Windows 11 new UI, Start menu, and more …

The new Windows 11 user interface and Start menu look very similar to what was originally found in Windows 10X. Microsoft had been simplifying Windows for dual-screen devices, before canceling this project in favor of Windows 11. Visually, the biggest changes you’ll notice can be found along the taskbar. Microsoft has centered the app icons here, cleaned up the tray area, and included a new Start button and menu.

This updated Start menu is a simplified version of what currently exists in Windows 10, without Live Tiles. It includes pinned apps, recent files, and the ability to quickly shut down or restart Windows 11 devices. It’s really a lot more simplified than what exists in Windows 10 today.

If you don’t want the app icons and Start menu centered, there’s an option to move them all back to the left-hand side. Coupled with the dark mode that’s also available, and Windows 11 starts to look like a more refined version of Windows 10 than something dramatically new.

You can move the Windows 11 Start menu to the left side.

Microsoft is also using rounded corners throughout Windows 11. These are visible in context menus, and around apps and the File Explorer. The Start menu itself also includes rounded corners. This is still an early version of Windows 11 that has leaked, so not everything is included yet.

We’re expecting to see more changes to the built-in apps within Windows 11, but most of those don’t appear to be present yet. A large part of the operating system feels finished though, so we’d expect to see a beta of this to arrive shortly for Windows Insiders to test.

Windows 11’s search interface.

The File Explorer in Windows 11.

You may have noticed a new icon in the Windows 11 taskbar, and it’s labeled Widgets in the operating system. Rumors have suggested Microsoft is bringing back Windows Widgets, and this early version appears to include some.

As this is clearly a very early version of Windows 11, the widgets aren’t loading fully in the OS, but they’re designed to slide out and provide quick access to news, weather, and other web content.

Early version of Windows Widgets in Windows 11.

While Microsoft canceled its Windows 10X operating system, the company is clearly reusing large parts of that work with Windows 11. Windows 10X was originally designed for dual-screen devices, before shifting toward traditional laptops and then being canceled. Windows 10X included a number of refined and simplified aspects to Windows, and most of that work is present in this leaked version of Windows 11.

Windows 11 also includes new snap controls that you can access from the maximize button on all apps. They’re modern equivalents of the cascade windows function that has existed in the operating system for years. You can quickly snap windows side by side, or arrange them in sections on your desktop.

The Windows Store interface is largely the same as what exists in Windows 10 right now, with access to all the same apps that are available today.

The existing Windows Store in Windows 11.

Microsoft has reportedly been working on a new app store for Windows in recent months, and rumors suggest it will be a big change from what exists today. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has promised to “unlock greater economic opportunity for developers and creators” with Windows, and that will likely come in the form of a new store.

Microsoft is reportedly overhauling its Windows app store to allow developers to submit any Windows application, including browsers like Chrome or Firefox. Microsoft may also be considering allowing third-party commerce platforms in apps, allowing developers to avoid the cut Microsoft usually takes from in-app purchase systems.

Elsewhere, Microsoft has also included a new setup experience in Windows 11. It’s very similar to Windows 10X, walking users of new hardware or those upgrading to Windows 11 through a set of steps to configure Windows. This out-of-box experience also includes a new Windows 11 startup sound, which then triggers at every boot.

Microsoft is also improving the Xbox experience in Windows 11. The new Xbox app is now integrated into Windows 11, offering quick access to Xbox Game Pass games, the social parts of Xbox network, and the Xbox store. The Xbox Game Bar and Windows Game Mode all remain the same as Windows 10 in this early leaked build.

The new Xbox experience on Windows 11.

The new Xbox app on Windows 11.

Microsoft has been dropping hints that it’s . The software giant is holding a special Windows event to reveal its next OS on June 24th. The event starts at 11AM ET, and the event invite includes a window that creates a shadow with an outline that looks like the number 11.

