Windows 11: The first week review

Being the reckless fool I am, I updated right on the day of launch, October 5th. Luckily, I had no driver issues, and the only conspicuous glitch was no audio until I rebooted the computer.

AMD processors (I have a Ryzen 2700) are apparently afflicted by a bug right now that is exacting a 3-5% performance hit, possibly up to 15% in some games. I haven’t noticed anything unusual, other than Diablo 3 taking a bit longer to load, but that could be on Blizzard, and why am I still playing D3, anyway? WHY?

The overall experience of Windows 11 is that it is pretty much Windows 10 with some UI refinements and changes. The changes are a curious mix of good and just different, likely because this was originally meant to be Windows 10x, a version of the OS for dual-screened devices that got repurposed to be the next general version of Windows. It would be interesting to see Microsoft do an intentional, full-on new version of Windows one day, but I suspect that may never happen.

The main theme in Win11, if there is one, is “less is more.” Also, round is good. A lot of cruft and bloat (though also some much-liked features) have been culled in the name of keeping the interface clean and simple. System sounds have a gentler tone to them. Combined with the rounded corners on Windows and especially when using a light theme, it gives windows a warmer and more understated appearance, more than I think any previous version. I’d even say that its light theme now edges out macOS just in general prettiness. There’s also a lot of new, little animations for things, and it gives the OS a–dare I say it–delightful feel. The dark mode is less successful as some window elements are too dark, I think, and there are still inconsistencies. Apple definitely has the better-looking dark mode (that said, I have switched to dark mode and will unlikely go back to the light side).

But as I said, not all changes are immediately seen as positive.

The taskbar

The taskbar is slightly taller now. Not a big deal, really. But you can no longer move it to the side or top. This is bad. There’s no reason for taking this away. The right-click menu on the taskbar is also gone. You now have to right-click on the Start button to get it (which also worked before in Win10). This is also an unnecessary change in the name of simplifying things. You also can no longer change settings on the taskbar to group icons or really do anything else with the icons. You get icons and you like them.

The system tray taskbar corner also sees some changes. There’s now a weird combo network/volume icon that actually takes you to the revised quick actions menu. It’s fine, it just seems somewhat arbitrary to tie these icons to launching quick settings (though volume and network options are there, of course).

Clicking on the time still shows the calendar and notifications, and the two are now separate cards, which provides a cleaner look. The new notification badge is now so subtle you can barely see it. I’m undecided on whether this is good or bad. Both pretty much work as before.

The Start menu

The Start menu has seen the biggest changes. It’s been moved to the center of the taskbar, though you can move it back to its traditional spot in the left corner. I tried it in the center, but it felt weird and in the way, so I moved it back to the left. I’m glad the option is there. Once you click on it, there’s a lot that is different:

  • Live tiles are gone. I doubt few will miss them. I used one for the weather, but that was it.
  • The alphabetical list of applications on the left is gone, replaced by an All apps button that shows the same thing. Given how often I actually scroll through the giant list of apps, I think this works to tidy up the interface.
  • The Start menu is now divided in two, with the top half being applications you pin, and the bottom half being Recommended. Visually, it looks fine, but there are problems:

The pinned section is a fixed 6×3 grid, meaning if you try to pin more than 18 apps, you’ll be forced to a second page. Fortunately, this is somewhat offset by being able to use the mouse wheel to move up and down between the top tier and lower ones. It also forces you to put the apps you really use the most at the top. Moving apps around is a bit clunky, but I expect it’s something most people won’t need to do a lot of.

The Recommended section tries to “intelligently” offer up applications or files that might be useful to you. In reality, this mostly consists of a few things:

  • Recently-installed apps
  • Recently-accessed files

This list takes up about as much room as the pinned apps and while you can purge the list, you can’t hide or otherwise removed the Recommended section. I’d like to be able to at least shrink it and expand the pinned apps section. Maybe in Windows 11 Feature Release 1 or whatever.

Since the list alphabetical list of applications is gone, so are the links to Documents, Pictures and other folders that used to be there. You can now pin these as icons-only to the bottom of the Start menu. It’s odd, but workable.

One of those little delightful things I mentioned earlier is how snappy the animation is when you open the Start menu. It zips open so smoothly, I sometimes click just to watch it happen. Windows 11 is filled with these touches.


The Settings app has been expanded and is organized a lot better than in Windows 10. You can easily navigate back and forth between sections. It’s really what it should have been in Win10 (or Windows 8, for that matter).


Widgets are back. After taking a look, I unpinned Widgets from the taskbar and turned them off entirely. The only one I found useful was weather, and you can just pin the old Weather app to the Start menu and use that instead. All the others are provided by Microsoft and just aren’t that interesting or useful to me. I suppose if you are into sports or don’t have a favorite news site to check, it could be nice to have.

Windows snapping

This gets its own section. The OS is called Windows, after all.

One of the unwelcome trends in UX and UI design that has accelerated with the rise of smartphones, is hiding interface elements behind a swipe, long press or incantation. While it’s been possible to snap windows to the sides or top of the screen by dragging them there, Windows 11 now adds a visual element to this, while also expanding the number of options.

This is very nice, and you can access the new options by hovering over the maximize button of a window–but it only seems to work on native Windows applications. For example, it works on Notepad++, which is a Windows-only app, but it doesn’t work on Discord or Firefox, which use custom frameworks. This means you’ll need at least one “standard” Windows app open to use the feature. I usually have File Explorer open, so this isn’t an issue for me, but it will be more cumbersome for people who use a lot of cross-platform apps.

Other stuff

File Explorer now has a dark mode. It looks a little weird. I think it’s maybe just a tad too dark. I got used to it quickly enough, though.

The giant context menus when you right-click a file have been drastically shortened. This is both good and bad. It’s a much cleaner look now and the common options of Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, Rename and Share (?!) are now presented as icons at the top of the menu, so once you learn the icons (no text for you, sorry), you can use them quickly. On the negative side, if you found some of those options in the really long old menu useful, you now have to click on Show more options (Shift-F10) to expose them. But at least they haven’t been entirely removed. The one I miss the most are the 7-zip options I use. Apparently, third parties will be able to add back functions to the new, shorter menus eventually.

Some apps have been revised, like Photos, but I haven’t spent much time with them, so I offer no opinion for now.

The Start menu is filled with some apps you may or may not want, but at least they are easily unpinned or uninstalled.

The taskbar includes Teams pinned to it. I unpinned it. Since Teams now comes with the OS, I chose to leave it installed, thinking that it would probably come back like a tortured spirit if I tried to remove it.

Some new themes and wallpapers are pretty snazzy, but I stuck to what I had for Windows 10.

The calculator has rounded buttons. Oooh!

It’s Windows 10 Plus (and Minus)

I know there is more, but really, this is mostly Windows 10 with some new UI elements and revisions. I haven’t encountered any showstopper issues yet, but it’s early days. Overall, I don’t regret updating, despite a few regressions here and there. I may not agree with every decision Microsoft has made, but none are so bad that I want to flip the table and go back to Windows 10.

And that new Start menu is so snappy!

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