Windows 11 has been available for Windows Insiders via the Windows Insider Program since June 28, 2021. Microsoft says that Windows 11 was redesigned for productivity, creativity, and ease of use and is now simpler, with a modern, fresh, and clean design. We’ve been using it every day (since June 29), and the upgrade has felt smooth and natural.
Here are 10+ things to like about Windows 11 or look forward to so far. They are in no particular order. Windows 11 will start to become generally available on October 5, 2021.
1. Visual Refresh
They say a change is as good as a rest. Windows 11 has a subtly cleaner design, a restyled Start menu, round-cornered windows, updated icons, and a less cluttered UI. The design tweaks, plus added features, give it enough of a visual refresh to feel new and enough of a change to call a Windows upgrade. If you’ve been using Windows 10 for six years, you might appreciate the difference.
2. Taskbar icon positions
The most noticeable change to the Windows 11 desktop is the default positioning of the Start button, taskbar icons, and Start menu. They are now positioned in the center of the taskbar by default. You can move them to the left if you wish via Settings – Personalization – Taskbar – Taskbar behaviors – Taskbar alignment – Left. Some of the app and Windows icons are updated, too, so the taskbar area looks new and fresh.
Of course, Mac and Linux and third-party apps have offered taskbar styles like this for years. However, it’s nice to see this center styling option included with Windows. Before taking the image below, we pinned some extra icons to the taskbar.
3. Rounded corners
Rounded corners are back for all Windows windows. There’s not much to say about this one, other than the rounded corners offer a softer, organic look, making Windows 11 and its apps feel more modern, fresh, friendly, and natural to use. Here’s an example of the rounded corners on the Character Map window.
4. Window Snapping UX
If you hover the mouse over the Maximize/Restore Down icons on most windows or press the Windows key + Z, Windows 11 displays the Snapping dropdown menu, an innovative new visual user experience (UX) that shows you your window snapping area choices. The dropdown will show you 17 snapping areas to select for larger screens, and on smaller screens, 11.
This Snapping tool looks sophisticated and modern, and it’s an excellent first from Microsoft. You can still drag windows to the edges of the screen to snap them traditionally, and the usual Snapping keyboard shortcuts still work.
5. File Explorer
The Windows 11 File Explorer UI has been cleaned up and received some subtle design tweaks, making it feel more evolved. The Folders, Devices and drives, and ribbon icons are new, and the refreshed ribbon section. Your usual customization options like Sort, View, and Folder options are still there. All in all, the new File Explorer seems less cluttered, although key options like dropdown menus and right-click context menus on various items are there if you need to explore them.
You might like the new themes that come with Windows 11. Maybe it’s because the wallpaper design complements the centered taskbar icons? Either way, we find ourselves switching between light and dark themes more often than before, especially in the evening when it’s time to wind down or when watching a movie.
A quick way to get to themes is to right-click the desktop and choose Personalize.
You can, of course, customize your theme, change accent colors, transparency, background, etc., as you can in Windows 10.
7. Start menu
If you appreciate the visual refresh and need access to Pinned or All apps, you might like the new Windows 11 Start menu. It’s now simpler and less cluttered compared to other Start menus. We expect it to evolve slightly going forward.
Currently, the menu consists of a search bar at the top (often the quickest way to find apps and files on your PC), Pinned apps in the middle which you can drag to reorder or right-click and pin to the top, a link to All apps, and a Recommended apps area below that. If the Recommended section recommends any files or apps you don’t need to see, you can right-click on those icons and choose `Remove from list’.
If you go into Windows Settings – Personalization – Start – Folders, you can set which folders/icons appear down alongside the power button. Live Tiles and tiles, in general, are now a thing of the past.
The Windows 11 Start menu opens by default up from the center of the taskbar unless you reposition the taskbar icons to the left: Settings – Personalization – Taskbar – Taskbar behaviors – Taskbar alignment – Left. The menu will likely have evolved slightly by the time Windows 11 gets released to the public on October 5, 2021.
Here it is with a dark Windows theme (and white background):
Do you prefer old-school?
Some Windows users have reported that they miss extra menu functionality, like the option to group apps or list the `hundreds’ of apps they usually listed. Trying not to get too sidetracked: If you miss the type of multi-capable Start menu from the Windows 7 days, you can wait until one of these third-party Start menus for Windows officially supports Windows 11.
