Windows 11: A Few More Observations

Posted on June 15, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 11 with 68 Comments

When Windows 11 leaked earlier today, I did what any self-respecting technology enthusiast would do: I installed it on the PC I use every single day. But once that was complete, I needed to try a few other installs: Another upgrade, this time on an Evo-class laptop, and a clean install in a virtual machine. Both installs have been, in their own ways, instructive. And they’re not even done yet.

That’s because every Windows 11 install I’ve done so far has been quite time-consuming. In each case, once the PC reboots (or, on the clean install, simply goes off to do its thing), the UI “disappears” for many long minutes at a time, leaving only a blank black screen. And in both cases, the install UI is mostly unchanged from the previous several Windows versions.

The clean install UI dates back to at least Windows Vista, though the purple color scheme debuted in Windows 8 (if I remember correctly).

And the upgrade UI, which resembles that of the Windows 10 Upgrade Assistant, most likely has its roots in Windows 8.

That said, when you get to the interactive portion of a clean install, the UI is new.

As a side note of sorts, the unexpected arrival of Windows 11 has thrown a wrench into my trip plans; as you may recall, I’m heading to Mexico City on Thursday and will be gone through next Tuesday. Originally, I was planning to bring the Windows 10 on ARM-based HP Elite Folio, since that’s the next non-Chromebook in line for review. But now I’m considering bringing a Windows 11-based PC so I can keep using this new system. We’ll see.

Overall, what we see here is what I’d call the bare minimum for a major version upgrade, as it provides a reasonable UI change, at least to all the modern UIs in Windows, and it will obviously include bundled apps updates as well, though we can’t see a single new or upgraded app in this build. As noted previously, I’m OK with that. But I’m still hoping Microsoft has some surprises in store for us next week.

A few more observations…

You can move the Start button and taskbar icons to the left. I like and prefer the centered Start button and taskbar icons, but I know some won’t. To put that all back where it was before, right-click the taskbar, choose Taskbar settings, and check out the new first option, “Taskbar alignment.”

Start search is broken. In previous Windows versions, you can tap Start and start typing to search. In Windows 11, you can tap Start and start typing but nothing happens. Instead, you have to open Search (WINKEY + S). I feel like having this all be one UI makes more sense.

There’s some fun Snap help. Snap works exactly as before and supports the same keyboard shortcuts. But if you mouse over the Maximize window button on any window, you’ll see a pop-up that visually shows you which Snap configurations you can use. Nice.

Most interactions are completely unchanged. For Windows 11 to make any sense at all, it needs to work as people expect and it needs to be compatible with all the apps people use, and so it needs to basically just be Windows 10.1. And it is. This isn’t a huge problem, but I know some will complain that Microsoft isn’t touching legacy UIs as hoped, and Windows 11 isn’t a clean break—or any break, really, with the past.

Screenshots are broken. I think. When you type WINKEY + PRINTSCREEN, the screen flashes like it’s taking a screenshot, but no screenshot is saved in the normal location. It’s possible that they’re saved somewhere else and I’ve just not figured that out yet.

Lots of things are missing. Lots of little but familiar UIs are missing in this release. For example, Jump lists are gone from Start icons. And I noted above that you can right-click the taskbar and choose an option, but that’s the only option now. In Windows 10, there are several more items in that menu, many related to what appears in the taskbar, but also links to run things like Task Manager and show the desktop. Not in Windows 11.

Lots of things are broken. Some missing interactions seem like bugs. For example, I often drag an image file over to the Affinity Photo icon in my taskbar and the app pops up so I can drog the file in it and start editing. This is broken in Windows 10, at least for now. So I have to start a file drag with the mouse and then Alt + Tab with the keyboard to open the app and then drop the file in it.

Oh, (in)consistency. Window enthusiasts have been looking for a more consistent UI for years. But the new look/feel in Windows 11, at least in this build, only extends to the Windows 10 UIs. So the other stuff—Control Panel, MMC, etc.—still looks old-fashioned and inconsistent. But the problem is not just that legacy UIs that most people will never see have been untouched: Some common UIs are still inconsistent. For example, when you use File Explorer in Dark mode and then open the Folder Options window, it appears in bright white. This is the kind of thing that drives people like me nuts.

