Getting started with Windows 11: first impressions

ByDavid M. Conte

Jul 9, 2021

Disclosure: Microsoft and Dell are customers of the author.

Windows 11 is currently in preview, and it’s far from complete; this phase of deployment is typically focused on ensuring hardware and application compatibility. Most of my newer desktops won’t run Windows 11 yet because they weren’t configured with their Trusted Platform Modules 2.0 (TPM) enabled (an easy fix) or with Secure Boot enabled (a much more complicated solution).

However, I was able to load the Windows 11 preview onto my Dell OptiPlex 7070 Ultra modular desktop successfully and without issues. If you decide to give Windows 11 a try, I suggest you charge it overnight, as the upgrade takes several hours.

Here are my first impressions.

User interface

The Windows 11 taskbar looks like an updated mix of the Windows 10 taskbar and macOS dock without the animations. It moves the icons to the center of the taskbar rather than to the left, justifying them.

start win11 preview Rob Enderle / IDG

The new Start menu is centered and displays apps in a grid rather than a list. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Opening the application index is similar in practice, but the result is very different and much closer to what you would see on a smartphone: the applications you use the most are presented in an alphabetical grid and not a list. as in earlier versions of Windows. This change allowed me to find specific applications much faster than before.

Switching to the full app list is quick and easy, but it’s a step up from the default app list we had before. As with the list of default apps, the overall effect is closer to what we’re used to on a smartphone. Once you get used to this new layout, you feel more efficient.

The settings don’t immediately appear when you tap the Windows icon, which is still on the left but now centered with the other app icons on the taskbar. The icons on my home screen and background were unchanged. However, once you open the settings, the layout is very different and it may take you a while at first to find where the setting you want has moved.

win11 preview settings Rob Enderle / IDG

The layout of the Settings app is very different in Windows 11. (Click the image for a larger view.)

That said, the settings I check out the most, like software updates, were visible and not buried under a submenu, reducing my time to access them. As with app lists, once you get used to the new settings layout, you’ll probably find it more efficient to use.

Smartphone integration

Microsoft’s smartphone integration app, Your Phone, works on this initial release and provides an on-screen view of some of your phone’s main features, such as texting and phone calls. It looks like it has a music feature as well, but currently that seems to be turned off. I appreciated that you could drag a photo of the visible representation of your phone to an email from your PC desktop interface. The app is both easier to use and more useful than the last time I used it.

Performance

During this phase of deployment, the platform is generally not yet optimized for performance. Yet I did not notice any individual wait state or performance degradation on the Dell PC. This lack of a noticeable performance penalty suggests that there might be a slight improvement in performance as we get closer to the official release of the product.

Conclusion: Meh …

While there were minor improvements, there was nothing about Windows 11 that struck me at this time. But this is expected in this first phase, which is mainly focused on hardware / software compatibility and is not yet complete. This testing phase is not meant to be exciting; it’s just supposed to work, and Windows 11 ran with minimal disruption or recycling.

The updated OS ran without errors, my main apps were all working fine, and the Your Phone app showed an improvement in usability, although at least one of the new features didn’t seem to be active yet. . I will provide updates as the product becomes more complete, but, for now, I don’t see any significant issues beyond the known need for a current TPM and secure boot.

win11 preview your phone app Rob Enderle / IDG

Your phone provides a convenient way to view your phone’s notifications, messages, calls, and photos. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Anyone using a business PC, laptop, or desktop computer that is less than three years old, configured with TPM 2.0 and with Secure Boot enabled should have a Windows 11 experience similar to mine. Windows 11 may not install on many consumer or education PCs if they do not have at least a current TPM.

The TPM 2.0 and Secure Boot requirements for Windows 11 are expected to result in significantly more secure PCs, as many PCs support these technologies but have not enabled them. Other systems will need to be replaced, but not necessarily immediately: Windows 10 support will continue until at least 2025.

With the significant increase in ransomware attacks, fending off anything that increases PC security comes with an inherent risk, and it may be wiser to go early rather than late on this latest version of Windows. The best practice, however, is to wait at least two months after general release prior to deployment to ensure that new issues are identified and corrected before your installation. Often times, the right time for an update like this is during the holidays, where any issues will have minimal impact on productivity.

One final note: When I checked the security features after installing Windows 11, they were disabled and I had to manually enable them. Check these features if you are loading the current version of Windows 11; the irony of installing a more secure version of Windows 11 just to find security disabled is painful at best.

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