Why has Windows been dialled up to 11?

Apologies for using the “dialled” pun – I’m sure it’s been done to death now.

Unless you are in a state of coma, you may well have realized that last week Microsoft broke with their approach of the last six years, and announced a full new major operating system upgrade for Windows – Windows 11. Not long before, a leaked build of the operating system had made its way out onto the internet and was already being aggressively downloaded, installed, salivated over and/or critiqued by masses of techies.

Naturally, I had to jump on the same bandwagon and get a peek at this. It’s been six years since I last got to kick the tyres on an entirely new version of Windows, so it was a real feeling of deja-vu as I installed it and took it for a quick test drive.

It’s immediately clear that Microsoft are angling very much at cosmetic changes, and the OS has been substantially altered on a look-and-feel level – and, well if we’re honest, pretty much MacOS-ified

Let’s take a quick whistle-stop tour. Here’s what the logon screen looks like now, and incidentally, the logon time for a first logon is 93 seconds, which is worse than every other version of Windows 10 apart from the RTM release.

Once you’re logged in, we are confronted with the new default desktop icon, and the big move – the Windows Start button and the pinned Taskbar items have moved to the centre of the screen, rather than the left, breaking with 26 years of consistency since Windows 95. It’s also such a blatant pastiche of the MacOS appearance that I’m left wondering a) why MS feel the need to ape the Apple interface in this way, because it’s pretty much a niche thing, and b) whether Apple might actually consider suing them.

This is the biggest sea-change for me – the “Start Menu” appearing central to your desktop like an app launcher. Because we’re using the leaked version, and henceforth can’t activate it, we are unable to check how it behaves when the screen is spread across two monitors (because we can’t put the taskbar on both screens), but I’d be interested to find out if it opens in the middle of the primary or between them.

You will notice that your Pinned Start Tile items are presented at the top of this new menu (also worth noticing is that in this screen shot, the blank Tiles indicate that they haven’t provisioned yet, which is interesting considering it took over 90 seconds to log on why couldn’t it finish the provisioning process properly?) Underneath that are Recent Items, and if you want to see the full list of apps on the machine (kinda like you could with the Windows 10 Start Menu), you have to click on All Apps in the top right. This is also annoying – Windows 10 offered you a view with Tiles, Recent Items and All Apps in a single view, whereas with Windows 11 you need an additional mouse-click to access the full list of applications. It feels a bit like a backward step.

However, one thing I do like is the changes to the icons for the shell folders and other parts of the UI. I know that Microsoft have been very keen to get away from the Windows 95-era icons that still persist around their OS and these new ones make it look much cleaner and more modern. I do, though, think that this didn’t need a whole new OS release to update – a simple Windows 10 update would have sufficed.

So far – icons good, Start Menu move bad. Getting back to the Start Menu – the more applications you open, the more it shifts towards the edges as the app tabs mount up. However, because the notification area (bottom right) appears not to be counted when it comes to the positioning, what you will find is that the Start Menu appears slightly off-centred anyway, which is annoying. Because we can’t activate, we also can’t test moving the Taskbar around or showing everything in the notification area.

You will also notice that those horrid old UWP apps are still hanging about, so we’ve still got a whole new OS with the worst parts of the previous one attached to it.

Microsoft made a lot of noise about “Teams integration” which made many suggest that it might come pre-installed, but it doesn’t. I had to install it manually along with Office (and you will probably be glad to see Chocolatey works absolutely fine on Windows 11, as did the entire Citrix VDA install process). However, it does seem to be true that Teams is no longer going to be written in Electron, and is apparently going to be written in – Edge.

I still hate the idea that I need an extra click to get into the “All Apps” menu though. Before everything felt like it was available instantly from the Start Menu – app shortcuts, app browsing, search. Now it feels like a two-stage process.

I also really don’t like the way a full-screen Notepad, for instance, seems to merge into the Taskbar without any delineation. It might just be me but it just feels a bit confusing to not see a proper demarcation between application and the underlying OS launcher.

From a UI perspective, though, that seems to cover it. The Start Menu’s move is the major thing, and it just feels a bit daft to position it slap bang in the middle of your work area when you’ve gotten used to it being a little discreet by opening docked to the left. The icon spruce-up I’m a big fan of, however, but I don’t see why it needed to go hand-in-hand with changing the primary user interface to their apps. It seems Microsoft didn’t learn a lot from Windows 8 and the brouhaha that followed.

You may have also noticed a lot of chatter on social media about App-V not working on Windows 11 – but that’s not true. The leaked version doesn’t support App-V, but the proper Enterprise or Education versions will, so anyone with big App-V investments can stop panicking already 🙂

Under the hood, though, there’s a lot more concern about the requirements for Windows 11 on a hardware level. Microsoft have now made it a requirement for Trusted Platform Module 2.0 to be enabled (which is likely to force an entire generation of users into their BIOS for the first time to try and turn it on), and also for a 64-bit dual-core CPU that is 1Ghz or greater. The official support appears to be 8th Gen and newer Intel Core processors, AMD Ryzen 2000 and newer processors, and 2nd Gen or newer Epyc processors. The official list is below, and Microsoft are saying that this is a specific requirement, but users in the community have already reported installing on older processors without issue, so apparently a blog post is forthcoming providing more details.

