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Windows 11 shouldn't need so many third-party apps for basic functionality

Windows 11 Start Hero Surface Book
Windows 11 Start Hero Surface Book (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Windows 11 started rolling out earlier this month. While Microsoft updated several parts of the operating system, there are strange gaps that the company left in the OS. While some of these come down to preference, Microsoft removed the ability to customize certain aspects of its operating system. For example, you can only show a clock on one display while running Windows 11. Want a clock on an external display? You have to grab an app like ElevenClock.

On top of weird omissions for options that were available on earlier versions of Windows, Microsoft also made drastic changes to elements that people love. Many people, including our senior editor Jez Corden, hate the new Start menu. The Windows 11 Taskbar also has its critics. These aren't just disliked for their designs. They frustrate people because they lack functionality.

Microsoft would likely explain these changes as a simplification of Windows that makes it easier to use. That may be true in some cases, but the inability to move the Taskbar to the side of the screen doesn't seem like a needed change. The new Start menu is simplified compared to its predecessor, but always showing a reminder that people turned off recommendations is just poor design.

These changes and omissions have led to third-party developers stepping in. Our list of the best apps to customize the look of Windows 11 seems to grow by the day. While I commend the efforts of these developers, many of these apps shouldn't be needed in the first place.

Stop removing options

Windows 7 style Start menu on Windows 11

Source: Stardock (Image credit: Source: Stardock)

I understand that Microsoft is going to make changes to the look and feel of Windows as it moves from version to version. It's Microsoft's right to want to simplify things, but it shouldn't remove toys altogether for power users — just hide them somewhere we'll know where to look.

I'm not calling for Microsoft to maintain every legacy version of Windows so people can pick a skin. I do expect some more customization options on an OS that has traditionally been customizable.

Corden illustrates the issue with the lack of customization options in his piece about the Start menu:

This new one is so lacking in customization features to the point of frustration. You can't resize it in any way, shape, or form. You can't remove the Recommended Files list. You can turn it off, but it leaves a nasty gap with an annoying reminder telling you that you've turned off Recommended Files, like a vestigial limb you can't remove. The Recommended Files list, if you leave it on, for me just surfaces years-old documents and other random crap from my file storage that I don't really want to see surfaced right there in my Start menu. Managing those files is a chore, too, forcing me to right click and "dismiss" every time it surfaces a file I couldn't care less about.

A program like Start11 should be for people who want to get a classic version of their Start menu on their PC or to perform detailed customizations. People shouldn't have to buy it to move their Taskbar to the top of their screen or to get a Start menu without a useless recommendations list.

Microsoft can, and should, fix this

Auto Dark

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

In his piece on the excellent Auto Dark Mode app, our executive editor Daniel Rubino calls it "the app Microsoft needs to build into Windows 11." We've seen Microsoft do this before. The Night light feature in Windows 10 followed the footsteps of f.lux. If Microsoft sees an implementation of a feature that it likes, the company can just c̶o̶p̶y̶ emulate it.

Insiders don't like having to download a third-party app to get a clock on their secondary display; no one does. People shouldn't have to go through the Feedback Hub to say that when they disable the Recommendations list that they want it replaced with something functional instead of a note saying they turned it off. But if these steps are going to be required, Microsoft needs to listen to feedback about them.

Microsoft shared a video thanking Insiders for shaping Windows 11. Over the next year, Microsoft needs to show that those words aren't hallow. By the time the next major update rolls around for Windows 11, Microsoft needs to show a sustained effort to listen to feedback and to provide people options for their PCs.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

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 sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

