Windows 11 hands on: First look at the leaked OS

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Windows 11 is Microsoft’s next operating system. It’s here, it’s real, and we’re using a leaked version of it right now. Our hands-on should provide an early first look at what you can expect in the shipping version: the addition of a mammoth widgets drawer, an updated Windows 10X-like user interface, and more. 

On June 24, Microsoft will host a Windows event, promising “what’s next for Windows.” Microsoft teased the event with a graphic that showed light falling through a window to create a shadow that looked very much like the number 11. The company also set the announcement for 11 a.m. ET. Chief executive Satya Nadella calls it the next generation of Windows. And make no mistake: The leaked version of Windows 11 we used advertises itself as Windows 11 throughout.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft hasn’t yet released Windows 11 officially, either as a public release or as part of the Windows Insider beta program. We also have no idea what development stage our leaked build of Windows 11 represents. We obtained Windows Dev build 21996.1 via a leak from the web, downloaded it, and installed it on a Microsoft Surface Pro 7+. While we don’t have any performance metrics to compare performance before and after installing Windows 11, we can tell you that the experience felt decidedly snappy, though we ran into a few bugs.

Based on our experiences so far, it makes sense to think about Windows 11 as something more than Windows 10, but far less than what we’d consider a “true” next-generation operating system. Microsoft didn’t rip apart Windows 10 and start over. Instead, this is an evolutionary take on Windows 10, as the term “Windows 11” implies.

Windows 11 installation

As you might expect, downloading and installing Windows 11 is a fairly major operation. The ISO itself weighed in at just over 4GB, and the Windows 11 installation process required 20 minutes or so of installation and several reboots. (We ran into trouble installing Windows 11 on a virtual machine, so we formatted the Surface Pro 7+ tablet and installed it from a fresh install of Windows 10 21H1, signed into with a local account. We don’t recommend installing an untested Windows 10 or Windows 11 build from the web.)

microsoft windows 11 install Mark Hachman / IDG

Much of the setup for Windows 11 should be familiar.

What we didn’t see was the jarring “Hi, I’m Cortana!” voice that launches the Windows 10 out-of-the-box (OOBE experience). In fact, the leaked build we tested offered little of the familiar experience at all, including ad preferences. While the OOBE experience may be different with a fresh PC you’ve just purchased, Windows 11 as an upgrade appears to leverage heavily what it already knows about you and your PC. The whole process was accompanied by rather psychedelic screens asking you to keep your PC plugged in, featuring slowly shifting colored backgrounds that slightly suggested a lava lamp.

Microsoft Windows 11 setup large Mark Hachman / IDG

A new font and some new artwork help pass the time during Windows 11 installation.

Windows 11 first impressions

When the process is completed, Windows 11 greets you with your default desktop background, and a small collection of icons grouped together at the center of your taskbar. There’s no introductory welcome screen yet, but clicking the Start menu reveals that Windows Tips has been revamped to help guide you into the new world of Windows 11. Somewhat amusingly, Microsoft Teams showed up right away.

Microsoft windows 11 hero shot large Mark Hachman / IDG

Microsoft has included some stunning desktop wallpapers to back up Windows 11. This is the best by far.

If this all looks familiar, it should. Windows 11 draws heavily from Windows 10X, the simplified version of Windows that leaked back in January and that Microsoft later killed. Like Windows 10X, Windows 11 uses the same cluster of icons at the center of your taskbar, with a Start menu that pops straight up from a new Start logo at the left-hand side. So far, it looks like Microsoft has decided to kill off the Live Tiles that were featured within Windows 10 and move to a straightforward hierarchy of app icons instead.



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