However, if Windows Search is important to you, it might be better to stick with the Windows 11 Start menu, depending on how well third-party Start menus incorporate Windows search.
8. Voice typing
Originally called Windows 10 Dictation, `Voice typing’ is the new and improved speech recognition software built into Windows 11. Voice typing now comes with auto punctuation.
To activate Voice typing, place your cursor inside a text field, press the Windows logo key ⊞ + H, or select the mic button on the touch keyboard. You can then speak naturally, and Voice typing will type your information for you. Voice typing is great for work, emailing, or just getting your thoughts down on paper, so to speak. Make sure to click on the settings icon next to the microphone button and toggle on auto punctuation.
If you’re looking to control your device (and dictate text with your voice), you can use Windows Speech Recognition by pressing the Windows logo key ⊞ + Ctrl + S.
The Settings screens in Windows 11 have received a refresh. If you’re coming from Windows 10, the settings are a little more intuitive to find. Some wording has now changed, such as the category Ease of Access now being labeled Accessibility. Even though Ease of Access is no longer listed visually, searching for the word Ease and then hitting enter will take you to the Accessibility settings, so you should be able to find previous search queries in the same way as before.
10. Emoji panel
The Windows 11 emoji panel has received a nice visual refresh from the Windows 10 Emoji panel. To bring up the emoji panel, press the Windows key on your keyboard plus the semicolon or period.
As with Windows 10 before it, the emoji panel in Windows 11 can be accessed via the onscreen Touch keyboard, too.
11. Windows Search
One of the most powerful yet sometimes overlooked features of Windows is Windows Search. Windows 11’s Search app has received a subtle refresh to complement the rest of Windows 11. Pressing Win+S opens Windows Search, where you can type in your search query to list local files, apps, and items on your PC or search online.
The all-important Accessibility features continue to evolve with Windows 11. Microsoft says that Windows 11 was designed with Accessibility in mind from the start. Windows 11 is the most inclusively designed version of Windows with inclusive design reviews of new and redesigned features. According to Microsoft, accessibility features have improved, new features introduced, and Windows 11 is compatible with more users’ preferred assistive technology.
Accessibility features are available in the Windows 11 out-of-box experience and on the Log on and Lock screens so that you can independently set up and use your device, e.g., with Narrator.
Ease of Access is now called Accessibility.
The Accessibility settings screen offers many settings categorized under three subheadings Vision, Hearing, and Interaction. You’d be hard-pressed to find any modern accessibility option missing. For those with or without a disability, the Voice typing experience uses state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to recognize speech, transcribe and automatically punctuate the text. Voice typing could change the way many of us work, interact, or blog from now on.
The Tips app is a good place to start for anyone new to Windows or looking to learn more about Windows in general. When writing this article, the Tips app offers 12 tips for Getting around Windows, seven tips for All about Widgets, 11 tips for Keyboard shortcuts, eight tips for Personalize your PC, seven tips for Stay safer, and 13 topics for Show all tips.
If you are helping someone learn about or understand Windows 11, pointing them to the Tips app could help bring them up to speed.
14. Focus Sessions
The refreshed Clock app comes with a new feature called Focus Sessions.
With more people working remotely in these COVID-19 pandemic times, staying focussed and productive has become a priority. Yet, it can be challenging to focus with so many distractions at home and online.
The Focus Sessions app aims to help with that. Its window has four main panels. The first one, Ready, set, focus, lets you set a timer to encourage you to focus on your task. You can choose how many minutes the task should take and whether you’ll have any breaks or not.
The Tasks panel shows any tasks you have set in Microsoft To-Do (included with Windows). You can hover over a task and choose `Select for session’.
If you have Spotify installed on your PC and you’re logged in, the Spotify panel encourages you to focus by suggesting ideal music to help you concentrate and focus during your task. More people than ever before use music to help them stay focused. Spotify says they’ve seen a 26% increase in user-generated “focus” playlists over the past year of social distancing and spending more time at home.
The Daily progress panel encourages you to watch your daily goals and not break your daily productivity streak.
