Windows 11 on the laptop in the test: Problem-free installation, few special features, goodbye tiles
Windows 11 has been officially final since the evening of October 4, 2021. A good opportunity to do a practical test and migrate a Windows 10 notebook to the finished successor, more precisely to Windows 11 version 21H2 build 22000.194. A not quite so up-to-date Fujitsu Lifebook U729 was used as the test device, which was migrated to Windows 11 from everyday work.
During the test, the first minor update was also released, so the build was increased to version 258. In advance: Differences were not noticeable in practice. That is hardly to be expected a few days after the official release anyway.
About the test device: Despite its age, its performance is on a good level. The Core i5-8365U (vPro SKU) currently only has access to 8 GB of RAM, but a fast NVMe SSD has been sufficient for regular work. Both under Windows 10 and now under Windows 11. The memory upgrade was not necessary in any case, even though the corresponding RAM bar was actually ready. In return, the device's configuration includes a few special features: As project business hardware, it does not have a camera and microphone. In return, a scanner for the palm veins is installed (Palmsecure) and there is a cellular modem. On the connectivity side, the system is also well equipped having a large HDMI jack and an RJ45 port. Thanks to docking capability, there are more ports that are routed to the outside and had to prove themselves under Windows 11.
That is definitely a challenge for an operating system, especially since, for example, the login via Vein Scanner is not comparable with the speed of an otherwise usual Windows Hello login and the integration by Fujitsu in Windows is not exactly smooth.
Due to these special features, however, major changes under Windows, for example in the driver model, should be quickly recognizable. In case of bigger problems, this could have shown well by malfunctions or even failures on this device. The good thing in advance: There were no such problems during the change, which surprised us a bit. From a system maintenance perspective, it felt like any other Windows update. Only the installation took a bit longer than usual. It took a little over an hour after a successful download.
However, there were no improvements to the integration of special hardware either. The best example is the vein scanner. Its interface is so slow that during the check, the hand can be removed before the result is displayed. But first, let's go into the obvious innovations.
Start menu in the center can slide to the left
The most striking innovation is certainly the start menu. It is now in the center. But it doesn't have to be. If you want, you can simply place it on the left side. However, the orientation of the start menu is a taskbar option. What is no longer possible is moving the entire bar, for example upwards.
However, the function has not disappeared. Like so many things in Windows, there is a registry key for it. Since Microsoft doesn't support movement to the top, left or right position anymore, this could lead to problems when Microsoft updates something. It can be assumed that this will no longer be tested if new taskbar functions are added.
Somewhat annoying is the missing possibility to open the Task Manager via the context click on the taskbar. This isn't that important for end users, but it annoyed us. Some habits are difficult to get rid of.
Another feature has disappeared with the new Start menu. The interactive tiles that Windows 8 brought and lived on less dominantly in Windows 10. The task is now taken over in parts by the widgets. In the taskbar, it is the fourth icon. This again reminds us a bit of the widgets called Gadgets in Windows Vista or the Sideshow function, which needed special hardware with a secondary display in the notebook back then.
Windows 11 widgets are quickly explained. Smaller blocks of information can be easily placed there. From weather to stocks to news recommendations, a lot can be found there. The concept is basically a continuation of the tiles and is now known from numerous operating systems. By the way, the widgets need an Internet connection. The information is stored temporarily, but the widgets are gone after restarting the operating system. Then there is an error message as long as no new Internet connection has been established. This also applies to weather information, Windows tips or the todo list. These widgets simply do not start.
The easiest way to access the widgets is via the taskbar. Alternatively, the new key combination Windows+W is available. Microsoft has listed all key combinations for Windows 11 in a support article. It's worth taking a look, since quite a few things have changed.
A little more help wouldn't hurt the switcher
Somewhat annoying after the upgrade to Windows 11 is that the user is left somewhat alone. There is hardly any information about innovations that are not exactly obvious. This information is rather found on support pages from Microsoft - online. Even Windows 11 tools, such as the Get Started section for the introduction, absolutely need an Internet connection. If you're on the go, that's not enough. However, the support page only tells the user that there is now an update or Edge is part of the system anyway. Pretty useless. Only the Tips app provides more information. However, this is only possible via an Internet connection.
