With Windows11 Microsoft brings modern accents to the PC experience.
Most noticeably, a new design is supposed to help users find what they are looking for faster. However, the changes go beyond the surface. Microsoft is changing the rules of its app store to offer more variety and even bring Android apps to PC, and is adding improvements to improve gaming. New touchscreen controls and a better way to configure windows on the screen can make long periods of sitting in front of the computer easier.
Much is at stake. Windows is central to Microsoft as businesses use it for their employee and consumer devices for entertainment. The current version, Windows 10, is the best PC operating system in the world and the company does not want to lose that leadership position as it faces competition from companies such as Apple and Google.
On Monday, less than a week after reveals Windows 11, Microsoft has released its first preview build of the software for participants in the Windows Insider Program and is giving users their first chance to try out the new features.
If you’d like to try it out yourself, go to the Settings app in Windows 10 and sign in to the Windows Insider Program section. Be warned, however: the software is new and not extensively tested, and it has some issues so you may need to find workarounds.
If you want to keep Windows bugs to a minimum, you probably shouldn’t be upgrading just yet.
Microsoft plans to roll out the upgrade more broadly later this year and next year.
Here are seven major revisions in Windows 11 that are available so far:
1. Start button. Perhaps the biggest change is moving the Start button from the left corner of the system tray to the center, along with icons for open applications and icons pinned to the system tray. The change will take some getting used to. Instinctively, you want to move your mouse to the left, and after you’ve done that and clicked near the edge of the screen, nothing happens. But for people with wide computer monitors, the new location may be easier to get to. If you need to move the Start button to the left again, you can find the option under Settings> Personalization> Taskbar.
2. Start menu. Gone are the things you pinned to the Start menu in Windows 10. Instead, you’ll see a group of applications under the Pinned heading. Some will automatically show up there and you can remove them from Start. To avoid problems reproducing the programs stored in the Windows 10 Start menu, take a screenshot before upgrading to Windows 11. The Start menu also clearly displays a recommended section with programs and recently accessed files.
3. Keyboard. Windows 11 offers a richer on-screen keyboard with access to emojis, GIFs, a clipboard, word suggestions, handwriting recognition, and the ability to create a custom theme. Some functions of the Windows 10 on-screen keyboard, including the ability to display a numeric keypad, are missing.
4. Settings. Microsoft has reorganized the Settings app, adding embellishments like widgets to show paired devices, a prominent link to rename your PC, and a way to see which subfolder you’re looking in. Also, the left bar of options doesn’t change as you move from section to section as before, which makes it easier to navigate. There are also six desktop backgrounds to choose from. The menu options have been moved, some sections have been preserved new names. And a new option reminds the operating system of where the windows were before when you reconnect an external monitor.
5. Dynamic update rate. A new option in Windows 11 can save battery life if you use a laptop. Many laptops have a refresh rate – the number of times per second the display shows a new image – of 60 Hz.Dell, HP and other PC manufacturers are increasingly launching laptops with higher refresh rates such as 120 Hz, which are used for gaming and other activities such as drawing can be helpful. But operating at a higher speed can quickly consume electricity. If you have a supported device, you can enable the new dynamic update rate setting, which can be used to decrease the setting for less critical scenarios like reading email.
6. Consistent touch gestures. Microsoft is taking touch gestures that users could use on trackpads in Windows 10 and bringing them to displays. The experience becomes using a touchscreen PC more like using a tablet such as a laptop computer Apple iPad, and it will further differentiate Windows PCs from Apple’s Mac computers, which are not available with touch screens. If you swipe up with three fingers, you’ll see applications and desktops in Task View. Swipe down to bring up the desktop. Swiping left or right will take you to the last used app window. And if you swipe left or right with four fingers, you can switch between desktops.
7. Make window sets. Windows 11 makes it easy to organize two or more application windows that you want to use at the same time. This builds on the ability to snap windows on the left or right side of the screen in Windows 10, as well as adaptations to Android that showed up in the Surface Duo, Microsoft’s smartphone with two screens. Hover over the maximize button in an application and you’ll see options for arranging two, three, or even four windows. You click the part of the screen that you want the current window to use, and then select other areas of the screen for the other windows. After you’ve organized your windows the way you want, you can head to the system tray and quickly access your windows. When you open others, you can return to the set by hovering over the icons for the apps in the set. You can also quickly close the set by hovering your mouse and pressing the X button.
In this first preview build, some important Windows 10 features are missing: Android apps and integration with Teams in the system tray. You come later.