I’ll report back if the clean install reveals anything unique.

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Comments (68)

68 responses to “Windows 11: A Few More Observations”

  1. Avatar

    olditpro2000

    Any idea how recent this leaked build is? I'm curious to know if this build is used next week during the event.

  2. Avatar

    jdjan

    Perhaps it was naive of me to hope that Microsoft might one day ditch the legacy stuff, but the bottom line is that they can't. MacOS is too far ahead - and Windows dominance can only continue with full backwards compatibility. It's the only meaningful differentiator in a world where most consumer level computing is done in a browser.


    I suppose it's cool that I can run software that I purchased in the 1990's on a new PC. Then again, emulation should be the way to do that - not keeping decades old code in a modern OS.


    Apple does piss me off from time to time by killing compatibility layers and making me upgrade to new versions of software that I had paid for, but the result is that the OS feels really clean as developers are forced to keep up as well.

  3. Avatar

    boots

    "if you mouse over the Maximize window button on any window, you’ll see a pop-up that visually shows you which Snap configurations you can use"


    Can you click on the popup to select where the window moves?

  4. Avatar

    veermaharaj

    The leaked build ending up in Paul's hands might be a calculated attempt to set expectations, or possibly serve as a distraction. Either way, im not hoping for anything meaningful with this OS update. Better to have no expectations for this release.


    Windows right now needs a XP to Vista level overhaul in terms of UI and experience.

  5. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    With respect to the View properties File Explorer dialog, gimme checkboxes rather than idiotic sliders any day. Time to UNDO more of the asininity of Windows 10/Windows Everywhere.

  6. Avatar

    Jorge Garcia

    Windows is/was fine the way it way as-is imo (even though the UI inconsistency will always be a valid gripe). So new coats of paint are almost pointless by now as I feel that everyone who cares about all those cutesy things has already "discovered" MacOS and has made the switch. The much bigger issue to me is that Windows can't just keep ignoring the Android app ecosystem while Apple's is making an effort to integrate iPad apps into the MacOS interface. In my opinion, both MS and Apple's unification approaches are wrong (Apple's is wrong by design, purposefully crippling iPadOS to extract more Mac sales, and Microsoft's is pathetic or simply dead-ended). But Samsung's approach does make all the sense in the world to me. I would have long ago partnered with Samsung to make "Microsoft DeX" the out-of-the-box user interface for consumer-facing laptops and desktops, and keep a copy of full Windows 10 at the ready as the secondary OS, accessible via a boot menu, and easily default-able with via a one-time dialog box. But I guess that's why I'm not CEO of anything but my one-man design business :-). I'll stop.

    • Avatar

      Jorge Garcia

      Sorry for the typos, I can't find a way to edit them out.

    • Avatar

      ontariopundit

      You're write[sic]. No way to edit typos. Though, this system does seem more robust than what Thurrott had before so I'll take the good with the bad.


      I disagree on the partnership with Samsung.


      Yes, it's a logical idea, but, like Apple's partnership with Samsung for screens, Microsoft partnering with Samsung for an Android solution would risk strengthen the position of a competitor while weakening Windows's viability in the long term.


      Windows needs to find its own path in the Android world. Yes, they could take a short-cut with Samsung but that would tie them to... Samsung.


      The problem is that the field is crowded and fragmenting. Once dominant players are now relegated to bit player status. Remember when Dell was the BMOC. Or, IBM!?! Or Compaq?! Samsung is facing stiff competition from Chinese handset makers. And, as India industrializes, Indian manufacturers will also become a force to be reckoned with.


      Samsung's market share on Android can only really go one direction. And, by partnering with Samsung Microsoft would be tying themselves to Samsung's (mis)fortunes.


      Mac users were and are largely people who perceive their computer as a tool to accomplish something, whether it be paid work or otherwise 'productive' (in their minds).


