It has been a wild 24 hours with an early internal build of Windows 11 (from late May) hitting public forums. Unfortunately, while leaks can be fun to gawk at, the downside is Microsoft doesn't get to show you the whole plan for its next-gen OS.
That vacuum of official information has led many to form an opinion on an incomplete picture of Windows 11. One hot take I keep seeing, often from people who have not tried the leaked build, is that Windows 11 is "just a new Start menu" and therefore does not deserve a new version number.
This is a terrible take. Here is why.
Windows 11 leak: What is there now
If all you have seen of the Windows 11 leaks are a few screenshots, it is easy to focus on the new Start menu. No doubt, it is a significant change, as, after all, the Start menu is the identity of Windows. It has been ever since Microsoft declared it with its Windows 95 campaign (cue "Start me up").
From that perspective alone, I think it is fair to give this Windows a new version: It looks nothing like Windows 10, a left-aligned, Tile-based start system we've had for the last six years.
A new Start menu and UI were also the driving factors behind the shift from Windows 7 to Windows 8 to Windows 10 — so it is not like there isn't history here. On the contrary, you could argue it is the very raison d'être behind Windows versioning changes.
But there is so much more in this build that everyone is just glancing over. Here are things we know about:
- New Start menu, centered, no more Live Tiles
- New animations
- New touch experience
- New icons
- New sounds
- Widget Panel
- New OOBE
- New Ink Workspace
- New Windows snap menu
- Snap Windows in a vertical orientation
These are just the things we've discovered ourselves. Who knows what's in the official changelog from Microsoft.
Windows 11 supports top/bottom app snapping when in portrait mode. Finally! pic.twitter.com/KwirSf3yINWindows 11 supports top/bottom app snapping when in portrait mode. Finally! pic.twitter.com/KwirSf3yIN— Zac Bowden (@zacbowden) June 15, 2021June 15, 2021
You could hem and haw about how you do not care about any of that, but it is irrelevant. From the moment a new out-of-box experience (OOBE) launches with its new ambient sound profile, and it loads the new Start menu, you realize this is not Windows 10.
Or, instead, it is an evolved Windows 10, you know, like a Windows 11 or something. I'm just spitballing here.
The smoothness of the animations, the new Windows snap options, the acrylic menus, and, yes, rounded corners all deliver a much slicker, leaner look. It all feels quite different and yet, familiar. That is likely on purpose.
Of course, I could digress into a philosophical discussion on the criteria of new OS versioning. But you know what? I do not make Windows; it is not my call to make. All I know is when Apple or Google do it, no one seems to care (have you really considered if Android 12 should really be called Android 12? Probably not.).
But for an OS that people keep writing off as irrelevant, there sure are many opinions on Microsoft's naming choices. Funny, that.
Windows 11: There is more yet to come
We also know from our sourcing there is a lot more in Windows 11 that is not in this build.
Some things we know are coming include:
- Completely new Store experience
- New inbox apps, e.g., Mail
- Media control overlays
- More consistent dark mode
- Wake on Touch
But even our sourcing has limits leaving gaps in our knowledge of what Microsoft's big vision is for Sun Valley, which is why we'll be tuning in on June 24. For example, we are unsure if a revamped Action Center is planned. Or if Microsoft will open the Widget panel to developers, bring changes to the platform, File Explorer, etc. We're not even sure about Windows 11 SE. You know, big life-and-death questions that matter to 0.01% of earth's population, like "will Microsoft give a dark mode to Task Manager?"
What about under-the-hood changes to Windows 11? Improved performance, app resource usage, future options for developers, battery optimizations, security changes, support for new and evolving standards — all of it is unknown currently.
Putting aside the expected October release, Windows 11 is never going to be finished. No operating system ever is these days (see iOS 15 or Android 12). That means what does not come in October will come in future updates as Microsoft modernizes Windows.
Windows 11: Don't knock it until you try it
A few of us here at Windows Central have been running the leaked build for 24 hours now, and it is really nice. It is a refreshing change from the same-looking OS we have been using for the last six years. It is also relatively stable since it is using the underlying Windows Insider builds in current testing.
And if you don't like Windows 11 so far, that's fine, too. You can probably even get back your precious Live Tiles.
But as we head into the summer, keep an open mind until Microsoft gives its full pitch on Windows 11. After that, there will be a lot more news and things we haven't seen that could sway your opinion.
There are undoubtedly going to be fair criticisms of Windows 11 as all operating systems deserve – and we'll certainly make them in our Windows 11 review later this year. But, if you are leering at screenshots from your phone and reaching a conclusion about Windows 11 without having tried it, well, maybe rethink that.
It is OK to wait and see.
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.