Microsoft's OS upgrade is subtle, but we like it

Microsoft's OS upgrade is subtle, but we like it ...

Microsoft made Windows 11 available today as a free upgrade to most Windows 10 users as part of yearly Windows upgrades. If you have Windows 8, you'll have to get the free upgrade to Windows 10 first, then download Windows 11. If your computer has Windows 7, you will have access to the Windows 8 upgrade, and you can download and install Windows 11 for free. Before you decide whether or not to install the new OS, let's talk about what we like and don't like about the upgrade.

As more user-friendly an operating system becomes, the better it becomes for you. Whether it's MacOS on your MacBook or Google' s Wear OS on the smartwatch. And that user is you, sitting in front of a laptop keyboard or tapping on. Sorry, no Spinal Tap "goes to 11" puns here. Because Windows 11 feels more like Windows 10.5 than a generational leap -- and that's not to say there'd be any harm to that.

Maybe the switch from Windows 10 to Windows 11 feels a little bit skewed, because the leap from Microsoft 8 to Microsoft 10 was so big. Big enough for Microsoft to skip an entire version number, even if it were. That generation was all about resetting a ship that had gone haywire, leaning too far into tablet territory, trying to convince everyone that Windows laptops and tablets were as cool as iPads. I work on a Windows machine, I do remarkably well with PC gaming on one, but when I read news headlines in bed at night, it's on an iPad.

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Windows 10 was launched with positive reviews and has remained in everyone's good graces because it has completely escaped the way of whatever you were doing rather than trying to force its opinions on you. It was also free*, which includes an asterisk to indicate it was generally available as a no-cost upgrade to anyone with neopreneur PC.

Before 2015, Windows upgrades were either expensive or, if you bought a new laptop or desktop, the new OS came preinstalled. Around the same time, Apple's OS X switched to a similar free-to-upgrade model. Except for system designers, the idea of paying separately for a computer operating system is almost gone. The cost of upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 8 has risen dramatically. You had to pay $120 to Microsoft for the privilege of converting from Microsoft Windows 7.

Who can get Windows 11?

The list of compatible PCs is, frankly, a little narrower than I would have expected. The base requirements are a 64-bit processor, 4GB of memory, 64GB storage, UEFI secure boot, and TPM (trusted platform module) 2.0. It's that last one that becomes difficult for some people, especially on cheaper laptops. If you've got a CPU older than 7.0-gen Intel Core series (we're up to 8.1-generation now), you may be in for some trouble. If you want to check your PC's health, download the Microsoft PC Health Check app. There are, in general, workarounds for installing Windows 11, but you must do so at your own risk.

Visual cues are visual signals used to communicate with the user.

If there's one thing that immediately strikes you about Windows 11, it'' be this: the start menu and taskbar are now centered on the bottom of the screen rather than pointing to the left by default. That's the single biggest visual and interface change you're going to see on day one. Sure, there's plenty going on beneath, but this UI change seems to be merely a reminder that there is something new and different going around beneath the surface.

Windows 11 is a bit of rage. You're likely to find little to nothing for casual or mainstream users, though there are some notable enhancements to note.

Read more: Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio review: The screen is everything.

Install Android on your Windows machine.

One of the biggest selling points of Chromebooks, which run Google's ChromeOS, is that they can run pretty much any Android application, from phone-centric favorites like Instagram to mobile games. That eliminates Chromebooks from being restricted to just cloud-based applications and, frankly, adds a lot of functionality to your $300 Chromebook.

Microsoft is adding similar functionality to Windows 11, both to compete with Chromebooks and to forge stronger bonds between Windows PC users and Android phone users, as Macs and iPhones are inextricably bound.

That functionality isn't included in the Windows 11 launch version. It's being previewed sometime in the next few months, and I wouldn't expect it to be released as a fully baked feature until sometime around 2022.

That's a pity, because easy access to Android apps was likely going to be the biggest single practical change in Windows 11. Sure, there are plenty of other methods to accomplish this, such as using an app like Bluestacks or the Microsoft Your Phone app, but it's not intuitive enough for everyday users.

Snap groups and multiple desktops are common ways to create snap groups on a single desktop.

Once you get the hang of it, arranging a lot of open windows so you can see and access them when you want -- and hide them if you don't -- is handy. The ability to snap windows into preset slots on the desktop has been around for a while, but the new Snap Groups and Snap Layouts offer dozens of new ways to manipulate your windows.

By hovering over the "maximize" button on the top right corner of most windows, you'll get a pop-up showing dozens of layout options. By hovering over any of the snapped window icons in the task bar, you can quickly remove these applications and return them to their original locations.

But... not every app I tried allowed me to snap its window. Web browsers, system tools, and many other random programs did, but programs such as Photoshop and Steam did not (over their maximize buttons did NOT provide a snapping options pop-up menu).

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  • Windows 11 is a familiar but fresh operating system.
  • Change your Windows 11 wallpaper in 5 easy steps (it's super easy to do)
  • Windows 11: Everything you need to know about its release date, new features, and more.
  • Check if your computer meets Microsoft's requirements with these tools.
  • Windows 11 vs. Windows 10: All the upgrades you should know about.
  • Surface Pro 8 is a familiar companion for Windows 11.
  • Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio review: The screen is all that's required.

