Close to a decade ago, Microsoft revealed Windows 10 as the last version of their OS ever. And yet, Microsoft decided it was time for a new version of Windows. A version that, was implied, wouldn't be possible as yet another Windows 10 update. A new OS that would, eventually, end up replacing Windows 10. It would bring significant updates, new features, a cleaner desktop, and...
...and a collection of annoyances that could make you reminisce about the glorious days of Windows 98 SE. So, between 2021 and 2022, Windows 11 officially hit the market. And just like with its ancestors, users all around the world wondered: should we upgrade? Let's find out.
The Pros of Windows 11
Windows 11 isn't just Windows 10 with a new collection of wallpapers. Thankfully, many other tweaks and improvements make an upgrade to the latest OS seem enticing.
That said, the new OS's wallpapers are, indeed, beautiful!
1. Beautiful Glass
Windows 11's new desktop aesthetics try to mimic the look of glass. As a result, there's a lot of transparency on many desktop elements, from windows to menus.
This transparency goes hand-in-hand with related effects like a background blur, drop shadows, and rounded corners. All GPU-accelerated for a buttery-smooth user experience.
Still, it's not radically different compared to Windows 10, which also used the GPU to "accelerate" its desktop. It also seems that Microsoft toned down the semi-transparent effects of its new OS after some updates to increase text legibility.
2. Bar to Dock
Like Mac OS and many Linux Desktop Environments, Windows 11's taskbar can turn into a dock. The icons on it can be centered, which helps when using Windows 11 on a touch-enabled device.
Fans of the classic taskbar can still align the Start button and app icons to the left.
Note that if you like Windows 11's looks, and especially its centered taskbar, we've looked at how you can make your Windows 10 desktop look like Windows 11.
In action, Windows 11's new taskbar looks cleaner, sleeker, and more welcoming to new users. Combined with the streamlined Start menu, it renders Windows 11 one of the most user-friendly versions of Microsoft's OS.
Did you prefer widgets, the little floating informational windows in Windows Vista and 7, to the Live Tiles of Windows 10?
The new widgets in Windows 11 appear by default in a dedicated pane, which slides in from the left of the screen. They're also more geared towards presenting information instead of working as mini-apps.
Still, that's not a groundbreaking feature—and earlier, we've covered how you can bring widgets back on Windows 10's desktop.
Most people are still not using Windows 11's widgets, just like they didn't use Windows Vista's gadgets or Windows 8-to-10's tile panels. One of the reasons is that there are still only a handful available, and they don't offer anything not found elsewhere.
4. Easily-Accessible Snap Layouts and Groups
Windows already supported snapping windows to the sides or corners of the screen in rudimentary arrangements. Originally "borrowed" from other OSes, the feature was further expanded with Windows PowerToys' FancyZones feature.
Now, a new and improved version in Windows 11 brings the feature to everyone, placing it in a quick menu hovering over the maximize button.
We'd love to say that everybody's using both Snap Layouts and Groups in Windows 11. Still, it seems those features have flown under the radar for many people.
Those who do use them, though, seem to have only positive things to say about them. And it looks like more users find out about them and incorporate them into their workflow daily.
Nobody would argue that as far as "juggling multiple windows" goes, Windows 11 fares far better than its precursors.
5. Android Apps on Windows 11
Up to Windows 10, if you wanted to run an Android app or game, you could either remote control your smartphone or run an emulator. Windows 11 comes with support for Android apps baked in. But it's far from ideal.
When finding out about the feature, you'd expect to be able to install almost any Android app or game, click on it, and have it pop up on the screen. Not unlike native Windows software.
Practically, Windows 11's "compatibility with Android apps" is restricted to Amazon's store. Worse, it's only compatible with a fraction of the software available there.
In action, it feels more like another marketing bullet point instead of a useful feature. Still, it's nice to have (or, as pessimists would say, "better than nothing").
6. Next-Gen Gaming
One of the most touted features of the new Xbox and PlayStation is how their CPU, GPU, and storage subsystems are interconnected. DirectStorage is the equivalent for PCs.
