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Windows 11 Review

Windows 11 Review

30 November 2021

Windows 11 has been out for a little bit more than a month, and it seems like Microsoft has generally succeeded in delivering a meaningful, well-received update to their flagship operating system. New functions that benefit a diverse range of users have been added or improved on, making the user experience more responsive and more intuitive (at least overall). The visual redesign, though, seems to be something of a concession to the ubiquity and popularity of Apple’s operating systems—from the moment you power on a Windows 11 device, the visual similarities stand out. On the whole, though, it doesn’t detract from what’s mostly a nice—if not world-shattering—improvement over Windows 10.

Enhanced Functionality Benefits Many Different Types of Users

Windows 11 incorporates several long-awaited or otherwise novel features that allow it to work more seamlessly in many different use cases. Chief among these are native Android application support, features ported over from Microsoft’s Xbox that improve gaming, and Teams integration to benefit remote/technologically supported workplaces.

Native support for Android applications is a major benefit for developers, IT professionals, marketers, and so on. Since Windows 11 can run Android apps without any sort of additional tools, troubleshooting problems with code or hardware/software interactions is potentially an easier, more straightforward process. The same is true for testing the experience those apps offer end users.

For gamers, Windows 11 brings in some features from the Xbox division that are aimed at improving quality of life. AutoHDR will automatically enable a high dynamic range on compatible hardware, making it easier to get the best possible visuals in-game. DirectStorage changes how graphics are loaded, sending visual assets directly to the graphics processing unit rather than through the CPU, freeing up processing power for more demanding games. Together, these enhancements make for a smoother, more user-friendly experience—although it does mean that, for gaming, the distinctions between PC and Xbox are thinner than ever before.

A functional and visual overhaul for Teams will massively benefit organizations that are either remote or depend on technology for intraoffice communications. Teams is now automatically pinned to the taskbar, and it looks and feels more like Apple’s FaceTime. The new layout swaps out the monochromatic purpleish and white buttons for more familiar green and red examples, and Microsoft has said that the app will work seamlessly regardless of platform (Windows, Android, or MacOS); so far, it seems to deliver on that promise.

A Visual Overhaul With Clear Inspiration

Windows 11 fundamentally changes the layout of the desktop environment for the first time since the earliest iterations of Windows (the failed Windows 8 experiment notwithstanding)—the Start button is now centered in the taskbar rather than in a corner. While that may seem like a small change, it’s actually very significant for longtime Windows users (or was for this author). The habit to move the mouse to a known corner of the screen for the Start button is hard to shake, and not having it there is initially very frustrating; the closest easy-to-understand comparison is probably switching from a PC to Mac and having the placement of the “Minimize”, “Restore Down”, and “Close” buttons be mirrored.

In fact, that Apple comparison is generally apt when describing Windows 11. It clearly takes visual inspiration from the Mac operating system; the centered taskbar obviously contributes, but there are more subtle borrowed design cues, too. The color palettes seem to incorporate more pastels that lend an Apple-esque tone, and the rounded corners of the actual windows—while subtler than Apple’s—are a clear break from Microsoft’s traditional hard right angles. The effect is a softening of the Windows experience, making it seem more refined and less strictly utilitarian.

Final Thoughts

Windows 11 incorporates some much-needed (and some much-requested) features and visual changes. While some of these can be frustrating or hard to process for longtime users, they do all genuinely seem to be in service of a better experience. While it remains to be seen how this newest edition will play out over the long term, early impressions are promising. Microsoft hasn’t reinvented the wheel, but that probably wasn’t the idea. What they’ve delivered is a functional update that feels better to use and is nice to look at.

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