      Windows users were and are largely people who realise they need a computer but don't necessarily perceive their computer as an investment (consider that a few years ago Macs represented 70% of sales of laptops worth more than $1000--Windows users weren't _willing_ to invest in their hardware... and, consider that there really isn't that much of an Apple tax when you compare it with the exact same Microsoft tax that Microsoft levies on Surface laptops).


      Instead, my perception is that, for most of the Windows market, a computer is a necessary evil.


      This means that Mac users are much more likely to be loyal to their Macs than Windows users to Windows. And, if Windows isn't being used to be productive, then Windows users are much more likely to "stray".


      Consider the explosive growth of Android phones and iPad tablets--my Pixel phone does 90% of what I use my Windows computer for. And, there's nothing special about my Windows computers that can't also be accomplished on macOS or any variant of Linux.


      Only for typing or spreadsheet work is the Pixel less effective than my keyboard- and mouse-based Dell.


      Ultimately Windows 11 is just another marketing event. Since Apple and Google release new versions of macOS, i(pad)OS and Android on an annual basis Microsoft HAS to update Windows on an ongoing basis.


      By doing annual updates Apple, and to a lesser extent, Google get a marketing boost.


      Microsoft's silly version codes do nothing to help with the annual marketing efforts. When Microsoft started doing 1803, 1909 it kind of made sense. But, then they abandoned that in favor of adding letters (again).


      In a way Microsoft _has_ to do annual updates.


      PS I really do hope they fix the Windows key search functionality. The only thing that stands out on Windows for me over other OSes is that you press Windows key once and then can start searching. Of course, Apple has had command-space to search for a lot longer than Windows key search has been around.

    • Avatar

      behindmyscreen

      your take is so off it's funny.

  7. Avatar

    maddycom

    So there is still a Pro & Home version from your screen shots?

    • Avatar

      Paul Thurrott

      Yes, the clean Setup UI lists Home, Home N, Home Single Language, Education, Education N, Pro, Pro N, Pro Education, Pro Education N, Pro for Workstations, and Pro N for Workstations. Even the N naming convention is inconsistent. Oh, Microsoft. :)
  8. Avatar

    waethorn

    Going back to my previous assessment: I wonder how the OEM’s feel about having to silkscreen what is essentially a recoloured Microsoft corporate logo on their keyboards…


    Maybe Microsoft can finally reuse the Windows 1.0 logo now that they have rounded window corners to match it.

  9. Avatar

    peterc

    Seems to me there making windows visually modern and able to span differing device formats better, ie desktop/laptop, tablet, folding etc etc and easier for keyboard/mouse stylus and touch use. Looks like you just set it up depending on which device and input methods it uses and clearly you can set it up to look “traditional” if that’s your preference.


    I really can’t see what all the “groaning is about”. This should herald some new modern surface hardware too.


    lets see what June 24 actually reveals, I suspect a bit more than just UI and icon changes.

  10. Avatar

    Usman

    "Start search is broken"

    It definitely works in my virtual machine, could just be a bug with this current version on certain physical devices?


    I am using an offline account, so perhaps that has something to do with it in this build?

  11. Avatar

    nyghtfall

    "Most interactions are completely unchanged."


    As a visually oriented person who likes consistency and has hoped for a complete, top-to-bottom UI refresh, I'm flipping MS off in 48 languages right now and seriously considering a dock for my M1 Air...

  12. Avatar

    ebraiter

    Oh why can't they even fix the screens during the installation/upgrade.

  13. Avatar

    navarac

    So, I downloaded this and installed it on a spare PC. It took ages to install but once done, I must confess to have been pleasantly surprised. It only took 30 minutes to put stuff back to where I wanted it and in the end my muscle memory was not tested as much as I feared.


    The only thing was, In Windows 10 I still use the Quick Launch taskbar from years ago. In Windows 11 it is blown away with no way to re-instate additional taskbars. (A luddite, I know - I just copied a Copy of my Quick Launch Folder onto the Start.)


    End thought? Lipstick on a Pig, yes, but not applied in a slapdash fashion. It may grow on me, although I won't totally come back from Linux.



    • Avatar

      plettza

      I've relied on the Quick Launch for years too. I immediately unpin apps from the Task Bar and add the Quick Launch toolbar. I thought its days were limited.