DirectStorage was expected to eventually lead to massive boosts in performance for applications that juggle vast amounts of data. Usually, that translates primarily to "games." For more information on this new and exciting tech, dive into its details to discover what is DirectStorage and how it can make gaming faster.
Auto HDR also made the jump from the latest Xbox consoles to PCs. It can upgrade the looks of older games by expanding their brightness levels automatically, taking advantage of the entire brightness range of modern monitors.
Still, although Windows 11 supports those features, most users' hardware doesn't.
The vast majority of monitors still don't support HDR. Most of those that do lag behind TV technology and don't offer the high-nits brightness or ultra-dark greys demanded by HDR to look good.
As for DirectStorage, it demands a combination of hardware and software that can take advantage of it. Windows 11 might support it, but most games don't. Neither do most gamers' PCs—which translates to "anything older than the last two hardware generations".
But that's now, and both hardware and software are quickly catching up. Despite HDR and DirectStorage looking like gimmicks today, they're future-proof features we'll surely put to good use. Eventually.
7. Teams for Everyone
A single click on Windows 11's taskbar is all it takes to chat with text, voice, or video with friends and contacts.
That's thanks to Microsoft Teams, which Microsoft placed front and center as Windows 11's primary solution for communicating with family, friends, and colleagues.
A default videoconferencing solution baked into the OS could be an excellent addition for many users. In practice, as some rush to point out, better alternatives are available.
Have you already got many contacts on Skype? Have you been using another alternative for years? Then, you probably won't see a reason to switch.
Teams is excellent at what it does, but its usefulness depends on if you have contacts who also use it.
The Cons of Windows 11
Not everything is rosy with Microsoft's latest version of Windows. You might find many changes and tweaks questionable and reason enough to stick with Windows 10.
1. Accelerated Desktop
Thanks to hardware shortages, finding a new GPU at a reasonable price is still impossible for many. The situation seems to be stabilizing in the USA as people leave the cryptocurrency boat. However, elsewhere hardware prices are still eye-wateringly high. Thus, many still postpone a GPU upgrade for the distant future.
Thankfully, although Microsoft's new OS requires a GPU at least compatible with DirectX 12, with a WDDM 2.0 driver, in reality, it's not much more demanding than Windows 10. You can run it on older hardware even if, when officially unsupported, you have to "get your hands dirty" (by applying unofficial and unsupported tweaks).
However, Windows 11's desktop is also "simplified" in some ways that may irk longtime Windows users. The right-click menu is much more restricted, hiding the "true" classic menu behind yet another click.
Also, the transparency and shadow effects initially felt "too much" and hurt what matters more: the clarity of other on-screen elements, like text, menus, and buttons. Thankfully, such effects are (somewhat) toned down in the latest versions.
2. Where Is Skype?
Skype was the first application to popularize peer-to-peer video calling. Today, Skype seems lost in a sea of similar and sometimes better video calling alternatives.
That's probably why Microsoft all but replaced it with Teams in Windows 11.
Teams might be a better solution than Skype in almost all regards, but we believe Microsoft didn't have to present it as a full-on replacement. Or try to "hide" Skype to promote Teams.
In the end, it's as if nothing has changed. Those already using Skype, or any other similar solution, can simply reinstall their preferred communications apps on Windows 11. Then, keep ignoring Teams, as before.
3. Less Taskbar
Windows 11's taskbar might look great, but it's more of a downgrade from a usability perspective.
The ability to move the taskbar to any side of the screen you wish was initially gone. Now it's back but still comes with annoying restrictions. Gone are the "drag it where you want it" days of all previous versions of Windows.
Even Microsoft acknowledged Windows 11's taskbar wasn't as great as it could be and proceeded to tweak it in subsequent updates after Windows 11's release.
It feels as if there's no concrete vision of how it should look or work, and it's a perpetual Work-In-Progress where Microsoft tries things out to see "what will stick" with users.
4. A Forgotten Timeline
Do you remember how Microsoft presented Timeline as another visual way to stay organized? Keeping tabs on how we used the computer, Timeline could display the apps and docs we accessed, the sites we visited, etc., in chronological order.
