This article captures my experiences of running a beta version of Windows 11, the last incarnation of Microsoft’s operating system. I’ve been using the operating system for a week, breaking from my usual consumption of Ubuntu and Arch Linux.
I’ve been exclusively using Linux as my main desktop operating system for the past decade. My previous experiences of Windows always resulted me reverting back to Linux quicker than the time taken to boil an egg. But it’s important not to ignore new developments if only to keep abreast of competition. And variety is the spice of life after all.
I set myself a challenge of using nothing but Windows 11 to see if there’s anything that would warrant me installing the operating system permanently on a machine.
Windows 11 will be free for those with an existing Windows license providing it meets the minimum hardware requirements. The requirements are pretty onerous. For example, Windows 11 will require an 8th-gen Intel Core CPU or higher or a 2nd-gen Ryzen AMD CPU. With older 7th-generation Core processors (and older) eliminated from the upgrade, now may be the time to migrate to Linux. 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage, a DirectX 12-capable GPU and at least a 720p display are also minimums for Windows 11. There are tighter security requirements too. The PC needs a Trusted Platform Module 2.0 (a security coprocessor that’s not present on all PCs).
Installing Windows 11
I have a spare machine meeting the hardware requirements which was pre-supplied with a Windows 10 license.
It’s not possible to install the beta of Windows 11 direct. Instead, I downloaded the Windows 10 ISO from Microsoft’s website, wrote the image to a USB key with Rufus (but not balenaEtcher as I first tried), and then boot from the key.
After installing Windows 10, I could then upgrade to a beta of Windows 11 courtesy of the Windows Insider Program. Following quite a few updates for things like .NET Framework and annoying reboots, the machine was ready to use. Overall, installation was plain sailing with good support for all my hardware. Driver support is definitely a plus point although Linux has made great strides in this department.
Initial impressions of the Desktop
I won’t focus too much on the performance of the Windows 11 desktop. After all, I’m running a beta and things may improve before the official release. But subjectively, the Windows 11 desktop feels less responsive and slower than my heavily customized Linux environments.
I’m reasonably content with the redesign of the Start menu with the desktop sporting a MacOS-style interface. Not to my taste and I really missed the lack of proper customization. The new widgets panel (known as the Windows Dashboard) is a move in the right direction but they are a pale imitation of KDE’s rich widgets.
Here’s an image of the desktop.
The file manager shows that about 62GB of hard disk space is consumed after a fresh installation, although a fair chunk (almost 28GB) is lurking in the Windows.old directory.
There’s also the ability to create separate virtual desktops. Virtual desktops have long been present in Linux. And I never found them to be a significant boon to my productivity. But Windows 11’s implementation is quite impressive.
Windows 11 will offer snap layouts. When you’re working in a bunch of open windows, Windows 11 will let you arrange them in different layouts on the screen, and will save all of those windows in that arrangement.
Some features of Windows 10 are deprecated or removed in Windows 11. But there’s lots of changes that don’t actually improve ease-of-use. For example, to pull up the Task Manger I now need to right click the Start button rather than anywhere on the bottom bar.