Windows 11: First impressions

**DISCLOSURE: While I am contracted to Microsoft Corporation, I am not an employee. The articles that I write are not meant to represent the company, nor are they meant to represent me as an employee or spokesman for the company. As has always been the case, all articles on this website represent me and nobody else.

For those of you who have never been a beta tester on an operating system before, it is a bit like ice fishing. As you can tell, I like to use analogies that everyone will have experience with. So how, you ask, is it like ice fishing? Sometimes the ice you walk on is solid and firm; sometimes you can feel it cracking under your feet, and it is all you can do to get to solid ground; and sometimes, you think you are fine, and then you are wet and cold and completely lost.

With the exception of Windows 10, I beta tested every operating system that Microsoft released from Windows Vista and Server 2008 through Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2. When I was asked which Insider Channel I wanted to join (Dev Channel, Beta Channel, or Release Preview Channel) I originally opted for the middle ground – the Beta Channel, because that usually offers more stable and consistent builds than the Dev channel. I did this only to find that if you want Windows 11, you have to dive in. Okay, if I completely screw up one of my computers, I have a couple others working until I restore it, right?

When we all watched the session announcing Windows 11, it was all seamless and fluid. It was easy to assume that they had the advantage of editing the video to look perfect. If you are old enough, you will remember the Windows 95 launch BSOD… and that was with production code. How then could a new operating system that is a full year from release be quite so stable? I did not hold out high hopes… but it would be what it would be.

Tuesday morning I took the plunge on my Surface Laptop 3. For good or for bad, I was going forward with the new OS. I braced for the worst and hoped for the best, and expected something in between. At the beginning of my 6:00am meeting the new version started downloading through Windows Update. By the time my next two meetings ended (8:00am) the Windows 11 logon screen had been waiting for me for quite some time… I logged in and…

It worked. Not only did it work, it worked well. Not only did it work well, all of my applications were still there, working (almost) exactly the way they were previously1. This was, in my experience, unheard of when upgrading from one operating system to another. Although, to be fair, this is also the first new operating system that I have beta tested that I was able to upgrade – all past pre-release operating systems required fresh installs.

I should not be surprised by any of this. Windows as a Service (Waas) was introduced in 2015 with Windows 10 1507, and the updates from version last to version next has been flawless (or nearly so) this whole time. But here’s the thing… Windows 10 is not, from what I understand, on its last release. There should be a Version 21H2 coming out later this year. That means, if Windows 11 is meant to be a Feature Update off of Windows 10, it is not to be off the current release, rather off the next one. That means that this successful in-place upgrade might still be improved upon; the Windows product team has forked – the left fork going toward 21H2, and the right going toward Windows 11… which, of course, will now have its own update cadence for the foreseeable future.

The title of the article is First Impressions, so let me give a couple:

Look and Feel

I thought Windows 10 had a really simple and clean look and feel to it. With Windows 11 they have really upped their game. I am not only talking about the Taskbar, which has changed for sure. I opened the Network & internet page in Settings and it looks much cleaner:


Windows 10 21h1 < – > Windows 11 21h2 
clip_image002   image

In my opinion, the new interface is much cleaner than the current one. The Windows 10 interface for some components – networking for sure, but others as well – felt like they had given Windows 8 a facelift; this is more apparent if you have worked extensively with each version since the original launch, and with Windows 8. I have taught many Windows 10 classes starting with the original courses and all the way through to the most recent iterations of the MD-100 and MD-101 classes.  Of course, Worldwide Learning (I have been asked to use the proper name for MSL) cannot keep up with the semi-annual release cadence of the Windows product team, and so it was not uncommon for the courseware to be based around an older release; my students always liked that I would break out of the lab environment and show them the new features, and how things changed. The Network & internet screen in Windows 11 looks like it is a descendant of the Network status screen in Windows 10… but it does not look (or feel) like the changes were just shoehorned into it. The same is true of many of the screens I have explored.

When we were introduced to the Start Menu in Windows 95, it took me a while to get used to it being in the bottom-left corner of the screen. I suspect that some people will be confused by the centered Task Bar alignment, with the Start Menu no longer residing where it has for twenty-six years. Never fear, it is possible to switch that in the Personalization – Taskbar screen of the Settings window. In this menu, you can also add or remove taskbar items such as Search, Task view, and Widgets.

I am not sure if I care about this, but the windows (of both applications and of menus) have rounded corners. What you are looking at in the screen capture below is the right-click (Win-X) Start Menu. On the left you see it from Windows 10 (coming from the bottom-left corner of the screen), and on the right from Windows 11 (with the Start Menu nearer the centre of the taskbar). There are some differences between the two (most noticeable that PowerShell is now called Windows Terminal, although from what I can tell it is the same). While the window is no longer blue, it still says Windows PowerShell. I will discuss some changes to the PowerShell window in a future article.