47 Comments
  • This is what happens when telemetry solely used for design. As power users are a portion of the entire userbase so naturally features we use won't show up as being used much in terms of a percentage. The current W11 is effectively W11 Home Basic. Effectively We need W11 Pro. This reminds me of what happened with the transition between windows mobile 6.x to Windows Phone 7. That is not a good place to be. I get why the devs went that route as it's inhumanely impossible to design, code, test and reiterate an entire operating system without a QA department and programmatic testers.
  • Then again, power users are exactly the people who would a) install a third-party solution and b) pay for it, supporting a third-party add-on ecosystem. Your last point speaks to this. We can effectively outsource those decisions, just as we do with third-party launchers on Android. Also, I find it hard to believe that the telemetry data can't tell the power users apart. That being said, I still don't like the W11 Start Menu :-)
  • Power users are the ones that joined the beta, consistently reported their irritations to Microsoft, and complained weekly on Reddit and third party platforms that Microsoft employees monitor. Power users are most likely the majority of users that have supported hardware and/or are upgrading to Windows 11 on launch. Most people, like my great aunt, don't even know Windows 11 is coming, and couldn't care less. I'm not even sure her laptop can support Windows 11, and I'm sure she doesn't care. I do know she wouldn't like the recommend section, and would despise that you couldn't reclaim that space when turning it off. I can hear her now, constantly voicing her disliking for it to me at every family gathering. 🥲
  • Yeah, thing is majority of users just simply don't care regardless what they add or remove, the reality is that they often won't see much of the difference unless its too visibly drastic. It feels like Windows 11 tried to cater too much if the "majority" that actually don't care about whatever Microsoft is trying to do and actually ******* off their customers that actually care about their products. I'm not saying we ignore the majority of the userbase, but it seems like there are decisions that felt like just catering to the masses without much thought the value of things they are removing. I get it that its tough to decide a feature set and also some have reasonable excuse why things are not here, the new Taskbar is simply written from scratch and thus many features may not arrive at launch. But I wonder if Windows 11 is even really need to release this time if the development is still too early. We had Windows 10X which is cancelled, and it feels like they just ported some of those elements to Windows 11 but didn't get enough time to really develop them. It seems like Windows 11 really needs another year of development to hopefully flesh out more. Oh well, the best case is Microsoft will listen and implement them by next year. For those who will buy new hardware that will come with Windows 11, will just have to accept the reality of whatever is missing or not right, or spend more money on installing Windows 10 on those.
  • Your great aunt? That's who ChromeOS is for! Ask my mom. :-) Actually don't, she has no idea what OS is running on her computer. Yes, it's likely that "power users" are overrepresented among public testers. I don't think that's too important since MS can likely tell them apart. In any case, my point is that power users are exactly the people who are in the best position to customize their experiences anyway.
  • That isn't a good path to take when the rest of the family counts on you to talk them through their dilemma. Explaining to them they have to spend $ to match your system config isn't a winning strategy. Much better for MS to have chosen the right path early on.
  • It irritates me to no end that I spent money on Stardock. I shouldn't want it. It shouldn't be more appealing to me, a basic Win 11 user, than the vanilla start. But getting right-click context menus on my taskbar back as well as being able to group my start icons is something I can no longer live without.
  • Yesterday, I was running a game in full screen mode, and because it wasn't native screen res, my display size changed, and all the windows moved around. My second monitor's start button got moved off the side of the screen so I couldn't access it, and I couldn't leave the game. I had installed power toys to fix some issues already but couldn't alt+space to get the system menu up to move the task manager window that was stuck behind the game. I can't even see how much time I'm wasting in games anymore.
    I don't want this from windows. It's sad. These aren't even power user things, it's just basic control over the applications running on the machine.
  • If it makes you feel any better, you can go to options in task manager and set it so that task manager always appears on top of any application(s) on your screen.
  • Works ok for me without any apps...
  • I'm glad it works for you. It's worth reading what other people have to say as well. Many people are frustrated with it.
  • Whats happening with you WC... I thought the status quo was to get your readers to denounce live tiles. The editor wrote everywhere "i'm glad they are gone".
    Shouldn't you be happier with this new start menu. I'm puzzled why you need workarounds.
    I mean it's back to the basics and the basics is the beginning right?
  • You know more than one person works here, right?
  • Hiswona doesn't think you're a one-person shop, Sean. He thinks you're a totalitarian nightmare of uniform thought and action. A totally different animal.
