Windows 11 is finally here, more than six years after Microsoft released Windows 10. It’s been one of Microsoft’s longest periods of time between operating system updates. Has the wait been worthwhile? Should you take the plunge when (and if) you’re offered the upgrade through Windows Update? I’ve tested the operating system thoroughly (with an eye to business use). A beautifully revamped Start menu, modifications to Search and Widgets, greater interaction with Teams (although for personal use, not corporate), enhanced security with TPM 2.0, and careful fit and finish improvements throughout are among the most notable changes discovered in Windows 11.
In this review, we’ll go over all of that and more, including when — if at all — you might be able to upgrade.
Slow rollout and Strict Hardware Restrictions
First, a little history on hardware requirements and expected launch dates. A PC with a 1GHz or faster processor with two or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or system on a chip is required to run Windows 11. (SoC). (A list of suitable CPUs can be found here.) You’ll need at least 4GB of RAM and 64GB of free space on a hard disc or SSD. You’ll also require version 2.0 of the Trusted Platform Module (TPM), which provides hardware-based security. Most PCs sold in the last three years should be able to run Windows 11. But not all of them. Someone who purchased a laptop a year ago and is unable to operate the latest OS due to a CPU incompatibility.
Download and run Microsoft’s PC Health Check program to see if your system meets the requirements. Even though your PC can run Windows 11, you cannot yet update to it. Microsoft is implementing the update in stages. “New eligible devices will be offered the upgrade first,” according to a Microsoft blog post, but the term “new” isn’t defined. “We expect to give the free upgrade to Windows 11 to all eligible devices by mid-2022,” it says. You’ll be alerted via Windows Update when you can upgrade.
Okay, that covers the basics. Let’s get down to details.
A New Start for Start
The most noticeable change in Windows 11 is right in the middle of the screen — literally. When you press the Start button, the Start menu appears just above the bottom centre of the screen, rather than being tethered to the left as it was in previous Windows editions. It’s also smaller, and you can’t navigate around it as you do with the Windows 10 Start menu. Smaller application icons have replaced the big tiles that took up so much screen real estate on the Windows 10 Start menu. That means active tiles, which could pipe in and display changing data, are no longer available. Widgets have taken their place, as you’ll see later in this review.
The menu has also been pared down in other respects. The three-column style of Windows 10 Start has been replaced by a simple screen divided into two sections: pinned application icons at the top and a “Recommended” area at the bottom that includes a mix of recently opened files and icons for apps you’ve recently installed.
A Slightly Tweaked Search
The ‘search’ has been briefly redesigned, but not much has changed. Search, like Start, appears in the centre of the screen, just above the taskbar, when you click its icon. The softer, rounded feel of Windows 11 is put to good use here, and Search is more visually appealing. It’s also less bloated than Windows 10 Search. It can fit more into less space than Windows 10 search because it employs smaller icons, with four “quick search” icons compared to Windows 10’s three. However, the core layout remains the same, and I discovered no differences in search results between Windows 11 and Windows 10.
The Widgets sideshow
A news feed, weather, and other widgets were incorporated in Windows 10. They never truly had a home of their own, despite the fact that you could run them alone. That has changed in Windows 11. When you click the Widgets icon on the taskbar (it’s a square divided vertically into two pieces, one white and one blue), a huge panel opens on the left side of the screen with a pre-selected selection of widgets, such as weather, news, sports, and more.