If you have a huge monitor, have multiple monitors, or need to open several thinly sliced web browser windows at once, it may be useful. On a laptop screen, you're usually not looking at one or two windows at once.

Multiple desktops are a common MacOS feature, and they are an excellent way to organize multiple aspects of your digital life. You can for example keep all of your work apps -- email applications, browsers, video conference applications -- on one desktop, and all your gaming applications on another. Like on a Mac, you hot-swap between them, but on an iPad, it's really merely reorganization of how your open applications are seen.

You can do this in Windows 10 as well, but it's a pain. Desktops have their own taskbar icon by default in Windows 11, and creating and organizing multiple desktops is even easier than on a Mac, which is not something you'll see very often.

Wither the Widget?

Every gadget-maker loves widgets, defined in consumer tech terms as tiny icon-like applications that generally sit in a group somewhere on your device's UI. It's often useful little things like the weather, stock markets, your newest emails or calendar items, or a small newsfeed. Your iPhone and iPad have them, Android devices have theirs, Macs have they (under the normally hidden Notification Bar on the right side of the screen). Windows had built-in widgets, too. Gadgets were also called Gadigget, and they died along with Windows 7.

Now they're back. On the plus side, with its own taskbar button, the new widgets are easy to find. On the left side of the screen, a semi-transparent panel appears. It includes, by default, widgets for weather, your Outlook calendar, photos you may have in OneDrive, a To Do list, and dozens more. You may change the list a bit, but there aren't many options for now. Below is a newsfeed that looks like it's organized by the same people who do the news curating on the home screen for the Microsoft Edge browser. You can hide stories from any outlet by clicking on a menu icon in the news section or hitting'manage your interests' to customize the feed, but by default, it's pretty basic. Lots of sports, Fox News, and celeb gossip.

Microsoft Teams integration with Teams is now available.

Do you use Microsoft Teams instead of Zoom, Facetime, or Google Hangouts? Because it's now fully integrated into Windows 11, you'll be able to get there and launch it a little quicker. I've never been invited to a Microsoft Teams meeting, except by people who work for Microsoft.

With the new iOS "invite anyone", Windows users may now join Facetime meetings. Evidently, there's a lot of competition for video meeting mindshare (faceshare?).

Other improvements to the quality of life include:

Because I'm often referring to system tools, settings menus, or other on-screen things in my writing, I take a lot of screen shots. On a Mac, it's simple -- Shift + Command + 4. It's never been so easy in Windows. The built-in Snipping utility is, nevertheless, slightly less irritating under Windows 11. By pressing Windows + Shift + S, you can now take a screenshot, although it copies the image to the clipboard, it doesn't save the picture automatically, so you'll have to do it manually.

The Edge browser now has a Safe Kids Mode that's accessible by clicking on your profile in the upper right corner, and that can be customized for different age groups.

Auto HDR -- a new feature on the Xbox Series X -- gives games with low dynamic range fewer lighting, brightness, and contrast enhancements for enhancing HDr-like feel.

I'm waiting for a revamped Microsoft app store that will allow for third-party services such as game stores and web browsers. The Opera browser is now available, and the Epic Games storefront is expected to open in the near future. No word on other browsers such as Firefox or Chrome, or the popular Steam PC game storefront. Eventual Android app support will come, at least initially, from an Amazon-branded Android application store, rather than Google Play.

Who should get Windows 11?

Despite my lukewarm embrace of the new Windows OS, there's no compelling reason to skip it. Because any new PC OS is in its infancy, and the most significant updates and polished versions, from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 Creators Edition, come later.

I've used various preview versions of Windows 11 on several PCs for months, as well as the final release build, and it's been great, almost completely hassle-free, with no re-introduction concerns. I haven't even considered switching back to Windows 10.

Microsoft is, however, a firm believer in Microsoft's ability to kill you. Several long-term Windows problems have remained. When launching the OS for the first time, there are still plenty of data-sharing and ad-personalization checkboxes to uncheck, and the built-in Edge browser still caches the default search engine settings (to switch the standard search tool from Bing to, say, Google) several submenu deep. Switching which programs do what by default is now much easier; you have to assign each file type --.htm, html, etc. -- one by one. Hopefully this will be simplified at some point.

If you're buying a new laptop or desktop at any time after today, it'll most likely come with Windows 11 preinstalled. In that case, you don't have to make a conscious decision, just go with the flow. If you've got a current-gen Windows laptop, tablet, or desktop, you should be able to download and install Windows 11 either now or in the near future. It's being released slowly, probably to avoid a rush of same-day downloads.

As a general rule of thumb, I always advise that you don't jump up and be the first person on the block to download os updates for your laptop, phone, or tablet. Issues will inevitably arise, if only because of the huge variety of hardware configurations and accessories, from printers to mice to VR headsets, that must work properly.

That said, Windows 11 has been thoroughly tested, and the biggest issues so far have been with how icons are displayed, menu bloatiness, as well as File Explorer difficulties.

For now, my final word on the topic, for now: If you want to try and download/install Windows 11 on day one, go for it. If you want to wait a few weeks (or preferably tens of months), that's OK.

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