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Windows 11: Much ado about nothing

Windows 11 Wallpaper
Windows 11 Wallpaper (Image credit: Microsoft via Aggiornamenti Lumia)

The unending news cycle around Windows 11 that has haunted us since June 2021 is nowhere close to stopping, but we've finally hit a critical juncture: The operating system's actual release.

As many were saying for months within the Insider program and as a wide variety of reviewers are highlighting now that the OS is generally available, Windows 11 is not a big deal. It is a sprinkling of new features, a new UI, and cosmetics which, for the average Windows user, won't amount to much of anything, hence why lots of reviews reiterate that those sticking with Windows 10 won't be missing out on anything substantial for the time being.

On one hand, that's great for Windows 10 users who get to maintain relevancy for years to come, but on the other, it's sad to see Microsoft pump out something arguably trivial and underwhelming for the sake of drumming up the media and gaining time in the limelight.

What does it do?

Windows 11 Start Surfacepro Lighting

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Windows 11 has a couple of features for people who game (the phrase "gamers" is just the dumbest thing, isn't it?), some quality-of-life tweaks such as a less crappy Microsoft Store (which is coming to Windows 10 in the next few months), and the most notable change, the new UI.

That sounds like a big update to Windows 10, not an upgrade from it. It was a tame lineup of new goodies back in June back when the claim was made that Windows 11 doesn't matter, and it's a tame lineup now. The best features of Windows 11 shouldn't settle for being neat surprises; they should be eye-opening revelations.

There's a very large contingent of people who feel Windows 11 essentially is a glorified Windows 10 update, including industry experts and analysts. And while many people are happy about that because it means the new OS is built off something tried and true, something tested and beloved, there is the question: If iterations stay so small and incremental, when, if ever, will we see a colossal leap?

The gaming parallel

Xbox Series X, Series S, PlayStation 5 size comparison

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

To compare the Windows 10 to 11 jump to another recent tech "upgrade" of minimal significance, recall the jump from PS4 to PS5, wherein Sony's biggest selling point for its new system was its SSD — otherwise known as a component PC gamers have been rocking for ages. Beyond that, the hardware upgrades were big on paper, but have failed to materialize as anything meaningful in practice. We went from massive upgrades like 24-player caps in Battlefield 4 on the PS3 to 64-player caps on PS4. We had boosts to visual fidelity the likes of which could hardly be comprehended, with the difference between titles such as Uncharted 3 and 4 being otherworldly.

However, with the PS4 to PS5 jump, we have nothing to shout from the rooftops about. Incrementally faster load times? Window reflections in Marvel's Spider-Man? We can now see an extra hair follicle rendered on a lombax? Who cares? The whole console is just lame. It's a new system for the sake of a new system, not because any actual vision or technological innovation justified it.

The same argument holds true for the Xbox Series X, more or less, though the best Xbox Game Pass games do an outstanding job making most people forget about that reality. Plus, Microsoft Flight Simulator is proof that Redmond has ideas for genuinely impressive uses of new hardware.

The point is: Just like the latest batch of gaming consoles, Windows 11 isn't doing enough to carry the torch of progress forward. And when so many reviews are stating certain features are underbaked and unfinished on an already minimalist OS upgrade, it begs the question: Why now? Why release 11 at all, let alone this year?

Glass half full

Windows 11 Wallpaper

Source: Microsoft via Aggiornamenti Lumia (Image credit: Source: Microsoft via Aggiornamenti Lumia)

The bright side of all of this is that Windows 10 users get to feel relevant for a good while longer. They won't be missing out on anything big, including the new Microsoft Store. Enterprise devices won't face immediate peril as the world scrambles to keep up with Microsoft's boundless imagination. Really, no one loses as a result of Windows 11 being a bland non-replacement for Windows 10.

But no one wins, either. And that's the problem. We're a long way off from a truly exciting operating system future, or so it seems. Tech like HoloLens, Windows Mixed Reality, and their operating hubs are inching us closer to real innovations that change how we interface with computers and machines, but in the meantime, Microsoft is telling us to be complacent with rounded corners.