More noticeable as a new feature are a few advertising links that appear somewhat prominently in the Start menu. Besides the own LinkedIn service, these are Instagram and Tiktok. That is a bit out of place on a Windows 11 Pro license on a notebook. But such things don't really need to be there on a home license either. Especially since Tiktok and Instagram are not necessarily services that are predestined for notebooks.
After the installation, it is recommended to first spend a few minutes cleaning up to remove the unwanted new features.
Explorer becomes a bit more colorful and simplifies window arrangements via snap layout
An interesting new feature is the possibility to determine the arrangement of multiple windows via the full-screen icon in the upper right corner. This can be done either by hovering the mouse over the icon or by context-clicking on a mouse or pen. However, the joy is quickly clouded.
On the one hand, one may well ask why this was not a separate icon and on the other hand, why this does not work with all windows. Discord as an Electron app, for example, does not allow the new function. However, this is not due to Discord. According to Microsoft, Snap Layout works with Electron version 13 and higher.
Such small incompatibilities can certainly occur, especially if, for example, the title bar was heavily modified in development. But then the new function is only missing and there are no errors.
The Explorer file manager has a slightly modified layout. The look seems relatively low-contrast in the icon area, especially when nothing is selected. The old ribbon interface was more recognizable here. But this is probably a matter of getting used to it. Compared to alternative file managers, such as Salamander or Total Commander, Explorer still offers very little. Even renaming multiple files is still illogical. If two files are marked and then "Rename" is selected via the context menu, only one file is put into edit mode. Only after pressing the Enter key, both files are then provided with a number in brackets.
Teams is now part of Windows 11
One or the other might be irritated by the integration of Microsoft Teams parallel to Skype. The conferencing software was particularly successful during the pandemic. Microsoft is presenting a fait accompli here, which will certainly not please one or the other competitor.
Interestingly, the migration to Windows 11 does not replace an existing Teams installation. Instead, there are now two instances of Teams, which can even be used in parallel. Microsoft can thus distribute Teams well even in private scenarios. Teams can send a message to a non-participant simply via the email address. However, the content of the chat message is not sent. Instead, there is a request for the recipient to sign up for Teams.
Incidentally, the chat icon (fifth icon), which is prominently located on the taskbar and also uses the name Chat, does the same thing. However, if the user searches for an application named Chat in the Start menu, it is not found.
The two Teams programs are quite different. While the old desktop Teams version reports itself with the version number 1.4.00.26376 from October 11, 2021, the integrated version is from October 15 and reports itself as version 21253.510.996.1465. The Windows 11 version looks a bit slimmed down at first glance, which can also be seen in the settings options.
Teams or Chat cannot be removed, by the way. Instead, there is the option to deactivate Teams as an icon in the taskbar in the system settings under Personalization. The widgets and Task View for virtual desktops can also be disabled as icons there. This shows how important the Teams integration in Windows is to Microsoft.
Since listing all the new features is beyond the scope of this article, we refer here to Microsoft's official list.
Small equipment problems
Unfortunately, no improvements of existing functions come along with the cleaned up control panel, at least that is the impression we had. The behavior of Bluetooth, for example, was striking. A Plantronics headset was - if you believe Windows 11 - connected to three devices at the same time: an iPhone, the test device and the Surface Go.
However, the headset's pairing mode actually disconnected it from Windows 11. However, the operating system, or more precisely, the settings dialogs, did not notice that. The headset's charge level was also initially stated at 70 percent. However, that was the status from a few weeks ago. Only after a few clicks back and forth, after resuming the connection, did the value update to 100 percent.
The display concept is still questionable anyway. Windows 11 still displays battery capacities of devices that are paired but not connected to the operating system.
Actually, the system settings would need a reload button, as known from browsers. As a workaround, however, it is enough to move a bit back and forth in the system settings so that the data, such as used data quota in the network, updates itself. There are still some bugs here.
This was also annoying with the WWAN module. After activating the roaming mode to connect to a foreign mobile network, the system did not want to find a network. This is a problem that we already know from Windows 10. As in Windows 10, this could only be solved with a restart in Windows 11.
