Say goodbye to Windows 10: Windows 11 is on the way. We played with the first leaked build of Windows 11, which appeared on June 15, 2021. Here’s what Microsoft has in store for your PC.
Note: This is based on a leaked prerelease of Windows 11, so the final version will probably be more polished. (Then again, Microsoft has released some unpolished things lately.)
Is Windows 11 Just a Renamed Windows 10X?
Microsoft may have axed Windows 10X in name only. The new Start menu design being tested for Windows 10X makes an appearance here. Live tiles are gone.
For some reason, the Start button and pinned taskbar icons are now in the center of your taskbar. As you open and pin applications, the Start button gradually moves to the left on your taskbar. As you close and unpin them, it gradually moves to the right.
Now you can’t move your mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen to access your Start button by default. This seems like a big violation of Fitt’s Law—in other words, it’s easier to get your mouse cursor to a corner and click on it. It’s also a rather funny move from the company that brought us Windows 8, which was absolutely obsessed with the concept of mouse-based hot corners.
The good news is that you can move the Start button and pinned applications back to the left side of your taskbar. If you right-click the taskbar and select “Taskbar Settings,” it takes you to the Settings > Personalization > Taskbar window and you can change the “Taskbar Alignment” setting to control this.
Easy Window Management With Snap
Windows 11 includes some smart tweaks. Snap is much improved—something that was likely inspired by the dual-screen devices Windows 10X was originally designed for.
Now, you can mouse over the “Maximize” button on any window’s title bar to see a menu of Snap options. Click one of the gray rectangles or squares to choose a screen layout and position for the window.
You can do this on Windows 10 today by dragging a window to the left edge, right edge, or any of the four corners of the screen, but the new interface should make this more discoverable to the average Windows user.
The same keyboard shortcuts for Snap work on both Windows 10 and Windows 11, too: Press and hold the Windows key and tap the arrow keys to move the current window between Snap regions.
The Weather Widget Becomes the Widget Widget
What if Windows 10’s Weather widget didn’t actually show the weather on your taskbar and was just a “Widgets” button that would open the News and Interests feed?
That’s the question Microsoft is answering with the “Widgets” button that appears to the right of the Task View button.
In the leaked build, clicking the button shows widgets over your open applications windows or the desktop. It’s called the “Windows Dashboard.” We think it looks cleaner with a background.
This already has us missing Windows 10’s Weather widget.
But What About the Rest of Windows 10X?
Unfortunately, there’s no indication that Windows 11 includes one of Windows 10X’s most exciting features: The ability to run apps in containers for security reasons, providing better protection from rootkit-like malware and buggy applications that can crash your operating system.
This container-based technology was designed to help Windows 11 install big updates in less than 90 seconds thanks to a read-only operating system. While this might change, Windows 11 mostly appears to be skin deep for now.
Windows 11 doesn’t appear designed to run on dual-screen devices, either. That was the original point of Windows 10X when it was originally announced, after all: A new interface for a new type of device.
In other words, It looks like the features in Windows 10X that were the most technically complex are gone. Instead, the interface being tested for Windows 10X is being recycled into Windows 11.
Are the Changes Just Skin Deep?
So is Windows 11 really a big change? Our sister site Review Geek is branding it “a lightly skinned Windows 10.”
There’s some merit to that. The Settings app looks straight out of Windows 10, for example. If you were hoping the Control Panel would finally be gone and we’d have a unified settings interface, too bad: The Control Panel lives on alongside the Settings app in Windows 11. Is the Control Panel ever going away?
Those new icons in File Explorer look pretty slick, though!
Will There Be a New Store App?
There’s been a lot of chatter that we’d see a new Microsoft Store app with more of a focus on desktop apps. It’s something that we wish Microsoft had originally done with Windows 8 rather than spending a decade trying to make Metro, Modern, and then Univeral Windows Platform apps happen.
However, in this leaked build, the Microsoft Store appears exactly as it does in Windows 10.
Want a Local Account? That Costs Extra
Finally, one change that isn’t a surprise: Microsoft has been pushing Microsoft accounts on Windows 10 users for a while now. It’s hard to create a local account while installing Windows 10—you have to disconnect your PC from the internet first.
In Windows 11, that doesn’t seem to work. With the standard Windows 11 Home, you can’t create a local account anymore. You’ll need the more expensive Windows 11 Professional edition to do that.
(With Windows 11 Professional, you can select Set Up for Personal Use > Sign-in Options > Offline Account > Limited Experience to create a local account. But you can’t do this on Windows 11 Home.)
But Wasn’t Windows 10 the Last Version of Windows?
Microsoft’s Jerry Nixon famously called Windows 10 “the last version of Windows” before it was released. Now, Microsoft is releasing a new version of Windows.
Well, let’s face it: “Windows as a service” was a bad idea anyway.
It does seem like Windows 10 users will likely get the upgrade for free: Our colleagues over at Review Geek were able to activate Windows 11 with a Windows 7 key. (Yes, you can still activate Windows 10 with a Windows 7 key!)
Stay Tuned For More
But when will it be released? Are there any other new features? What about the new Windows Store? Is the Settings app getting a visual upgrade? There are a lot of outstanding questions!
We’ll hear more about Windows 11 at Microsoft’s event on June 24, 2021.