  14. Avatar

    plettza

    Rounded corners and a more floral colour palette isn't a new version of Windows. Why has Microsoft never brought things like WinFS to Windows? This is something of a fundamental change in computing that moves away from a flat files and folders organisational system.


    Microsoft needs to move away from insecure, legacy Win32 subsystem as well. Win32 apps are hopeless at suspending and resuming if they can even do that. Does Outlook still freeze when the computer switches networks? Trying to install a WinRT app? Files and registry are scattered all over the hard drive. Uninstalling usually leaves crap still present. (I'll concede this is getting better but it's still not perfect).


    Even the act of getting software; going to a website, clicking some link not knowing if you're PC is 64- or 32-bit, the executable ends up downloaded somewhere which the user needs to find. Once the app installation starts, there are unnecessary clicks; enter an administrator password, questions as to where the files should be installed to, enter the licence key, whether or not desktop icons should created and if so, for All Users or not... Yeah, we get this but my mum or the average user? They wouldn't have a clue about this process from 30 years ago.


    The Windows Store and WinRT addresses this but it was practically dropped and left to whither. A more-powerful WinRT/UWP architecture would provide more efficient-running apps as well as better security and reduced battery drain as well as complete uninstallation.


    Can windows still pop-up over an active windows? Man this is another frustrating issue when I'm typing and some random window just pops in as the in-focus window.


    Computing fundamentals need a real shake-up.

  15. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    Having now spent some hours using this beast, for me the major annoyance is the @#$%&*! taskbar being 48 pixels tall! That's 6.25% of the height of a 1366x768 low-end 16:9 laptop.


    I REALLY don't need a @#$%&*! date+time display like


    10:30 PM

    Wednesday

    6/16/2021


    For that matter, I don't usually use a taskbar clock; I use a 3rd party desktop analog clock widget. However, time alone would be more than sufficient for me. Pinned program icons are 24x24, system tray icons 16x16. Useless padding above and below the former are 12 pixels. It's the underlays with which Windows 11 highlights running an foreground programs which seems to require the excessive height. Also seems this is more touch-focused BS with which those of us without touch screen monitors will have to contend.

  16. Avatar

    skramer49

    Mexico City. Hmmm.. You must realize that their COVID vaccination rate as of today is 16%, right?


    Keep safe.

  17. Avatar

    red.radar

    Its not bad. Good place to start for a new UX.


    I would like to be able to dock it to the left side of the screen since I have a wide screen monitor. Otherwise those larger icons take up more space.

  18. Avatar

    jimbrooks

    Is there a link to download the leaked build?

  19. Avatar

    winner

    So the big hoo ha announcement for W11 is going to be a half assed reskin? Even less than we usually expect from Microsoft.

    • Avatar

      behindmyscreen

      Who said it was going to be more than a refined UI? Paul and Mary Jo have been saying that for months.

    • Avatar

      shark47

      Apparently WB execs saw an unfinished version of Zack Snyder's Justice League. Then the movie came out and... it was actually well reviewed. You should wait for the presentation before you make any comments.

      • Avatar

        ghostrider

        No, it's definitely a half-arsed re-skin. Almost everything under the hood will be Windows 10/8/7. This is a poor attempt at re-igniting interest in Windows, and for MS to (once again) try and distance themselves from a product that was getting out of hand. I'm sure there will be a registry key in there somewhere that allows you to switch back to the previous UI. This is just the same pig with new lipstick.

      • Avatar

        Greg Green

        JL bombed and was critically reviled. 40% on the tomatometer. Win11 needs to do better than that.

  20. Avatar

    rwj_dk

    Start Key + Search work for me... But oddly I do not have rounded corner in a Hyper V install (version 21996.1)

  21. Avatar

    mrkirbs

    Can you do left Start menu, and centered taskbar icons? And if not, who in Redmond can make that happen?

  22. Avatar

    pachi

    I find this stuff fascinating. A repurposed start menu and round corners and they’re the ones hyping it up?