The question then becomes "what do you want from a new OS," if Windows 11 doesn't satisfy. And here's the thing: The answer is unknown. Just like how the best inventions are great because most people couldn't have conceived them themselves, a worthwhile OS upgrade needs to introduce ideas we're not even thinking about or asking for. It needs to expand our minds and fundamentally reshape how we see the software.

Microsoft is the expert, and it needs to be the one cooking up mind-melting new concepts and proposals. That onus does not fall on the consumer. The consumer is simply responsible for saying "this new change is boring" or "this new change is exciting" and administering their money accordingly. As such, it's entirely valid for disappointed folks to not know what they do want from the next Windows while still recognizing what they don't want.

The future's bright for operating system innovation. But at the rate Microsoft's moving, the next generation of humans are going to be the ones to see the actually exciting plans come to fruition, not us.

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to robert.carnevale@futurenet.com.

43 Comments
  • More click bait, the OS is fine, and it's good that they only tweaked it and removed features that the majority of us don't use... Anything radical would have been another Windows 8... Look at iOS and the iPhone, basically the same for years and people buy it...
  • You DO know that the chief committers of spilling much ink over nothing are Windows Central authors, right?
  • Says who? I see it plenty on other sites and those who review tech.
  • I have seen both pro stories and negatives ones on all kinds of tech and non-tech sites.
  • "On one hand, that's great for Windows 10 users who get to maintain relevancy for years to come, but on the other, it's sad to see Microsoft pump out something arguably trivial and underwhelming for the sake of drumming up the media and gaining time in the limelight." Does anyone actually know what this paragraph means?
  • Hmmm, let me try to rephrase it for you. It's good that Windows 10 users won't be missing out on something terribly new and exciting, and that they won't feel too disappointed because they can't run a totally new experience never seen before. Nevertheless, it's not good that Microsoft has to create a lot of hype about a new version of Windows in order to make it to the news and get people excited about Windows & Microsoft, and then it turns out that such new version of Windows is nothing more than a series of small changes that could have easily been a regular Windows 10 update (i.e., hyping for the sake of staying relevant rather than actually introducing something innovative).
  • Thank you, rodbernardi. If all commenters had your level of reading comprehension, the comments would be a much better place.
  • Why couldn't you have written it hat way in the first place.
    By the way, I don't buy into your Win 11 is not a big change THEORY.
    Removing intertwined craps that have plagued Win7 all the way to win10 for sake of compatibility is a big change. Improving Security HW and SW for this OS is a big change, Setting it up for future use HW design wise and I bet mobile will be one of them and God knows other form factor is a big change. Chances you you did not see those.
    If all that were made as mere win 10 update, then that is no more Win10
  • Nothing Security Related in Windows 11 is new. The only thing they did was obsolete computers while using it as a scapegoat for that, and turn those features on by default in Windows 11. Computers with CPUs that were sold brand new as late as 2018. These hardware requirements were created with completely ignorance of how the PC market actually operates. Completely disrespectful to users, and basically hands conspiracy theories about forcing computer sales based on Windows 11 hype to people on a silver platter. Secondly, there are a TON of feature regressions in Windows 11, which actually affect productivity and usability in material ways - NEGATIVELY. There is also MORE design inconsistency in Windows 11 than Windows 10, as Microsoft has introduced yet another clashing design language before actually moving things forwards off of the old one. They don't finish anything. They do 40% of the job and then start moving the goal post forwards. Even before Windows 10, this was a problem with Microsoft: Win32 -> MFC -> Windows Forms -> WPF -> WinRT etc. etc. They can't even get their own platform and apps migrated over before they decide "We have new hotness" and this **** just starts to pile up. They're doing it again with Windows 11. FFS, there are double context menus all over the place. Basic things now require even more clicking, which is horribly ergonomics (cause RSIs are a thing, and have been well documented since the dawn of computing). Some commonly accessed settings, toggles, and switches (Audio Outputs, WiFi Connections, etc.) were buried even deeper than before. The Start Menu is a bad recreation of the OpenSUSE GNOME Slab Menu from 2010. And you're going to have to iterate what "intertwined craps that have plagued Windows 7" that have been removed. I'm not seeing it. All I'm seeing is them introducing more "craps" and inconsistencies on top of Windows at 3x the rate that they can remove them. Windows now resembles a Linux Graphical Desktop cobbled together by some high schooler in 2001.