Maybe it’s just the new rounded corners in Windows 11. Either way, the calculator app experience looks and feels better in Windows 11. You can select which app theme to display, Light, Dark, or Use system setting. You can keep the calculator on top of other Windows (Alt+Up) and work away in other apps. As well as including the extra calculators you have come to expect, like the Scientific calculator and Date Calculator, Microsoft is introducing new Graphing and Programmer calculators as well! (We’d write about those too if we understood them.)
The Windows 11 Calculator also comes with the usual converters to convert Volume, Length, Weight and Mass, Temperature, Energy, Area, Speed, Time, Power, Data, Pressure, Angle, and of course, the currency converter.
16. Touch keyboard
The onscreen Touch keyboard has been updated for Windows 11. Microsoft has updated the way that it looks, the way that it scales, and the way you can switch between layouts. There are now several cool matt, gloss, or glassy look themes you can use to personalize your keyboard or express yourself. These new enhancements make touch-typing more fun in Windows 11.
You can access the improved Windows 11 emoji panel via the Touch Keyboard.
17. Microsoft Store
Windows 11 Insiders currently have access to the new Microsoft Store Preview, designed from the ground up. The Microsoft Store is one of the most-used apps on PCs, and the new Store design will make it easier to display more content while keeping the experience simple and responsive for users.
Many new apps will be coming to the Store, including Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Teams, Visual Studio, Disney+, TikTok, `and even Notepad and Paint’.
Amazon’s catalog of Android apps and games is coming to Windows, too. Windows users will discover Android apps in the Microsoft Store and get them through the Amazon Appstore.
Microsoft is also introducing a feature called Stories, `consisting of rich editorial content to inform you about the best apps and inspire you to achieve more with your device’.
The new Microsoft Store will also come to Windows 10 soon.
Here’s a quote from Microsoft about two important steps that address developer feedback:
`Support for more types of apps
Starting today, Windows developers can publish any kind of app, regardless of app framework and packaging technology – such as Win32, .NET, UWP, Xamarin, Electron, React Native, Java, and even Progressive Web Apps. Developers can sign-up here to publish desktop apps or build and package PWAs using our latest open-source tool PWABuilder 3.
Flexibility and choice of commerce platform
Many developers love the Microsoft Commerce platform because of its simplicity, global distribution, platform integration, and its competitive revenue share terms at 85/15 for apps and 88/12 for games.
Starting July 28, app developers will also have an option to bring their own or a third-party commerce platform in their apps, and if they do so, they don’t need to pay Microsoft any fee. They can keep 100% of their revenue.’
18. Snipping Tool
If you’d like to take screenshots in Windows, the Snipping Tool is Windows 11’s latest version of Snip & Sketch. It still opens by pressing Win + Shift + S. It hasn’t changed so much. However, it’s a convenient and easy tool included in Windows 11.
19. Right-click menus
Right-click menus and context menus have received a refresh. They now appear slightly more prominent and more accessible to read compared to Windows 10. Curiously, the Show more options (Shift+F10) currently brings up the older style right-click menu. However, it’s good that familiar options are still available, and perhaps Microsoft will modernize all components in time.
Closing thoughts for now
We will add to this post other noticeable new Windows 11 features that arrive.
There’s a lot to like about Windows 11, including the Start menu.
There are other updated and improved apps, too, like Sticky Notes, To-Do, and Teams. The incorporation of Teams in Windows 11 is something we will talk about soon.
Windows 11 comes with new sounds, which even reflect whether you are using a Light or Dark Windows theme. Regardless of practically living with headphones on, they haven’t been particularly apparent. It must be the music we’ve started playing to keep focus. For those relying more on system sounds, though, the new sounds should be a welcome update. Why not leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts.
Minor, subtle improvements are always welcome, too.
When closing down Windows, the screen turns to a black background instead of a blue one. (Keeping the environment dark and putting you more into a sleep mood.)
Nothing to see here
Some things will need to evolve in time. Older apps like the Resource Monitor could do with a reskin or visual refresh to complement the rest of the OS.
Even though it’s preview software, Windows 11 Insider Preview has been very stable and reliable. The only jarring noticeable bug is that the Start Menu instantly switches to the Search window when you click in the Start menu search field.
What about Windows 10?
Microsoft will support Windows 10 Home and Pro up until October 14, 2025.