Windows 10 21h1 <—> Windows 11 21h2
clip_image002[8] 2021-07-06 (3)

Speed and performance

What more can I say? The build on which I am working now (OS Build 22000.51) is stable and reliable. The operating system has not crashed at all. I did have a bit of a sticky wicket with a third-party application, but when I updated the app and it worked fine. I have detected no performance or reliability issues thus far. For reference, I am running on a Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 with an Intel Core i5-1035G7 CPU and 8.00 GB of RAM.

I have not yet tried to really tax the machine’s (and the operating system’s) performance… there are other blogs that will do that. My goal for first impressions was to take Windows 11 out for a spin, and not to try to push its limits. For one thing, I do not have the hardware for that. For another, I am not that kind of user anymore. There is a reason I drive a Kia Optima and not a Corvette (actually, there are many reasons – cost being one major one – but for another, I am beyond the stage of my life where I need to push the limits).

While I spend most of my time consulting for companies that might have some users pushing their PCs to the limits, I would guess that the vast majority of users whose systems I ultimately affect will never use the 8gb of RAM, or the gigabit network connection, or would notice a big difference if we upgraded their 10k hard drive to a solid-state drive. Most information workers are not Goose and Maverick. I am sure many of them get their new systems and say ‘I feel the need… the need for speed!’ and then they get into their Ford Focus which goes exactly as fast as they need it to – as fast as they think they want to go.

Limitations

Leslie (my editor) and I were speaking earlier today and she lamented that she was not able to install Windows 11 on her Microsoft Surface Book. I had not looked into the hardware requirements, assuming that my Surface Laptop 3 (which is not yet five months old) would be sufficient… and it was. After she told me that she could not install on her 6th Generation Intel CPU (which is five years old) I got concerned… I connected to my HP EliteBook 8570w to try it out. That machine is a beast, with multiple Intel i7 CPUs and 32gb of RAM. Windows Update downloaded the bits, but when it tried to install, it failed the prerequisites check – Windows 11 requires SecureBoot, which means UEFI, which means my 2012 EliteBook is not upgrading to Windows 11… at least, not yet. It is not unheard of for Microsoft to support only newer hardware in pre-release, and then support older hardware for release to manufacturing (RTM). I suspect, however, that a lot of us with older hardware (and especially with older hardware that does not support some newer security features developed over the past few years) are going to be staying with Windows 10 for the lifespan of the old hardware.

For the fun of it, I do plan to see if it will install on my Microsoft Surface Pro 4… even with the expanded battery that is potentially an explosive hazard. Do not try this in your own homes, folks; I am a professional… and a bit insane. I figure that as long as I do not leave it plugged in unattended I should be fine. If it does work, I will spend the money to replace the battery on it. If not? It owes me nothing.

Hedging My Bets

One of the cool things about having a lot of different computers to play with is that I do not have to install it right away on my production machine. Knowing what I know now, I will, for the foreseeable future, have the following configuration:

  • One personal computer (Microsoft Surface Laptop 3) running Windows 11;
  • One personal computer (HP EliteBook 8570w) running Windows 10; and
  • One work computer (Dell Latitude 7300) running Windows 10.

I am happy to go back to the bleeding edge on one personal computer, knowing that if it falls through the ice, I can simply switch back to my safe-and-stable Windows 10. As for my work PC, I am going to wait a while… I have to be able to get my work done, and if one day next month we get an unstable release of Windows 11, I do not want to be stuck not being able to work. Of course, I work with some people who will have pretty good insight into when I should take that plunge; for the time being, my team’s marching orders are to only upgrade your work laptop if you have two work laptops. It makes sense… walk, don’t run!

Manageability

I wouldn’t be me if I did not check right away if my Windows Intune would recognize and manage the Windows 11 device. Sure enough, not only is it listed and recognized, it is even compliant. I wonder though if in an upcoming release will the OS version cycle up from 10.0.22000.51 to 11.xxxxxxx. I have to assume that it will, but one never knows.

image

Conclusion

Beta testing an operating system is not for everyone; it is not for the faint of heart, and it is certainly not for anyone with deadlines and a single device. With that said, if you are interested in checking out what is coming next, join with Windows Insider program, select the Dev channel, make sure you have sufficient hardware resources, and let ‘er rip! I do not promise that it will always be smooth sailing… but I strongly suspect that this new OS is something that they have been working on for a while… and the beta releases will be, on the whole, more stable than you might have seen with previous beta operating systems in the past.

1The only exception that I have discovered so far: With Windows 10, the Print Screen button initiated a screen capture from Techsmith SnagIt. Now, the Print Screen button does exactly what I would have expected it to do since it was put on the keyboard… take a screen capture in Windows.

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