    • Avatar

      ikjadoon

      The builder number is a clue we’re close to the final build (22000), unfortunately.


      No hopes, no expectations. It’s all Windows 8 underneath as the UI base and then NT below that.


      If its UI didn’t get changed in Windows 8, there’s a very good chance it won’t get changed in Windows 11.

      • Avatar

        Maverick010

        That build number does not give any major indication of being nearly complete. Microsoft is not always known to do rounded numbers as Windows 10 originally launched with build 10240, and I believe that was partially artificially inflated to that number. We will just have to wait and see.

  23. Avatar

    Aaron44126

    Search from Start works for me. Open the Start menu and start typing to initiate a search... It only works if you don't interact with the Start menu at all before starting to type, though.

    • Avatar

      Usman

      It's even more interesting, if you click on the apps section of the start menu, start search is disabled and uses the keyboard key to toggle through apps that start with the letter you type.


      If you click on the lower part of the start menu (below recommended), that then switches the context to back start search.


  24. Avatar

    GT Tecolotecreek

    What is the average start to finish time for a clean install?

  25. Avatar

    genedp

    I think you and Mary Jo Foley had it right when you said that "Windows 11", as a name, is really nothing more than a marketing stunt to cause people to think they might need a new PC to really get the most out of Windows. Your characterization of 11 really being 10.1 is probably more on the mark.

    • Avatar

      solomonrex

      IE is also formally tied to Windows 10 by name. There are probably other instances where they can drop support after Windows 10 is ended, but that's probably the most important one, given all the security headaches from old browsers.

  26. Avatar

    north of 49th

    Paul, beyond the UI have you noticed anything else? I ask because when the primary version number is incremented, usually there is a change to the underpinnings like the kernel.

  27. Avatar

    will

    When macOS Big Sur arrived, the entire OS felt clean and updated just buggy and needing work for functions. The big question is will Microsoft finish the UI by the fall?

  28. Avatar

    colin79666

    Rounded corners, center aligned app shortcuts, start menu (launchpad), maximise button had tiling options… I just wish they would go full in and properly copy the MacOS interface, then the UI wouldn’t have so much inconsistency and dark mode would actually work everywhere.


    Just how long do Microsoft keep all the legacy UI baggage and actually do a clean break with Windows, at least as far as possible without breaking app compatibility and upsetting the big corporate customers? This all looks like little progress since Windows 8.1 in 2013 but perhaps I’m being a bit too pessimistic. Hopefully it will come together in the next year or two before this hits gold master or whatever they consider v1.0.

    • Avatar

      Maverick010

      My guess is they may fork Windows 11 off to be its own for consumers and continue to revamp the OS with updates and feature packs, as unless this is a much earlier build, I cannot see them completing a full revamp if this OS launches in less then 6 months. Also they have been slowly deprecating previous features and functions in Windows 10, and that should continue within Windows 11. Just don't expect them to rip apart everything over night just to appease some users.

    • Avatar

      hrlngrv

      | Just how long do Microsoft keep all the legacy UI baggage and actually do a clean break with Windows, at least as far as possible without breaking app compatibility and upsetting the big corporate customers?


      In terms of revenues and profits, the things MSFT's shareholders care about, those big corporate customers matter, you and I don't.


      How much of the legacy UI baggage is necessary to support app compatibility? Are any 3rd party browsers also available for macOS and Linux ever going to look like they were specifically designed for Windows, or will they all be about as disappointing to Windows and Mac UI purists?

      • Avatar

        Truffles

        This is the key. We keep forgetting that from the perspective of MS its customers are IT departments, not the poor sods forced to actually use the OS.

    • Avatar

      shark47

      It doesn't even look similar. It looks like Chrome OS, I'll give you that.

    • Avatar

      eric_rasmussen

      Forever. The people who wrote the legacy stuff moved on and the people who do still work on Windows aren't given the time to do anything more than superficial nonsense.


      If you want something more substantial you'll need to switch to Linux, ChromeOS, or a Mac.

  29. Avatar

    scovious

    In Dark mode, what color is the right click menu when right clicking Edge's title bar or minimize/maximize/close buttons?

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