the removal of Cortana from a Window machine’s initial setup feels like a godsend. Hi there Cortana, I really don’t need your help right now, or ever again.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still have some reservations about a few of the new features in Windows 11, such as how Microsoft is adding support for Android apps via integration with the Amazon Appstore. Partnering with Amazon instead of Google seems like an awkward workaround, especially compared to the native integration you get with the Google Play Store on Chromebooks.

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The revamped game store in Windows 11.
Better support for games should make it easier to buy and play your favorite titles, regardless of what kind of Windows devices you’re using.
Image: Microsoft

And while the Windows Store (which is technically now the Microsoft Store) is getting revamped too, a slick new UI doesn’t directly address the dearth of available apps compared to Google’s Play Store or Apple’s App Store. I don’t care for all the added integration with Teams and OneDrive either, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since Apple and Google have made similar moves on iOS/macOS and Android.

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At least for gamers, tighter integration with Xbox should make getting into the action or partying up with your friends simpler than ever. And while new support for Auto HDR in games is promising, I’m hoping Microsoft also addresses the way Windows 11 handles monitors with high refresh rates, because I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard about people who bought a fancy new monitor only for them to have been running their display at 60Hz in the months or years since they set it up.

A range of different PCs running Windows 11
Photo: Microsoft
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I haven’t had the chance to use Windows 11 just yet, but as I think about new categories of devices coming down the line, like laptops with flexible displays or dual-screen notebooks, Windows 11 really feels like Microsoft is taking what it learned from Windows 10X and turning it into a new foundation for old PCs, new PCs, and PCs that haven’t even been invented yet. So even if Windows 11 seems like it’s merely a facelift for Windows 10—and it’s not—that would be more than enough reason to push out a new version of what was supposed to be the last Windows ever.

DISCUSSION

By
The Original Mr. Goodpost

Bad:

- Another tablet UI attempt, despite the fact that the Windows tablet/touch attach rate is laughable and it degrades everyone elses experiences. The use environments and tasks are fundamentally different, stop trying to merge the two.

- Mandatory Microsoft account attachment at install according to Microsofts own spec sheet. Frankly a deal breaker.

- Bizarre system requirements ensures older systems will be left out and adoption rate will suffer. Low adoption rate = developers won’t bother targeting it.

- Gating DirectStorage support within Win 11 ensures its initial adoption rate is going to be abysmal.

Irrelevant:

- I have never once wanted to run an Android app in Windows. Some developers might enjoy it, but its going to be a sub-1% feature.

- Teams joins Skype, Windows Messenger, and MSN Messenger on the list of “pre-loaded Windows chat app nobody uses”. Zero percent chance that corporate clients of Teams will use the built in app.

- Microsoft store will forever be an instant disable, so its update is not relevant. I get MS wants its slice of the lucrative “do nothing and collect a percentage of the sale of someone elses software” market, but I don’t care what they want.

Good:

- Aero glass is back!

- Love the window snap presets idea without having to use Power Tools.

- Better external monitor support.

- Widgets returning. Hopefully the swipe gesture is optional.

- Consistent formatting locations for settings sounds great... I am not convinced they can deliver it without removing half the settings like they normally do, however. Sounds like more shit i’m gonna have to fix in PowerShell.