When Microsoft first showcased Windows 11, the larger belief was that it had to be a jump big enough to warrant the (somewhat) new name. The company had, after all, unofficially said that Windows 10 was the last operating system they’d build for PCs. Tracking back on this belief, about six years since the public rollout and free upgrades to Windows 10, Microsoft has presented to us a new OS, and wants us to believe that it has fixed all that was wrong with Windows 10. But, has it?
*Editor’s note: This review is solely our opinion of Microsoft Windows 11, and does not offer any verdict on the HP Envy x360 that Microsoft India shared with News18.com to showcase its new OS. The review also doesn’t offer any opinion on the Asus ROG Zephyrus M16, which was used to showcase Windows 10 running alongside Windows 11.
The new interface: A thoughtful and mostly consistent step forward
Microsoft spent most of its painstaking efforts with Windows 11 to make it look newer, so it’s natural that this is what you’d notice straight-up. In fact, it would’ve been embarrassing if you didn’t. Anyway, you now get a bunch of paint swirl wallpapers that look very Apple, and the Start menu, as you must have found out by now, is centred by default. In my due course of using Windows 11, I didn’t feel the need to drag it back to its long-standing position of being at the bottom left corner of the screen.
Credit where it’s due, upon initial impressions, Microsoft seems to have done the trick. It has managed to overhaul a wildly dated interface to make it look new, without needing you to entirely rehash your muscle memory. Those who have ever worked in design would know how difficult it is to make software look and feel perceivably new, without changing the fundamental way in which they work. Despite the centre alignment of the Start menu, it does not feel unfamiliar — and neither does it feel repetitive.
The new Start menu has the search bar integrated at the top, below which is a gallery of pinned and recently used apps, arranged in a grid with more prominence given to their icons. Below this, you see your recently downloaded files. It’s a neat layout, and impressively, one that you would not take hours to get accustomed to. If you want the vertical list of all apps in your system, an ‘All apps’ button right beside the top app gallery is present to make you feel more familiar with how the older Start menu was.
Beside the start menu is a shortcut button to set up multiple desktops. In a way, it is Microsoft’s acknowledgement of the remote work era, and by doing that, the company has also suggested that multiple desktops is no longer a feature largely reserved for the power user. It lets you easily setup and switch between multiple desktops — which you can configure based on your preference. It works quite seamlessly — I could, for instance, have my Office and Adobe apps featured on one, and Spotify, Netflix and a couple of games on the other. It’s a nifty feature if you’re particular about keeping your desktop organised.
When it comes to Widgets, though, I’m not entirely convinced. I’m happy that Microsoft decided to take the massive, chunky tiles out of the Start menu, but in its new layout, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Start menu overhaul is correct in my books — a “start” menu should be simple, and in good UI design, should make it easy for users to access their most used and recently accessed files. That is what the new menu does, and over here, the lack of widgets feel good riddance.
However, I personally feel that widgets are essentially tiny snippets of information that should be available at a quick glance, and ideally work as semi-transparent, tiny elements on a desktop itself (the way you’d have seen them work on innumerable custom Windows mods). With Windows 11, you’d have to specifically go looking for the Widgets screen — accessible either from the fourth button on the default Taskbar layout, or by swiping from the left on a touchscreen device — to access them. In my course of usage, I found myself looking for them very, very rarely — apart from the odd occasion when I’d swipe on the laptop’s display by mistake, or simply, use them for the sake of this review.
It feels as if the design team at Microsoft couldn’t agree over whether they should totally remove the widgets or keep them in some form, and in the end, decided to put ‘em all in a stowaway panel and let the user decide if they wanted to see it at some point. The widgets aren’t interactive, and cannot be added to the desktop, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. The other thing that doesn’t make sense is the compelling push for Microsoft Teams, which sits smack in the centre of your taskbar, reducing customisability. The one big thing that Microsoft’s always had going for it is how it allows every user to customise almost every bit of the OS. With Windows 11, you cannot remove the Teams app from the taskbar, at least for now. This feels like a step too far.
The File Explorer menu that opens up next is a familiar one in terms of the layout, but there is a generous dose of colours now. It’s a subtle change, but one that you’ll start noticing, slowly. You’ll realise that the coloured icons make it all that much easier for your brain to register which folder is which, and also ensure that your system doesn’t look like it hasn’t been updated since 1995. It’s a small, incremental move, but a step in the right direction for sure.
The Edge browser is baked into the system too, and works just as it did before. Microsoft is facing criticism for forcing the use of Edge by making it more difficult to change your default browser, and making search links open via Edge and Bing compulsorily. This will hopefully change in future. The Microsoft Store, meanwhile, is a certain improvement — it has more of our essential apps, and feels more cohesive in terms of its layout and design, too. The look of cluttered mess, thankfully, has been reduced.
Going beyond this, one of the biggest changes in terms of design has come to the Settings section. It has become more organised, but for the initial days, it will take you a while to get used to. Once you do, you’d realise that it is actually much better (for the most part) than the monochrome icon layout of Windows 10. It is easier, for instance, to remove apps that auto-start upon booting. The uninstall apps screen has probably gotten its first new design since Windows 98, and in general, you’d realise that most menus and screens feel new with Windows 11. It might be an incremental coat of paint, but a very necessary one for sure.