It is also unfortunate that Windows 11 does not offer a comfortable solution for captive portals in company WLAN environments. Anyone who is often on the road and logs into hotel WLANs knows this: A login is required first. Other operating systems call up a slimmed-down browser window here. Windows 11 still requires interaction by calling up a dialog for logging in, in the tray menu.
Usability increases a little
These are some examples where Microsoft added a nice feature, but then didn't go through necessary scenarios. It all looks a bit fancier, but it only helps usability to a limited extent if the underlying problems are not solved.
Nevertheless, managing Bluetooth, devices and network connections has become a bit easier. Another new feature is the arrangement of devices as a clearly visible tile in the individual areas of the system settings. Such a tile then offers a prominent button for connecting a headset, for example.
The network settings are also much tidier now. It remains problematic that the system settings do not always allow you to go back via the return button. If you look at the details of the WLAN connection from the network overview and then use the back arrow, you will end up in the advanced settings and not in the overview where you originally came from.
In general, the system settings have become clearer. This is also due to the reduction of various explanatory texts with links to explanatory websites. The microphone settings can be mentioned as an example. In Windows 10, there are three text paragraphs and two headlines before the settings, which also cannot use the full window width.
Under Windows 11, the enlargement of the windows helps to display the texts more compactly and to get to the settings immediately. The whole thing is somewhat reminiscent of Responsive Web Design and was a good decision on Microsoft's part. It is not too bad about the reduced texts. They are - if at all - usually only read once anyway.
It is also nice that the privacy settings for the microphone no longer distinguish between Store apps and non-Store apps, but rather that this can be found in a list. However, it remains the case that you can only deny "desktop apps" access to the microphone across the board.
So, there are some minor usability improvements. This also applies to the new Quick Settings area in the Tray Notification Area (TNA, sometimes also called Quicktray, modern naming: Taskbar Corner Icons and Overflow Area). The most important settings can be accessed quickly and are no longer as cluttered as in Windows 10.
If an application uses the microphone, it is now more prominently visible because it is now colored blue. The old logo could quickly be overlooked, especially since it was not always visible because it joined the folded other TNA icons. During the test under Windows 11, the indication of an active microphone was always visible. In addition, the icon could not be assigned to the overflow area of the taskbar corner in the system settings.
Multimonitoring, printer and Windows Update
Using multiple, complex monitor setups has become somewhat more convenient. The strange gaps in virtual mapping that still existed in Windows 10 have disappeared. However, inactive monitors, for example, are still difficult to recognize as such because the graphics unit can only address a limited number at the same time. Annoying: If one monitor is activated and another is deactivated, the assignment is jumbled up.
The problems with USB printers are currently receiving a lot of attention. However, since we worked with a network printer in our scenario, there were no problems here. The printer was also taken over by Windows 10 without any problems.
We were only surprised that the test page was unchanged. Only the printer driver version number indicated that Windows 11 had issued the print job. Like the operating system, it reported with the number 22000 (10.0.22000.100).
There are also no major changes in the Windows update. Furthermore, it is hardly explained to the user what actually happens with the updates. The concept of the knowledge base articles may be practicable for the administration, but the end user can rarely do anything with it. The opportunity to finally rethink the concept was not taken.
A good example is the Fujitsu Extension 126.96.36.199, which our notebook got as an offer. What this extension does, could not be found out via Windows Update. After the installation there was no entry in the update history.
There is still an error there regarding the feature updates. Windows 10 21H1 was listed as the last feature update. The link to further information correctly points to new features of Windows 11.
Opportunity to standardize settings missed
Anyone who deals with Windows a bit more thoroughly is sometimes annoyed by the distribution of various settings. Over the years, more and more of them have been added. The best known are System Preferences, Control Panel and Computer Management (Microsoft Management Console). Sometimes you also have to go to the Device Manager or even more exotic areas of the system. However, only the System Preferences area has been thoroughly overhauled for Windows 11. The rest looks almost the same as before.
The project to finally abolish the control panel has been postponed again, so we don't want to dwell too much on that. However, Microsoft has made some changes to the old control panel. The icons have been replaced. This also shows that some users still have to go there and that the control panel will probably remain for a while.
Old problems from the past remain with Windows 11, and there are still plenty of them. The old tabbed windows have become fewer in the last few years. However, they are still prominent in the network area and the Explorer's file properties still use them.