  • When the entire world said its just a reskin, you guys were like, "there's much more than what meets the eye. There's a lot of under hood optimisation". There's no meaningful addition to the OS apart from feature removal. Seriously someone could have made this W11 theme using a rainmeter skin. But you guys were literally writing articles over dumb individual app refreshes that had nothing but corner radii changed. And now you are milking the other end of the spectrum? Just why?
  • Whoa there. I've been arguing there ain't much to it since day one. This is a personal opinion piece. What we report on matter-of-factually because people want to know is less subject to our personal opinion/preference. If you're not wowed by the rounded edges on the refreshed MS Paint, power to you, but we're obligated to talk about it since a lot of people do care.
  • I know there are writers who have different opinions within Windows Central and you guys talk about both the sides (sometimes). But instead of writing a glorifying article and another one about the drawbacks why can't you guys sit together and write a single one discussing both the pros and cons especially when the changes are just visual refreshes. Now, it looks like you just do this way to click-bait different set of audience.
  • A lot of that boils down to scheduling; it's not that we don't like the idea of collaborative pieces. It just requires overcoming a few logistical hurdles that aren't always warranted for quick, off-the-cuff op-eds.
  • I'd also rather have two comprehensive pieces breaking down different points of view than a shorter piece that removes some context. Generally, people wouldn't want to feature-length pieces combined into one.
  • So we'll said! Meant for previous comment but I couldn't delete.
  • I mean it's ok for individual writers to have different opinions even if this is windows central. There have been so many comments over the years about Microsoft paying windows central to only day positive things. I guess just like Microsoft, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
  • That about sums it up.
  • It's Windows Central. If there weren't Microsoft fanboys writing for the site, something would be a bit wrong with that ;-)
  • Maybe it's really just the latest attempt to get Windows 7 users to update, or at least replace their old computers with a new one.
  • I like it....and look forward to future updates. I liked windows 10, but those tiles start rearranging themselves from time to time......and that was across the sp3, sp4, and sp6 for me.
  • Same here. I got tired of fixing what kept moving and gave up. Win 11 is faster - at least for me - and the changes to the start menu, while needing an adjustment from me, hasn't affected my productivity one bit. I like it, and with the things coming along next year, I think it does count as an upgrade. And anyone who doesn't see the Series X as an upgrade over the OneX, is either not paying attention, or is seriously jaded. Or wants us to think they are...
  • I'm not sure that someone who says "the phrase "gamers" is just the dumbest thing, isn't it?" should be relied upon for worthwhile opinions on game consoles. That seems especially true when, three paragraphs later, they say "[...] a component PC gamers have been rocking for ages".
  • I actually felt that the author must feel like he is so smart with his cynically humorous jabs at known nomenclature.
    After reading his jab at the term gamers, I couldn't help but picture him as a 15 year old trying to look cool among his elders. And when reading many of his reactions to other people's comments it is certain that he can't handle criticism very well.
  • Lol what is this article? Please don't resort to MSPU style writing.
    The OS itself is great and fast, and the number of under-the-hood updates and visual updates are a big deal. But the bigger issue is that Insider feedback was not addressed and they are shipping it with the new Start Menu and taskbar that many have complained about it's design and usability issues.
  • I somewhat agree but to me, the big deal for Windows 11 is how it benefits those slower touch-based systems. I have a Surface Go here and after installing Windows 11, I noticed better performance and a far more enjoyable touch experience. For my old Skylake i5 desktop, I am less interested to upgrading. I have more than 20 icons pinned on my double-sized taskbar and more than 20 tiles on my Start Menu. The lack of customization in those areas sound like a downgrade so I'll just wait for more improvements particularly resizing capabilities for the Start Menu and Taskbar.
  • Hey, if you're getting a lot of out of W11 (at least for touch purposes), that's good. That's the ideal situation, honestly.
