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In Windows 11, Microsoft gives and takes away

In my last column, I discussed the value of large releases as an opportunity to add features, refocus messaging, and strengthen an ecosystem. However, as I noted, what constitutes a major release is a developer’s subjective conversation, with its credibility in the eye of the beholder. While there are some improvements under the hood in Windows 11, Microsoft has focused the first message heavily on Windows’ new look, including looking at some transparency effects that were first tried with Windows Vista. It has also expanded the PC’s software library by integrating support for Android apps (both through the Amazon App Store and page loading).

Although not yet implemented in the first Insider builds, Microsoft has integrated Teams chat into the type of integration games that have been featured on Apple OS updates. Especially when considered in conjunction with Google̵

7;s integration of Meet into Gmail and elsewhere, this helps explain why Apple has finally opened FaceTime calls to other platforms via web clients.

The changes support all of Windows 11’s theme of bringing users closer to the people and things they love. To a lesser extent, so does the streamlining of other visual elements. Foremost among these is the revamped Start menu, which leaves the jarring visual inconsistency of Live Tiles, the long-running attempt to invent icons. In addition, the grid of options revealed when swiped in from the right has been replaced with more differentiated and better organized controls while the left side of the screen hosts sliding widgets in an interface like that used by MacOS Big Sur.

One of the new operating system’s best examples of doubling down on a leading user experience, Windows 11’s enhanced Snap feature builds on the ability to quickly resize and lock windows to half the screen by adding six layouts displayed where a mouse over Maximize button. This feature contrasts with Apple’s enhancement work for multitasking in iPadOS, with Microsoft seeking to further simplify the long-standing challenge of desktop organization chaos in desktop operating systems and Apple seeking to reveal how a windowless operating system can offer more information display flexibility to desktop OSs.

However, in a surprising move for Microsoft, some features have been removed from Windows 11. For example, Task View’s timeline feature, which allows the resumption of applications from any PC, was once announced as a major leap forward in bridging across multiple devices, on any PC. But the feature was confusing and required OneDrive access, which prevented adoption, and then it will not go any further. Furthermore, Microsoft may well have been stymied by not controlling mobile client platforms. One can still manually “squeeze” a work session from a mobile device using Microsoft’s Continue on PC app, and the announcement of Windows 365 provides a future where future work across platforms can provide access to a single work environment across them. Less surprising is the removal of Cortana, from which Microsoft has slowly withdrawn.

Meanwhile, in a less deep but more curious strike, custom options have been removed from the taskbar context menus. It’s not the kind of removal that makes users shake their fists at the sky and shout an extended “Why !?” as an aerial shot zooms out. Discovering them, however, was one of the small revelations in a platform that has always been smart about utilizing context menus; a smidgeon of more consistency does not justify their elimination, so perhaps Microsoft should reconsider or at least introduce more standardized options.


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