Microsoft has made no effort at all with system-related tools, such as computer management. Admittedly, this is rather something for experienced users, but a discreet facelift wouldn't hurt here either. Classic Windows quirks, such as the fact that the settings window of the computer administration blocks the entries in the computer administration, also still exist. The Windows NT admin at least continues to feel comfortable here.
Speaking of Admin. Computer management and device manager can be started as usual with standard rights. However, if you enter the area where admin rights are required, these tools still do not have the option to obtain higher rights. Windows itself has had such buttons, with a shield symbol, since Windows Vista. And Microsoft has been aware of the problem for a long time, as the Windows X menu proves. There the Powershell is also listed with an Admin entry. By the way, the Powershell is now called Terminal.
The computer management and the device manager, however, are missing this. Disk Management, as a sub-item of Computer Management, cannot even be started unless you know the appropriate shortcut (CTRL+SHIFT+click), which gives you higher rights via User Account Control. These are not Windows 11 problems per se, but old problems that Microsoft has simply not eliminated with the new update.
The Mobility Center lives and blocks settings
Many of these components without revision can be found as usual via the Windows+X key combination. Including the long obsolete Windows Mobility Center, which could have been removed years ago and can only be seen on notebooks.
In fact, you have to be downright careful with this. This concerns the battery settings of the Mobility Center. If you deviate from the default setting there, you can't change the power mode in the system settings afterwards. Windows distinguishes between Power Plan (Mobility Center and system controls) and Power Mode (system settings).
If you want to annoy other notebook users, you can change the Power Plan, which blocks the system settings. There you get a nice facepalm event. On the one hand, there is a warning and on the other hand, there is a solution with proper detours.
Instead of using a link to access the control panel, the user is redirected to the explanation in a support article on the Microsoft website. The explanation for Windows 10 is then shown. Microsoft has forgotten the HTML anchor to the Windows 11 explanation in the link.
Numerous small tools, such as the drawing table, also appear as if from another time. On the other hand, such tools show how compact Windows once was, in times when 17-inch monitors were already a luxury. Modern operating systems, on the other hand, are quite "airy".
Windows 11 cannot be installed even on some modern devices
While the two test computers Lifebook U729 and Esprimo Q558 are young enough to install Windows 11, it could not be installed on the first-generation Surface Go. At least officially, the installation is not allowed due to the unsupported processor. Semi-modern devices, like the Surface Go, might be marginal cases since they are not particularly high performance either. Nevertheless, the limit that Microsoft sets here seems very artificial. Especially since other requirements are much too low. In any case, 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of system storage are ridiculously low and certainly not a recommendation for productive everyday use. The CPU requirements on the other hand seem exaggerated.
This is remarkable in several ways. Firstly, it is a Microsoft device and secondly, there was also a business variant with a cellular modem. All other requirements were met by the Microsoft tablet, by the way. If you want to test it yourself, you can install the tool "WhynotWin11", which clearly informs about problems. Microsoft's PC Health Check app basically does the same, but confused us more with "functionless features".
For example, the Health Check app has a battery capacity function, but it only gives trivial information (batteries age) and links to a website that gives tips for conserving the battery. We would have expected detailed information about the battery's cycles and remaining capacity. Especially since such a function is even available in Windows via the command line with powercfg /batteryreport. It almost goes without saying that the battery report is not part of the system settings under the energy settings.
Windows 11 on Surface Go with registry entry
To try out possible effects, we also installed Windows 11 on the first-generation Surface Go at the end of the test and then continued working with it. The registry entry is done quickly and is not a real hurdle.
However, the registry entry does not simply unlock the new version via Windows Update. The warning remained in our test. The installation wizard also ignored the registry entry. The installation only worked with the downloaded ISO image. An installation medium did not have to be created. It was sufficient to mount the image and then start the installation routine.
There is also another warning here, but it can be easily clicked away in the end. Thanks to the downloaded image, the installation was completed in roughly two hours despite the weak hardware. There was only one problem during the installation process. Apparently, an update was downloaded right away, since the fresh installation reported itself with the build number 22000.258
The image itself reports a file date of September 13, 2021, which is probably the release-to-manufacturing date because Microsoft even delivered hardware with Windows 11 on time with the Surface Go 3.