  • Hiswona is a bitter ex-WP user who just trolls us now.
  • Lol @Daniel. I am an ex-WP user but i dont troll you.
    If you noticed i haven't posted on WC for 2 months but have been reading your articles pretty much everyday.
    It seems the euphoria of Windows 11 has subsided now and WC appear to hate it now, Why?
    Even I've taken the liking to it.
    Clearly MS is working hard updating all their apps to 11 theme, which is great.
    So where's the love? What happened...
  • People can like things and want them to improve. I'm pretty sure Rubino and I both like Windows 11 overall, but that doesn't mean we think it's flawless.
  • As they were with with Windows 7, 8, 8.1, and 10.
    Change is sometimes a bit painful.
    For the vast majority it will be just fine and the few of us who use Windows to extends regular users don't, there will be solutions, even if they are 3rd party.
    It's all good.
  • It looks more similar to MacOs than to Windows.
  • The similarity only ends at rounded corners and that centered aligned Taskbar that looks like macOS dock. But there are still alot of difference between Windows and macOS, even visually many things are different. Also feature-wise, macOS actually isn't even that a "lite" OS that some people may believe, it is a full blown desktop OS with alot of feature-set as well.
  • My feeling is that MSFT seems an Apple follower. W11 resembles Macos design language and Surface Laptop Studio resembles MacBook design with its rounded corners. In my opinion MSFT should have its proper and distinct design both for Windows and its products. MSFT is still leader in desktop OS market, but it is behaving as a follower. I expect Apple to increase its market share in desktop OS, and not only in USA.
  • You are crazy
  • I feel like this is no different than any other release of a MS OS. They release a new OS with some good things, some bad things, and some things missing that we had before. People have to take up in arms, complain loudly, and then over the next few months or a year we get those features back. If I recall Stardock and others were released because of past complaints, and here we are again. While everyone is rushing out to get on Win 11 I will happily stick with Win 10 for another year until things eventually get better and I will have lost nothing.
  • I agree. There was so many complaints about windows 10 when it first came out (including about the start menu), just like windows 11. Things will get changed/fixed or if they don't you have alternatives like Stardock to offer more customization.
  • The Windows 7 Start Menu is favorite one. Then when Microsoft brought the start menu back in Windows 10, it last customization options and the Windows 11 version has less. Microsoft keeps making the start menu worse
  • I agree with everything in this article. It is not a deal breaker to me, since I don't work with that many applications.
    But I do miss being able to group my Adobe cloud apps, instead of ordering them in the start menu dreading the day that I will need to add more and more apps as I need them. It's mind-boggling how Microsoft decided what is best for the user. These were all options that didn't interfere with the day to day user, it was just added functionality. At least create an alternative. I personally would love the ability to customize different virtual desktops with different apps in the Taskbar or at least in the desktop... One big ol app group on my screen.
    I don't really know what the windows ux team has in mind, but they are not off to a good start. Funny enough there were a lot of videos and articles in the windows blog centered around how the design team worked on making windows more focused on productivity.
  • MS is following in Apple's footsteps. Giving everyone what they were unaware they wanted.
    Give it some time. You will eventually realize all the stuff they took away is stuff you have not yet realized you should not be using.
  • I don't think this is the Apple strategy we're seeing here. I think we're seeing the Android strategy. Let the third-party developers solve the smaller ergonomic problems like launchers and widgets. The W11 Start Menu annoys me, but at the same time, I'm exactly the person who will pay to have some customized improvement. This is better than in Linux, where in any given desktop environment, the add-on ecosystem is nice and open, but it's not very deep because almost no one is charging money. Here we have the possibility of an add-on market, and with improvements to the Store, a centralized marketplace for them.
  • That was sarcasm, right? Please tell me you are being sarcastic. 😐
  • Not everyone knows sarcasm, unfortunately
  • Not sure if this actually an Apple approach, maybe when it comes to design in some ways (but Apple is alot more committed on providing consistent design and far more polished). Even Apple, at least lately is adding more features, not removing them. Well they do, but not at this level that omissions are far more obvious. macOS dock remained the functionality and I don't remember it even regressed in functionality over the years. Their Widgets were indeed once "killed", but they revive with with the same framework I believe from their iOS/iPadOS, so technically it is superior to what it replaced. Windows 11 Widget for now is actually seems inferior with no 3rd-party support, a far cry from Live Tiles that is open for 3rd-party and older Vista/7 Widgets that actually works without internet.
  • One functionality that I have been using for years using a 3rd party app is customizable touchscreen gestures. I don't have to press the Start button, all I need is a 3 finger pinch in gesture on the screen.
