With Windows 11, Microsoft is introducing modern touches to the experience of using a PC.
Most notably, a new design is meant to help users get what they want more quickly. However, the changes go beyond the surface. Microsoft is changing the rules of its app store to bring more variety and even bring Android apps to the PC, and add enhancements that promise to boost games. New touchscreen controls and a better way to configure on-screen windows can make it easier to sit at the computer for extended periods.
The stakes are high. Windows is critical to Microsoft, as businesses use it for their employees’ devices and consumers use it for entertainment. The current version, Windows 10, is the best PC operating system in the world, and the company doesn’t want to lose that leadership position when facing competition from companies like Apple and Google.
On Monday, less than a week after unveiling Windows 11, Microsoft released its first preview version of the software for people participating in the Windows Insider program, giving people their first chance to try what’s new.
If you want to try it yourself, go to the Settings app in Windows 10 and join the Windows Insider Program section. Just keep in mind: the software is still new and not very extensively tested, and it contains some issues, which means you may need to find solutions.
If you want to keep Windows errors to a minimum, you probably shouldn’t update yet.
Microsoft plans to begin rolling out the update more widely later this year and next year.
Here are seven key fixes in Windows 11 that are available so far:
1. Start button. Perhaps the biggest change is the movement of the Home button from the left corner of the taskbar to the center, along with the icons for open applications and icons that have been pinned to the taskbar. The change will take some getting used to. You instinctively want to move your mouse to the left, and after doing that and clicking near the edge of the screen, nothing happens. But for people with wide computer monitors, the new location might be easier to reach. If you must move the Start button to the left, the option can be found in Settings> Personalization> Taskbar.
2. Start menu. Gone are the things you had pinned to the Start menu in Windows 10. What you see instead is a group of applications under a heading called Pinned. Some will appear there automatically and you can remove them from Start. To avoid having trouble playing the set of programs you saved to the Start menu in Windows 10, take a screenshot before upgrading to Windows 11. The Start menu also prominently displays a Recommended section with programs and files to which was recently accessed.
3. Keyboard. Windows 11 includes an on-screen keyboard with more features including access to emojis, GIFs, a clipboard, word suggestions, handwriting recognition, and the opportunity to design a custom theme. Some features of the Windows 10 on-screen keyboard are missing, including the ability to display a numeric keypad.
4. Configuration. Microsoft has reorganized the Settings app, adding flourishes like widgets to show paired devices, a prominent link to rename your PC, and a way to see which subfolder you’re looking in. Also, the left lane of options does not change as you move from section to section as it did before, making it easier to navigate. There are also six wallpapers to choose from. The menu options have been moved, and some sections are given new names. And a new option makes the operating system remember where the windows were before when you reconnect an external monitor.
5. Dynamic update frequency. A new option in Windows 11 can help extend battery life if you’re using a laptop. Many laptops have a refresh rate (how many times per second the screen displays a new image) of 60 Hz. Increasingly, Dell, HP, and other PC manufacturers are releasing laptops with higher refresh rates, such as 120 Hz, which can be useful for games and other activities, such as drawing. But running at a higher speed can consume energy quickly. If you have a supported device, you can turn on the new dynamic refresh rate setting which may reject the setting for less critical scenarios such as reading emails.
6. Consistent touch gestures. Microsoft is taking touch gestures that people have been able to use on trackpads in Windows 10 and bringing them to screens. The experience will make using a touchscreen PC more like using a tablet like an Apple iPad, and will further differentiate Windows PCs from Apple Macs, which are not available with touchscreens. Swiping up with three fingers shows applications and desktops in Task View. When you swipe down, the desktop appears. Swiping left or right switches to the most recently used application window. And scrolling left or right with four fingers lets you switch between desktops.
7. make window games. Windows 11 makes it easy to organize two or more application windows that you want to use at the same time. This is based on the ability to snap windows on the left or right sides of the screen in Windows 10, as well as customizations for Android that appeared on Microsoft’s two-screen smartphone, the Surface Duo. Hover over the maximize button in an app, and you’ll see options to arrange two, three, or even four windows. You click on the part of the screen that you want the current window to use and then choose other parts of the screen for the other windows. Once you’ve arranged your windows the way you want, you can go to the taskbar and quickly access your set of windows. If you open others, you can return to the suite by hovering over the icons of the applications included in the suite. You can also quickly close the assembly by hovering over it and pressing the X button.
Some important Windows 10 features are missing from this first preview release: Android apps and Teams integration on the taskbar. They will come later.
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