  • Intel 8th Gen (Coffee Lake)
  • Intel 9th Gen (Coffee Lake Refresh)
  • Intel 10th Gen (Comet Lake)
  • Intel 10th Gen (Ice Lake)
  • Intel 11th Gen (Rocket Lake)
  • Intel 11th Gen (Tiger Lake)
  • Intel Xeon Skylake-SP
  • Intel Xeon Cascade Lake-SP
  • Intel Xeon Cooper Lake-SP
  • Intel Xeon Ice Lake-SP
  • AMD Ryzen 2000
  • AMD Ryzen 3000
  • AMD Ryzen 4000
  • AMD Ryzen 5000
  • AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2000
  • AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3000
  • AMD Ryzen Threadripper Pro 3000
  • AMD EPYC 2nd Gen
  • AMD EPYC 3rd Gen

I can understand Microsoft forcing the TPM requirement in order to try and improve security and reduce the threat of ransomware, although their communication around it has been poor. Many users simply need to turn it on in their BIOS but it would have been better had Microsoft communicated this more clearly. Indeed, I was wondering myself for a few minutes why my £2200 18-month old workstation seemed unable to meet the specs for Windows 11 🙂

Performance-wise, it’s too early to tell, really, but it does seem to continue the modern traditions of software by being particularly heavy on CPU and memory. The inflated logon time also continues with the upward curve – and the base profile for a user spits out at nearly 400MB now (that’s before Office or Teams were installed). As we move through the years, software simply becomes more bloated and resource-hungry, and Windows 11 seems to be no different.

But for me, the hardware requirements and interface design changes are simply peripheral to the wider debate. Why did Microsoft need to come out with a “Windows 11” at all?

When Windows 10 first arrived, and we were told that we could potentially be looking at three or four full OS upgrades per year, I was initially quite alarmed. Let’s not forget, prior to this, OS upgrades had been very non-trivial in the enterprise. I could remember huge, painful projects upgrading to Windows 2000 Pro, Windows XP (several iterations), Vista, Windows 7, and the abomination of Windows 8 and 8.1. Hearing Microsoft suggest that they might issue full OS upgrades several times every year had a lot of us in a panic.

Microsoft did a good job of dialling this down, so that enterprises could defer them to maybe once a year (or even longer if you were daft enough to consider LTSC), but also, they did an excellent job of making the evolution of Windows 10 pretty painless and exactly that – an evolution, not a sudden change that users would struggle with. This fits nicely in with the paradigm that all mobile app developers now follow – change things slowly, incrementally and unintrusively. If you look at Windows 10 RTM and compare it with Windows 10 21H1, they are markedly different operating systems – but because those changes have been slowly introduced over time, the users have adapted naturally to the modifications. Microsoft have been pushing this continuous development model very hard into Office and Teams, for instance, and they have made odd mistakes – but then backed them out and introduced them in more sensible ways. I felt very happy that this same process was being applied to Windows itself. There have been occasional screw-ups with Windows 10 releases, but nothing that has caused huge enterprise disruption. The various channels from Insider onwards have allowed companies to stagger their approaches and fit them into their existing operational processes. Despite all my misgivings at the start, I have to give Microsoft huge credit for managing to produce a slowly-evolving Windows operating system model that hasn’t caused any big issues and also allowed the users to remain productive, even when faced with ongoing change.

So why move away from this now? Why all of a sudden are we going back to the big-bang, new-OS, huge project approach? Is Windows 11 really just Windows 10 SP1 and all of these announcements are just marketing spiel covering for a UI refresh? Or does the change in hardware requirements along with the disruption to the user interface mean that this has to be a “proper” old-school OS upgrade because they’re expecting issues?

I just don’t get it. From the needless moving of the Start Menu into the middle of the screen to ape MacOS, to the sudden move away from a tried-and-tested continuous development model that has become well embedded into enterprises both large and small, it just seems like change for the sake of change. Really, the only thing that Microsoft needed to do was refresh the tired old icon sets, and that could easily have been factored into a Windows 10 release. I just don’t seem to understand why they needed to do this. No doubt they had their reasons, but I’m struggling to see them. If they’d gone a bit further, like fully getting rid of UWP and building in App Attach for instance, then I could maybe see why this would be trumpeted as a “proper” new release – but it just seems really light on substance to justify the change.

And at the end of the day, it’s all down to the users to drive acceptance of this. I know two users who have used Windows 10 for their entire lives – that would be my two sons. So I fired up some Windows 11 VDI instances and asked them to try it for a day, before giving me a one-sentence summation of the experience.

Son number one’s response “it looks like a Mac and I hate Macs” (very much his father’s son, utterly polarized)

Son number two’s response “what’s the point of it?

I think that both of those responses sum it up. It seems like change without very much point other than to court Mac users who would never touch Windows even if it was identical to MacOS. On the hardware side, I totally agree with beefing up security, but in the area where it really matters to users – the actual interaction with the interface – then young Jake seems to have summed it up….it’s a net negative.

Naturally, of course, I was wrong with my reservations about the implementation of Windows 10, so it’s possible I could be wrong here too. Let’s hope as it moves nearer to release there are some developments that make it look a bit less pointless.

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2 comments

  1. James, you (and others) state ‘Because we can’t activate’, well…. I have two instances installed and both are activated. One through enrolling it in Azure AD (activated as Windows 11 Enterprise) and one through a Windows 7 Ultimate key I had laying around (activated as Windows 11 Pro).

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