  • First off, which Go? 1st one doesn't support it. Guess the second does and certainly the Go 3. How in the world is Win 11 better for touch than Win 10 in tablet mode? Lets get one thing out first. The apps, once launched are essentially the same, so those can be no better or worse. So only thing that changed is the UI used to get to those apps. A phone like screen full of app tiles, with variable sizes seems like a much more usable interface than a limited partial pane of app and doc icons. I don't have Win 11 on my Go, but I do on my Surface Pro 7, and I certainly don't find the Surface Pro touch friendlier. I imagine smaller would be worser. In 11 I have to swipe the widgets in to see what is already on my start screen in Win 10. Only possible improvement I see might be the improvement in app tiling. Does the screen size of the Go give you any more options than the one you already had, side by side? Do you need any more options on the screen size of the Go? Would quarters or three columns even be usable? You can't even access those modes using touch anyway. You have to hover over maximize with a mouse. Side by side is perfectly functional in Win 10 via touch gestures.
  • Windows 11 adds the Trackpad Gestures to the Touch User Interface. Also, the UI changes in Windows 11 make more sense for Touch Use than they do for KB/M usage. Getting rid of the Ribbon in File Explorer feels good when you're using a touchscreen, because the Ribbon is designed for Mouse input and the targets aren't ergonomic for touch. However, for KB/Mouse usage a lot of basic functionality that is nice to have are not there with the W11 File Explorer. Simplification is good, but there has to be a balance. Windows 11 is basically Microsoft's radically worse attempt to offer something comparable to macOS Big Sur. Apple is far superior when it comes to system-wide redesigns in their operating system. Microsoft's attempts at this have done nothing but left a decade-long trail of inconsistencies in the user experience. For Surface and Windows-on-ARM devices this update brings enough that it's probably worth it. For KB/M Desktop and Laptop users it is far too Beta to be worth it. And for people doing Content Creation and Gaming, they should stay away from it for at least a solid 6-12 months - assuming they ever upgrade. I did upgrade my Laptop, but I downgraded it back to W10 within an hour. I am not upgrading it back, and this will never touch my desktop.
  • I have a go1 and was thinking of forcing an upgrade. How have you done It? Via an USB?
  • TPM should not be a requirement to install windows 11, instead an advanced feature for Bitlocker and encryption if users wish to use encryption on there systems.
  • Probably it is time to switch to MacOs
  • An OS upgrade that was originally supposed to be a Windows 10 upgrade being called out for not being anything vastly different than a Windows 10 upgrade? WHAT? Seriously though, it is a free OS update that, for the moment, doesn't seem timed like Win 8 to Win 10. The massively new user interface is enough to call it Windows 11 because calling two drastically different looking OSes the same thing would cause confusion amongst the general PC populous. By not having a huge list of new features, it makes it an easier steppingstone from Win 10 to Win 11 for early adopters, or new PC purchasers. It really seems like Microsoft learned from the debacle that was Windows 8 and went in to make smaller, but more meaningful changes.
  • Well it's still Windows. Every new version is marginal change.
  • There are so many things I love about this Os and so many others that have left me somewhat disappointed and confused.
    The main gripe being the over-simplification of the start menu. Everybody has already pointed out this exact thing, I know, but it is somewhat frustrating to me, personally. The removal of such a time-saver like the app grouping baffles me to the core. I can't help but ask why? Some crusaders of the new start menu, will of course and rightfully so, point out that it is a feature that most people didn't use.
    I would argue that there would be no harm in it being available. With a new OS, it makes sense to improve and kill features that simply didn't work, but we can all agree that the ability to group apps was a really useful feature. At the same time, they are bringing widgets back, which didn't work at all when they implemented them before... It doesn't make much sense.
    Other than that I am loving the look and feel of the OS.
  • Microsoft is basically following Apple. They're basically the Samsung of desktop OS user experience/interface design, now. Always trying to follow and ape the nice features. Throwing the kitchen sink at the wall to see what sticks, only to remove it later (or just have it sit there as bloat). Always failing to deliver a solution that is half as good as those which they copy. Windows 11 attempts to do exactly what Apple has done with macOS Big Sur. Apple has done in one iteration of their OS what Microsoft cannot accomplish in 5 years. This is the second major "redesign" of macOS in a decade. Microsoft has never gotten close to what they were able to deliver with any of their major re-design efforts. We will be on Windows 12 before they ever "finish" Windows 11, and on Windows 13 before they ever finish Windows 12. Every time they do this, the