While File Explorer hasn’t changed much, you notice rounded edges everywhere, which make the overall OS feel smoother and more chic than before. The new notifications panel pops up as a floating menu, and while the functionality has remained the same, it looks smarter. Notification pop-ups also work much better on Windows 11 — they look like bold bits of information, rather than the meek, tiny white boxes in Windows 10 that you could very easily have missed.
Microsoft has entirely removed the Weather widget from the bottom right of the taskbar into the doomed Widgets panel, which I personally hate. What I do like, however, is the new Actions Centre, which squarely resembles the iOS (and now also macOS) Control Panel. It’s easier and neater than before, but even then, there’s scope for betterment. For instance, the Bluetooth identifier only shows whether Bluetooth’s on or off on your system, and does not let you see your paired devices or pair one within a single click. This is bad design in an OS that’s all about good designing.
Ease and ergonomics: Largely sensible, minus a glaring one
On overall terms, the design changes are majorly positive, and make sense. The addition of multiple desktops is Microsoft keeping up with the times, and makes sense for heavy users with loaded desktop layouts in particular. The widgets panel might make sense on touchscreen mode more than conventional laptop mode, with the slide-out menu actually being easier to scroll on touch. The non-ergonomic bit here is the inability to add them to the desktop, which is puzzling.
The biggest disappointment in terms of ease and ergonomics, however, is the static taskbar on Windows 11. For over 20 years now, I have been able to move the taskbar to any part of the desktop — above (in Apple style), or to either left or right of the screen. It’s an added flexibility that can prove useful for many, but somehow, Microsoft has locked the taskbar down to the bottom of the screen. I’m not sure exactly what that contributes to, and given that flexibility is a big part of the Windows experience, it really makes no sense in terms of the ergonomics of the OS.
Snap Layouts, however, is a nice addition. The ability to snap any window to one part of the screen has been there in Windows for a long time, but now, Microsoft is pitching it not as a hidden feature, but as an open one. Hovering on the maximise button shows you six layouts that can divide your screen up into up to four parts, the margins of which you can customise as per your needs. It’s easy to do, and makes multitasking more ergonomic than before. It’s sensible too, particularly if you use a multi-display setup.
However, I don’t like how certain features, such as the ability to configure default apps for specific file formats, is unnecessarily complicated. It feels like Microsoft’s tacit way of giving users the option to configure, but making it complicated enough for most mainstream users to stay away from. It’s the exact opposite of user friendly ergonomics in an OS that otherwise feels suave.
Familiarity: More good than bad, but fix the bugs please
Is Windows 11 familiar to use, despite all of the above changes? Absolutely. In many ways, Microsoft could have actually chosen to continue calling it Windows 10, and nobody would have raised an eyebrow. But then, the interface is also updated significantly enough for it to look and feel quite different from the outgoing Windows 10. On this front, there are a few things to consider.
While the File Explorer has remained entirely familiar, and the Settings menu’s logic is constant despite the new interface, the sticky bugs that are infamous in Windows have remained. For instance, the Xbox app kept getting stuck in the update loop before finally letting me login, and even after I did, it wouldn’t recognise my active Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription — instead urging me to buy a new one every time I tried to download a game using it. It required a sign out, restart and a fresh sign-in to finally start working again.
While Microsoft is marketing a new, smarter interface design with Office that’s yet again new but familiar from before, the annoying registration loop where it does not recognise you as having uninstalled and delinked an existing Office subscription from an older Windows PC persists. These underlying framework issues can pretty much drive you nuts, and it is in these moments that you realise that Windows 11 is, after all, still Windows 10 in a new party attire.
The rest of the familiarity of Windows 11 is good, and it is actually impressive that Microsoft has managed to make things look new without disrupting rhythm. Some of its changes are too subtle, and some have remained unchanged — for instance, the Snip tool is pretty much the same as before, and even with an incremental overhaul, the Paint app does not feel revolutionary. Even Notepad has remained the same, but all things considered, the familiarity on offer does more good than bad.
Verdict: There’s no reason for you to not upgrade
After looking at everything, I’m compelled to say that if your PC supports the upgrade, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t move to Windows 11. To put it in simpler words, Windows 11 is certainly better than Windows 10. It may not be a drastic change, but for what it’s worth, I like that Microsoft has made Windows look so much more palatable without needing me to learn how to use it all over again. For the most part, the new design is good, and it fixes some glaring design issues from before — such as the notifications.
Microsoft is yet to offer all the features with Windows 11 — you don’t get the promised universal Mute button, and the Android apps section via the Amazon Appstore on the Microsoft Store isn’t here yet, either. The setup process, for me, got stuck on the ‘We’re getting things ready for you’ screen for a good 40 minutes, for some reason. However, it too is more graphic and easier on the eyes now.
It’s not all perfect — Microsoft should have made it easier to pick default apps, it needs to make the taskbar agile again, and Bluetooth device pairing in today’s age must become one-click, ASAP. It has also reduced the number of people who can upgrade to the new OS (8th gen Intel and 4GB RAM as minimum requirements), which means that there will no longer be a ubiquitous jump the way there was from Windows 8 to Windows 10.
None of its issues, however, are stuff that Microsoft cannot fix in the near future (if they want to, that is). As a result, all things considered, we cannot see why Windows 11 would not be liked by most who can upgrade to it.