We were contented with Windows 10 as our go-to PC operating system and out of the blue, Microsoft decides to unleash Windows 11 on us. Originally supposed to the Sun Valley 21H1 update for Windows 10, Windows 11 appears more of a marketing move to boost PC sales among old-time users as well as youngsters, especially with the stringent hardware requirements. Also Read - Microsoft to keep Call of Duty on PlayStation even after Activision acquisition
That stringent requirement may make many wonder whether planning an upgrade to a new Windows 11 compatible PC later this year is necessary. Is it just Windows 10 in new clothes, or are there some true upgrades underneath? Does it make existing PCs fast? Is it easy to adapt for Windows 10 users? Also Read - Biggest acquisitions made in the gaming industry: Microsoft-Activision Blizzard, Tencent-Supercell, and more
To figure out answers to these, I have been using a developer build of Windows 11 for some days on a Dell XPS 13 (11th Gen Intel) (review coming soon). Do note that our system specifications include an 11th Gen Intel Core i7 3GHz processor, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD, a 3:4 4K display, and Intel Iris Xe graphics. Also Read - Sony speaks up for the first time after Microsoft-Activision deal
In accordance with decades-old tradition, Windows 11 brings some major visual changes to your PC. The most notable one comes in the form of the redesigned and repositioned Start menu: the home to all your dear apps and functions. The priority is now on putting the necessary stuff in the spotlight instead of dumping an entire app list in your face.
Hence, Pinned apps dominate the top half of the Start menu, wherein you can pin your favourite ones for quick access. The bottom half gets Recommended apps and functions, which uses AI to determine which apps you use the most. The Account profile section now deals with functions just related to your Microsoft account, while the System power options are simpler to access.
This is just a glimpse of the entire design direction that Microsoft has taken with Windows 11. The idea is to simplify the layout and let people have quick access to the stuff they consider important. It seems that the Windows 11 designers took copious amounts of inspiration from Android tablet interfaces, and dumped some of their own.
Hence, in just a few hours of using Windows 11, I was able to get work done faster. The split Action Center is more useful and easier to comprehend, with notifications stacked separately and the calendar getting its own space. The Quick Settings bar is more akin to what you experience on iOS and Android, i.e., it is easier to toggle Bluetooth connections as well as adjust brightness. On a touchscreen display, it makes more sense. Cortana is gone from Windows but the Search section remains unchanged from Windows 10.
The new design gets applied to Windows Explorer too, with rounded windows and spaced-out elements. Microsoft has added fluid animations that resonate with the ones on macOS, only faster and brief. Tiny details like an app bouncing on the taskbar before it opens, fancy effects on floating windows, and more make using the PC refreshing. This wasn’t the case with Windows 10.
As you dive deep into the Settings menu, you start to see the new design evolve naturally. It is all tablet-inspired, with larger buttons and an easier-to-comprehend layout. I was initially worried about not relying on the Control Panel but the new Settings app drove them away in minutes. All of your favourite options are more logically laid out under aptly named sections now. If you consider yourself technically challenged, the new Setting menu will make changing settings easier than the way the Control Panel did.
Microsoft is also trying to push its own take on the Google Now feed in the form of the Widgets pane. The layout is more akin to the Widgets pane from iPadOS 14, wherein the Weather and Money widgets are the only proper widgets. The rest of the boxes are simply shortcuts to news items that open in the Edge browser; good for us news writers. In essence, this Widgets pane is trying to make you rely on your PC more for the quick browsing activities that you may do on your smartphone.
The revamped MS Team app and its integrated form are yet to make it to the Developer Build. Additionally, the Microsoft Store is yet to host Android apps from the Amazon Store; this could take a few months to arrive.
On the whole, Windows 11 brings the PC OS experience on par with the modern smartphone generation; the PC now feels like a part of the mobile world. It essentially carries all the Windows 10 features but presents them in a way that you start considering using them proactively.
During the July 24 launch event, Microsoft promised performance upgrades with Windows 10. Those improvements are visible in the current developer builds. Compared to Windows 10 on the Dell XPS 13, Windows 11 feels eager to open and host apps. The PC boots up slightly faster in comparison and stuttering apps are a rarity. For example, Microsoft Team now opens like a regular app instead of taking its own sweet time.
I was unable to run benchmark tests on the Windows 11 build but I did manage to play some games, which showcased gains in frame rates. For example, Mafia: The Definitive Edition ran on Windows 10 in the lowest graphics settings (resolution, textures, and effects). In Windows 11, the game was able to gain frame rates to 25 fps on an average on the Low-Medium settings combo. Similar frame rate gains were noted on Codemaster’s F1 2020. This is impressive for a PC relying solely on the Intel Iris Xe graphics.
The Auto HDR feature is a great step for gamers looking to get the most out of their old games. In F1 2020, the Auto HDR feature boosted the colours and made for a livelier gameplay experience. This also makes me hyped about DirectStorage compatible games and what it can do to improve loading speeds.
Another area that helps with usage is multitasking. The new Layouts feature offers four default layouts as standard. While working on reports based on some documents or covering an event, I can quickly open up to four apps in an efficient multi-window layout by hovering over the “maximize” button. The “multiple desktop” option from Windows 10 makes it over to Windows 11 but is easier to access.
This being a developer build, there were occasional bugs with the usual system functions, one of which is reduced battery life. The XPS 13 usually manages up to 7-8 hours under office workloads with Windows 10. With Windows 11, that figure has dropped to 4 hours maximum. Hence, those looking to try Windows 11 on their primary work PC should exercise caution before getting the update.
Windows 11 is undoubtedly the biggest change since 2015’s Windows 10 release, and Microsoft has done a commendable job with the updates. The new design and layout make it easy with the generic computing stuff while the performance improvements are surely encouraging for gamers and pro users. The design changes are refreshing yet familiar to existing Windows and Android phone users. The prospect of running Android apps could also keep the PC in relevance. These improvements are crucial not only for the new PC buyers but also for existing PC users on older hardware. And that leads us to the basic and most important question: compatibility!
Windows 11 is such a nice step up from Windows 10 and it is a shame that it won’t be coming to PCs older than four years. I understand Microsoft’s stand on security and it is surely a good step for the future. However, the requirement of a TPM chip and processor limitations leaves out a large section of older PC users who could use the performance gains to extend their PC life. It would be good to see Microsoft finding a way to support its old and loyal PC users with Windows 11 in the same fashion as it did with Windows 10.
On the whole, Windows 11 paves an exciting future for Microsoft PCs and is surely a good way to get more people to use a Windows machine. It is definitely worth upgrading to a compatible PC if you are on a very old Windows PC right now. For those who have compatible PCs, you shouldn’t hesitate to upgrade once it rolls out later this year.