It was a good idea on paper but rarely used by anyone. If you were among those who liked it, stick with Windows 10 for Timeline's gone in Windows 11.
Still, its removal proved that, in some cases, less is indeed more. Some (like us) might have used it in the past, but nobody would ever regard it as a must-have feature.
5. Bye-Bye Cortana
Cortana is Microsoft's take on A.I.-powered helpers, like Google's Assistant and Amazon's Alexa, with which you interact by voice.
However, it might be more appropriate to say "was" since Cortana isn't baked in the OS anymore. If you consider yourself a fan, check our guide on downloading, installing, and using Cortana on Windows 11 as a separate app.
6. Fewer Layouts, More Delays
With Windows 11, you can quickly snap any window on the screen based on predefined window layouts. However, if you installed Microsoft's own PowerToys in Windows 10, you could also create your layouts. It wasn't as straightforward, but it was much more versatile.
On Windows 11 implementation of windows layouts, the default way to snap windows around is by hovering the mouse cursor over a window's maximize button. "Hovering the cursor" translates to keeping it steady over a desktop element and waiting for the OS to detect you want to access the layouts quick pop-up. This "waiting" might not be annoyingly long, but it takes longer than the press of a hotkey or clicking on a hotspot on the screen.
7. Let Microsoft Know You
We can safely speculate that Windows 11 also sends more information to Microsoft about our computers and how we use them. We can't say for sure since we haven't tried analyzing everything Microsoft's latest OS sends or receives through our network connections.
It feels that way, though, since Windows 11 expects you to log in with a Microsoft account before you even get to use it, during its installation. Even more so after its installation completes, if you want to take full advantage of all features it has to offer, no matter the edition.
Add to this how Windows 11's desktop widgets supposedly use AI to present tailored information (and advertisements) to you by monitoring your interests, and fans of George Orwell's 1984 might want to skip upgrading.
8. You Can't Run It
The major con of Windows 11, though, is that you might not be able to run it. Even if you have a GPU capable of accelerating its brand-new desktop, the rest of your PC might not be up to the task.
Microsoft reasons that you need great hardware to have great experiences. As a new, modern OS, Windows 11 also requires relatively new, modern PCs.
If your PC's CPU is older than Intel's 7th generation Core or AMD's Zen 2 processors, you're out of luck.
An even bigger problem, though, is TPM 2.0 compatibility. Although you may find TPM modules in most laptops and many prebuilt PCs, they're non-existent in most older DIY PCs. And no TPM 2.0 support means no Windows 11. At least, "officially".
Unofficially many people have already installed Windows 11, even on outdated hardware, by "tweaking" the OS's installation to bypass its hardware requirements. Some even managed to run it on dual-core CPUs with only one or two GBs of RAM. However, "run it" might be overselling things.
Officially, though, Windows 11's hardware compatibility is still a mess. The unwritten rule seems to be that it will (probably) run on any PC bought within the last year (but no guarantees). For anything older, it's a bet.
Is Windows 11 an Improvement or a Step Back?
Despite its pros and cons, like it or not, Windows 11 is here, and it will eventually replace Windows 10. Like with all previous versions of Windows, as we get more used to it...
- We'll appreciate some of its new features and tweaks on the established desktop formula.
- We'll need even more time to get used to others.
- We'll end up using third-party tools to "fix" the ones that end up as annoying.
Windows 11 is a strange beast. It is better than Windows 10 in many regards. It does support modern technologies and is more future-proof.
However, it also doesn't feel as complete as what most users regard as the best versions of Microsoft's past versions of Windows: XP, 7, and 10.
Windows 11 somehow managed to break the "meme-cycle" of previous Windows releases where "a bad one follows every good version of Windows". Microsoft's latest version of Windows is neither bad nor good. Neither better nor worse. It's a mixed bag, and how one perceives it depends on their priorities and preferences.
Windows 11: "When" Rather Than "If"
An upgrade to Windows 11 is, indeed, inevitable. But maybe not yet, as millions still use Windows 10 without feeling left behind or out.