  • I have literally never seen so much complaining over an OS that just came out. As if all are perfect day one.
  • "Windows would likely explain these changes as a simplification of Windows that makes it easier to use." Previous versions of this mentality from Microsoft: To make Cortana even better, we're destroying all her useful features that you know and love and simplifying her back in time to be clippy reborn! To make your Windows mobile experience even better, we're cancelling all our mobile efforts and throwing you to our competitors! To help your Invoke serve you even better we're removing all speech functionality and making it a dumb Bluetooth speaker! You get the idea...
  • The three things you mentioned no one used. They were failures. Meanwhile, Windows is bigger than ever. It's a completely different story.
  • I didn't mean a product comparison. Only that when Microsoft explains why they do things, it's always expressed as for our benefit when it often is not. The Cortana explanation was the most intelligence insulting explanation Microsoft has yet to come up with. “To make our personal digital assistant AS USEFUL AS POSSIBLE, we are integrating Cortana with Microsoft 365 productivity apps...WE WILL END SUPPORT for the Cortana app on Android and iOS in some markets. From that point on, any Cortana content created...WILL NO LONGER WORK in the Cortana mobile app or Microsoft’s launcher, but can still be accessed through Cortana ON WINDOWS." (ONLY) Everything they said after "as useful as possible" made her far less useful to those of us who did use her. Several people I worked with used her daily on their phones (android mostly due to Google's data theft), but I've yet to meet someone who used her on Windows desktop regularly. I've never used her for increased AI productivity in Microsoft365. If she is even there, she's buried somewhere which doesn't make her "as useful as possible" Yes these things failed. But they didn't need to. They failed because even Microsoft didn't show any faith in their success even at launch. Microsoft made these product future's uncertain, so no one invested, so Microsoft believed their self-fulfilling prophecy and cancelled them. Why would developers and consumers believe in them if Microsoft didn't? I was a raving Windows fan before this but this was the nail in the coffin of my enthusiasm. I converted several people to Windows Phone and Cortana, and I was all in on getting Band 3. Now, there is nothing special to evangelize. Microsoft has become the me-too tech company.
  • "Only that when Microsoft explains why they do things, it's always expressed as for our benefit when it often is not." I think that's called 'marketing'.
  • Not ready for prime time
  • For anyone interested I had compiled a list based on my needs. Can check it out on reddit: shorturl.at/jwEQT
  • I think the best thing about Windows 11 is that it has generated so many complaints from others that 'bleached' seems not to feel the need to post comments at the moment. Now that's a Windows feature I can get behind!
  • I totally know what you mean. I laughed.
  • It's easier to adapt from poverty to prosperity than to fall from riches to rags.
    ... and for those people who would be trying to take this proverb to places that common sense will tell you it was never meant to explore, I am not a socialist, commie or a member of the entitled priviledged elite. It's not a treatise on social stratification, or an indictment of current economic realities. I'm just talking about windows OS! This applies to the options, customizations, and overall OOB usability of windows 10 vs 11.
  • I'll stick to win10 for some time, I don't doubt it'l be better.
    In the meantime I'm happy with my laptop; it's 100% compatible with win11
    But I'm not compatible with win11.
    I use the old classic shell, I might go to open shell, but I don't have any issues with it on 19043.1288
    Have a nice day
  • I seriously doubt the compaints and suggestions to improve W11 will be noticed by Microsoft. W10 had some pretty basic design and UX flaws that were never fixed, so I put no faith that they will make right in this version.
  • The start menu is fine for me because, like most users, I don't use it. All common apps are on the taskbar and any others I just click the start menu button and type. It's quicker. But it's annoying how I have to right click the start menu button for the context menu now and not just anywhere on the taskbar like before. That's the only thing that bugs me.
  • After upgrading and reverting on my laptop, Office 365 is broken. I can’t repair the installation (errors out). I’ve tried uninstalling and reinstalling (errors out). And the broken installation can’t update itself, either (errors out). It’s completely borked. Not sure what to do. But I guess this is a good time to see if I can move this stuff to Google Docs, cause I was the only one in the business pushing to stay on Office. Everyone else wants to “use Google.” I might snag a copy of on sale WordPerfect Office to have for offline use and just move the collab stuff to Google Docs. I’m not wiping and reinstalling my system. Hell nah.
  • I've finally gotten Office to update, after an error-filled installation, so maybe that will fix things moving forwards. At the moment, Google Docs is not suitably key bound, so I cannot use it in any productive manner. I don't think other people realize this, but I do a brunt of the productivity stuff so they wouldn't feel this nearly as much as I would. iWorks seems to work well, though, and if it works nicely, I will buy a Mac Mini and use that. I can just convert to Office and upload to Google Drive and share.