Windows 11 is officially available. The operating system has drawn some criticism for parts of its design and the features that it removed. While many of those concerns are valid, there's a lot to love in Windows 11 as well. In addition to a more modern look, Windows 11 has several features that stand out compared to its predecessor. Some of those features are visible, while others lie under the hood of the OS.
Better for some, worse for others
Before jumping into any specific features, it's worth breaking down a trend with people's thoughts on Windows 11. Many of the changes Microsoft made to Windows make things simpler. That's good for some people and bad for others. Everyday users might not notice some of the removed functionality of the Taskbar. Many people might not even know certain things were removed if we didn't share a big list up above of everything Microsoft took out.
Because of this shift to a simpler design, Windows 11 may be liked by more casual users and disliked by power users. Of course, that's a general statement that won't hold true for everyone, but the odds are decent that the short-term response of Windows enthusiasts and everyday users to the OS will be quite different.
Upgraded Snap Assist
Windows 11's Snap Assist improvements make a big difference when it comes to productivity. The feature makes it easy to snap windows into different parts of your screen, including splitting your PC into halves, thirds, or quarters. These options adjust based on the size of your screen, allowing Windows 11 to take advantage of the best monitors.
Snap Assist has some other nice touches, like flipping to a vertical setup when you rotate a tablet into portrait mode.
Improved touch support
Windows 11 doesn't have the dedicated Tablet Mode seen in Windows 10. Instead, Microsoft built Windows 11 to work better with touch and pen regardless of if you have a keyboard attached to your device. This makes the operating system well suited for 2-in-1s like the Surface Laptop Studio and the Surface Pro 8.
Windows 11 supports gestures similar to those available on Precision trackpads. For example, you can swipe down with three or four fingers to minimize an app. Microsoft also made it easier to touch specific items on a display, which can come in handy when apps and websites have elements that are hard to grab.
A new touch keyboard
In his Windows 11 review, our senior editor Zac Bowden calls the touch keyboard of the OS the "star of the show for tablet users." It has new sounds, animations, and better spacing. Most importantly, it's more accurate since it's powered by SwiftKey, a popular keyboard on Android and iOS. And yes, like SwiftKey, the Windows 11 keyboard supports swiping to type.
The keyboard can switch into split view, a one-handed mode, a simplified full-width layout, and a more advanced full-width layout. It also has a new emoji panel that supports GIFs and other types of media.
New Microsoft Store
The new Microsoft Store is a standout feature of Windows 11 from two perspectives. The app itself has been updated to look better and be faster. Microsoft says that the new store is "35% faster for 95% of users." It's also easier to find the app you actually want and to see reviews and other content that's relevant in the store. Microsoft also made several changes to how it approaches the Microsoft Store, which results in developers actually wanting to use it.
Several big-name apps have already made their way to the Microsoft Store, including Disney+, Discord, Adobe Acrobat, Zoom, and OBS Studio. Our executive editor Daniel Rubino breaks down why this is the case in more depth, but the end result is that people will find more apps in the Microsoft Store that they actually want.
Improvements for gaming
Windows 11 includes several features that make it a better operating system for gaming than previous Windows. While each of these items could warrant its own section, we're lumping them together because they all work to deliver a better gaming experience on PCs. Windows 11 supports Direct Storage, AutoHDR, and DirectX 12 Ultimate.
Auto HDR will work with over 1,000 DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 games. It improves the color and brightness range of games up to HDR. The feature was already available on the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S and is now available on PCs thanks to Windows 11.
Direct Storage is another feature that first came with the Xbox Series X and S. It improves load times in games and takes advantage of the best SSDs.
DirectX 12 Ultimate includes features for developers such as Raytracing 1.1, variable rate shading, Sampler Feedback, and more.
Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at email@example.com (opens in new tab).
The first four really are great improvements (I don't care about gaming personally). The swiping-style of input for the software keyboard already exists in Windows 10. Improvements to the emoji panel sound superficial but they aren't, they help things a lot, especially if you're inputting special characters (still a nightmare in places like Word) or use a lot of GIFs. Jury's still out on other software keyboard "improvements" though - they really did make things worse some years ago with the access secondary character layers, and I have yet to hear about how they plan to rectify it. (The most important secondary character for any given key should be a single swipe away, not several taps or swipes.)
I would like to add the new Settings app which I think way better than the old Settings app from Windows 10, with one big exemption which may be its biggest downside, the App Defaults sections in Settings is though looks bit more organized, it is much harder to quickly change defaults now. The new Touch Gestures is pretty nice, but it still doesn't follow fingers though. It just triggers the animation no matter how you swipe it. Feels unnatural especially once you noticed it wasn't following the finger gesture at all. Though still better having it here than not. I wish the actual tablet state for apps to run maximized by default and auto-split/snap apps when needed is really missing here, especially useful for smaller tables like 11 inches and bellow. Even for Surface Pro would be nice to have this.
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