A journey from an app

Multitasking in Windows has always been a feature that sets it apart from MacOS and Chrome OS. A feature known as “snap assist” lets you snap your apps side by side with a keyboard combination, or hovering the window to a specific side of the screen. Basically, hit Windows key and left, and the app moves to the left. Windows key and right, and it goes right. Or, hover and hold the window right to move that window right and see a suggestion for a window on the left.

That already worked great as it is, and MacOS lacks such a native feature. However, Microsoft took that further with the free Power Toys app in Windows 10, which lets you set “Fancy Zones” for your apps to make multitasking easier. You can create your own zones and grid of apps, set a canvas of apps, adjust the spacing around the grid of apps, and more. It was multitasking on steroids.

Windows 11 builds on that with some new window grouping controls, now native to the operating system, without the need for any apps.

Enter window grouping

Window grouping in Windows 11 is a real killer feature. It’s not as complete as Power Toys, but it is inspired by that app’s ability to tile windows easier. How do you use it? Well, it’s as simple as hovering over the maximize button. No more need to use a keyboard shortcut or even drag your window around. No need to download Power Toys, even.

Once you hover, with any other open apps in the background you’ll see one of six ways that you can tile the window. You can either tile side by size at an even length, side by side with one side bigger, straight down the middle with each being a vertical column, straight down the middle with the middle one being bigger, and other choices. You even can group the windows in a four-square grid, just like the Microsoft Logo.

Why is this so useful and exciting? Well, it’s because a lot of displays on laptops are getting bigger. With manufacturers moving away from 16:9 to the 3:2 aspect ratio, and the 16:10 aspect ratio, which has more room for multitasking, this lets you fit more on your screen at once. Especially for ultra-wide monitors. It’s now even easier to stay in your multitasking workflow.

No Local Sign In For Home Users

On Windows 11 Home, disconnecting the network won’t get you to local accounts anymore

Windows 11 can be setup in two different ways. First using the Standard Windows 11 Home option, then later Windows 11 Pro. During initial setup of Windows 11 Home, you’ii encounter a surprising change: Microsoft forces Home users to sign in with an online Microsoft account in this edition of Windows. Even tricks like disconnecting the network didn’t work. That just leaves you stuck on a screen demanding an internet connection.

Alas, Home users must use an online Microsoft account. At least in this copy, though, things could always change. But if they don’t and you do want a local account, you’ll need to spring for Windows 11 Pro. Most laptops and pre-built computers tend to come with the “Home” edition of Windows, though, so it’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft holds the line.

Windows 11 activation can be done with both a Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 key. That’s an encouraging sign for upgrading users.

New Taskbar Look, With New But Limited Options

Start up Windows 11, and the most obvious change will hit you right away. The Taskbar buttons have moved. Now you’ll find them in the center, evoking a more “mobile OS” look to be generous, or perhaps a Chrome OS and macOS look to be less generous.

As with Windows 10, you’ll find dark theme options in settings along with several preloaded background wallpapers. Overall the new look feels like a bunch of modern polish, as do the new sound effects.

New and Better Windows Snap Options

One thing Windows has always done well is, well, windows. Specifically, the Snap features first introduced in Windows 7. And while the shake-to-minimize feature disappeared with Windows 10, the Snap features actually get improvements in Windows 11.

In Windows 10, if you drag a window to a corner, you’ll get a faint, hard-to-see border that suggests how your window will reshape when you let go. In Windows 11, that changes to a dark border that’s easier to see. It’s a subtle but welcome improvement.

You’ll also find a brand new feature tucked into Windows 11’s maximize buttons. Open a program, whether it’s Chrome (of course I downloaded Chrome) or File Explorer, and right-click on the maximize button. Now you’ll find new snap options with a diagram showing where any window will end up. Click on one, and it moves your window. And, of course, Windows will pop up an option to snap a second window.

The “News and Interests” Widget

Windows 10 just started rolling out a new “News and Interests” widget, but somehow the Windows 11 version looks worse. It’s built-in right out of the starting gate, but in keeping with this “somewhat mobile device” new look, gone are the borders and backgrounds.

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