only thing that happens is a growth in the mountain of design inconsistencies across the OS' user interface & experience. They never finish one project before moving on to the next. Vista was actually the last Visually Consistent OS Microsoft released. It was after that release that they started siphoning off components and developing them independently (starting with Windows Live Essentials), which started to fragment things. Windows 8 and 10 drove those into the stratosphere as they attempted to make WinRT and the Windows Phone 7/Windows 10 design ethos a thing - and we all know how that flopped... but they kept pushing it across core areas of the OS, while ignoring huge swaths of other areas that needed to be brought out of the stone age. This has been a problem for decades. Microsoft has always done this. It was just less noticeable, before, because the design languages didn't clash as heavily as they do now.
  • I would argue that the Chrome OS had more of a part in their decision to refresh windows visually. Cheap, and practical little laptops with a simplified user experience for everyday use, by everyday people. You would be amazed on how many people, including current users, only use what is visually given to them.
    I personally prefer the windows 11 changes to its visuals, including the position of the start menu. In my opinion, it just makes more sense to me, having a 2-in-1. Although your comparisons about Apple make sense, it is inevitable that new times demand new approaches, and stealing inspiration from the competition is a faster way to achieve one's goals. Apple stole from Microsoft, Samsung from Apple and vice-versa, Microsoft from both. Only windows phone felt different when it came out, and people just didn't want it. Familiarity is important, specially in UI, and that is why trends appear and are repeated across all spectrums of software and hardware. The term that everything is a copy of a copy evokes just that, and we humans prefer familiar ways of using certain things.
    What really annoys me is that a lot of functionalities were removed despite not having a hazardous effect on the new UX philosophy, namely the grouping of apps. There could be a place for them inside the aesthetic, and for someone who enjoys to keep things organized and easily accessible is a fulcral functionality
    Another item that just looks lazy or maybe is a way of forcing people to follow their design anesthetic is the recommended section with its blank unusable space, in case you decide to disable it. Why would you think that this was a good design choice baffles me.
    Another important item when addressing Apple os and its "perfection" in changing the os, we must not forget that apple's os is only made for their hardware, while windows has a almost ridiculous spectrum of different combinations of form factor as well as hardware. It is a lot easier to work within a company's own products, than catering to different computer trends and manufacturers.
  • Windows Phone 7 didn't help itself by launching on old hardware with high prices. Then Microsoft dropped every WP7 device (user) in the move to WP8. The entire situation was a debacle. WP7 was also really buggy. Anyone else remember the disappearing keyboard that persisted for several months before being fixed - by so update many of us had to force, cause Microsoft lied about that as well?
  • Just wanted to chime in to say big ups to everyone in this comment chain for the really in-depth, interesting discussion.
  • The only issue I have with the start menu is the inability to group apps. This has been a feature of Windows since Windows 3.0. I know some are saying Windows 11 start menu represents the future but if that is the case why can I still group apps on my Galaxy S21 phone using Microsoft Launcher? My phone start screen currently has apps in 18 different groups ranging from Books and Reference, Shopping, Smart Home, News and Sports. Maybe Microsoft could build a PowerToy app that brings app grouping to Windows 11 start menu.
  • "Incrementally faster load times?" Have you actually played a PS5 or Xbox Series X? a 10X reduction in loads times is hardly incremental.
  • It's also hardly a hardware-selling feature. The absence of a minor inconvenience is not a strong sales pitch. A tremendous new feature is a strong sales pitch... which the latest consoles do not have.
  • When MS first announced a new OS, I was thinking we would get Windows CoreOS, which would have made Windows modular and apps from various sources run in containers. Or... lets get crazy and look at the Surface Duo with a Windows UI overlay on top of Android or how Steve Jobs created NeXT based on Unix and brought it to Apple to rebuild Mac OS. I could see MS forking Linux and putting a Windows UI on top of it with Wine like containers for Win32 apps. Nope, we got lipstick on W10. A nothing burger.
  • the upgrade for ps4 to ps 5 you talk about... without a single word about the controller ?!
    straight up LAME !
    remember how people complained about the comfort of ps4's controller and xbox's controller was the "best" of
    that time , now that position is held by ps5's controller.