In fact, the installation routine had taken a comparatively long time for updates before the installation. This is certainly also due to the Pentium Gold 4415Y of the Surface Go. This is not an Atom-based processor, but it is a heavily slowed down Kaby-Lake architecture so that it can be cooled passively. However, the system is not much fun. The Kaby Lake processor causes slowdowns again and again. Interestingly, this type of processor does not feel that slow under macOS X.
There were hardly any problems with the image and the general operating system. Even updates were offered via Windows Update. However, strange difficulties related to tablet operation showed up on the Surface Go. Text fields tapped with the stylus did not initially cause the virtual keyboard to pop up for finger input. The correct setting for what happens when the keyboard is not connected was missing. However, this was easy to fix.
Most problems were with the handwriting recognition. It could not be activated at all in some cases. It only worked in text fields on the third day. On the fourth day with the Surface Go, the handwriting fields of the operating system did not work again. We could not find out why this is the case.
In the end, it is hard to criticize Microsoft here that details do not work, since Microsoft warned before the installation. Criticism is nevertheless appropriate because the company no longer supports a fairly new device, which is already an unusual case. The Surface Go should probably stay on Windows 10.
Windows 10 will remain for a while
However, Microsoft's customers still have plenty of time to think about the migration to Windows 11. Microsoft's lifecycle for Windows 10 ends, as long announced, only in October 2025, i.e. in four years. For desktop hardware, that's close. Even a few years old desktop computers should still be fit enough to remain in use in 2025.
It's a different story for notebooks that tend to be weaker. Until the end of 2025, many will at least think about a battery replacement. The lighter devices do not necessarily have the performance reserves in GPU and CPU to be used without restrictions until 2025. At worst, the RAM is soldered and the SSD is hardly accessible. On top of that, notebooks are also used on the go, which means increased wear and tear.
These are all factors that at least reduce the probability that a device that is three years old today will still be in use in 2025. The Surface Go mentioned here will probably not make it. It already shows slight difficulties under Windows 10. A notebook that was sold a few generations before our Lifebook review sample, on the other hand, would most likely still be good usable hardware in 2025. It would be a pity for such cases.
Should Windows 11 be installed now? In our scenario with a business notebook, at least nothing spoke against it. However, there was also nothing in favor of it. Microsoft is far from a fresh start, as Vista, 8 or 10 did. Windows 11 is nothing more than a Second Edition of Windows 10, a bit more than the feature updates or service packs of yesteryear, but not an operating system that really feels new. At least not if you look slightly deeper.
A few usability improvements here and there don't justify a migration or even a new installation. Especially since we are assuming a notebook scenario here and not a gaming machine.
The changes in the system settings are nice in any case. Explorer is, as usual, quite a matter of taste, even with its updates. The fact that Microsoft disguises many locations here is annoying after all. The Start menu as a particularly noticeable change is also a matter of taste. Hardly anything has changed in the basic concept inside. The tiles have disappeared instead. The new menu did not bother us during the test. We even left it in the center on two of three computers.
The decisive factor for Windows 11 is currently rather one's own curiosity. Our single case study shows that the installation of Windows 11 is quite feasible without problems. But: Your mileage may vary, as they say in English. The experiences with the Lifebook (and to a limited extent with the Esprimo) don't have to be transferred to other devices.
Especially notebooks with an AMD processor in the core should not be updated for now, because there are still problems. This mainly concerns games, but some applications can also run slower under Windows 11, as AMD itself warns. It is better to wait and see.
The same applies to unsupported devices. The experiences with the Surface Go in tablet mode were particularly annoying. However, there were hardly any general restrictions. Nevertheless, the use on such devices should be considered carefully. We would currently advise against it here.
Microsoft's strategy to increase the requirements, especially for the processor and TPM, should help the company to avoid major support issues. To what extent Windows 11 installations will really be excluded from support when these hurdles are bypassed remains to be seen. In any case, the Surface Go is currently getting updates.
Overall, Windows 11 is not an operating system with an "aha" effect that you should necessarily install right away. There is no must-have feature, at least for notebook users. However, if you can't curb your curiosity, you can definitely have a go at Windows 11 already. As always, don't forget to make a backup when migrating.