How do I use Windows 11? A guide to the OS
Windows 11 was launched officially on October 5th, 2021, and it’s the biggest visual overhaul to Windows 10 in years. While it’s been available for a while, it’s not a mandatory update and many PCs don’t support it, so a lot of people will be learning how to use Windows 11 for the next couple of years. For those people, we’re here to help. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about getting to grips with the OS.
Keep in mind that Windows 11 is always evolving, so some things may change over time. Right now, Windows 11 version 22H2 is on the horizon, and that will bring a large number of changes of changes. We’ve accounted for the biggest ones here, but you can click the link above to learn all about the update.
Navigate this article:
- Start menu
- Browsing the web
- Installing apps
- The Settings app
- Included apps
- Using a touchscreen
If you’ve used Windows 10 or other versions, some changes will be apparent as soon as you boot into the desktop. Out of the box, the taskbar icons will be centered instead of on the left side. You can change the taskbar alignment in the Settings app -> Personalization -> Taskbar. The option is under Taskbar behaviors. You’ll also notice a new icon for Windows, in addition to a few new icons next to it.
One of these icons is Search, and you might already be familiar with it from Windows 10. It lets you search your PC and the web for just about anything. The icon with a black and white square is Task View, and it lets you see all of your open apps. You can also hover over the icon to see your desktops, which we’ll get into a bit more later.
Finally, there’s another new icon for widgets, which we’ll also talk about later. In more recent versions, if your taskbar is aligned at the center, the Widgets icon isn’t next to the rest of them, and instead it’s in the bottom left corner. You can remove any of the buttons (except for Start) by going to the Settings app -> Personalization -> Taskbar, and to remove apps, simply right-click them and click Unpin from taskbar.
Over in the right corner of the taskbar, you’ll find a few things. At the very end of the taskbar, there’s an invisible button that lets you see the desktop. When you put your mouse over it, a small black line will appear, so you can use that to know if you’re in the right spot.
Right next to that button is your notification counter along with the time and date. If you click this area, you’ll see a calendar showing the events you’ve added to your Outlook calendar. The calendar shows a full month, though you can collapse using the arrow at the top, so it shows just two weeks. The notifications are listed above the calendar. Apps and websites can send you notifications to alert you to things like messages and events, and if you don’t see them right away, they’re stored here.
Next, there’s a set of three icons – Network, sound, and battery. Clicking this will give you access to the Quick Settings panel. Here, you’ll see sliders for your system volume level and the display brightness, along with a number of quick actions. By default, these are:
- Wi-Fi – Lets you turn Wi-Fi connections on or off. Clicking the arrow lets you see the available networks around you.
- Bluetooth – Lets you turn Bluetooth on or off so you can connect devices like Bluetooth headsets or other peripherals.
- Airplane mode – Disables all wireless connectivity to avoid interfering with airplane communications.
- Battery saver – Lets you enable or disable battery saver mode if you have a laptop. This helps your battery last longer, but certain background tasks are paused and notifications may be slower to arrive. This setting can’t be changed when your laptop is plugged into an outlet.
- Focus Assist – This is the Windows equivalent of do not disturb. Priority only mode lets you get notifications from certain apps you choose, which you can do by right-clicking the icon and choosing Go to Settings. Alarm only mode means you’ll only be disturbed for alarms.
- Accessibility – This gives you quick access to various accessibility tools. These are Magnifier, Color filters, Narrator, Mono audio, and Sticky keys.
You can also customize these Quick Settings using the gear icon at the bottom of the panel to add and remove items to your liking. Also, if you’re playing any media on your PC, you’re going to see playback controls above the Quick Settings panel.
Finally, there’s the overflow menu. You’ll notice it by the OneDrive (cloud) icon that should show up by default, along with the arrow to expand the list. These are icons for certain apps and they serve as quick shortcuts to those apps. What you see here is dependent on the apps you install. In the case of OneDrive, that’s preinstalled with Windows 11, and the icon lets you see quick information about your sync status.
Windows 11 Start menu
The Start menu is at the launchpad for almost everything you do on Windows, and Windows 11 shakes things up significantly. The Start button has a new icon, and clicking it brings you to this view.
As you can see, lots of things are different. Live Tiles are gone, and instead, you get a grid of pinned apps at the top. You can click the All apps button to see a list of all your installed apps. You can right-click an app to pin it or unpin it from the Start menu. If you want to re-arrange your pinned apps, you can simply click (or touch) the app and drag it around. Starting with Windows 11 version 22H2, you can also create folders on the Start menu by dragging one app over the other. We have an extensive guide on how to use Start menu folders in Windows 11, if you’re interested.
At the bottom, a Recommended section shows you your recent files and recently installed apps. You can click the More button to see all recommended items. If you don’t want a particular item to be listed, you can right-click it and choose Remove from list.
The bottom bar of the Start menu contains the user and power menus. Clicking your user name lets you change accounts settings, while the power button lets you shut down or restart your PC. You can also customize certain shortcuts to show up in this bar. To do that, go to the Settings app and head to Personalization -> Start.
Windows 11 Widgets
Another thing that’s brand new in Windows 11 is the new widgets panel. As we mentioned above, you can open it by clicking the icon on the taskbar, and what it does is show you quick glanceable information from apps and services. At the top, you’ll see widgets for things like weather, Microsoft To Do, OneDrive, and things like sports scores. The Widgets button itself can also display some information in the most recent versions of Windows 11. The icon will change to show the current weather and temperature in your location.
You can click the ellipsis icon near the corner of each card to resize or remove it, or use the Add widgets button to add new widgets. Right now, there aren’t a lot of widgets to choose from, but there are a few Microsoft ones. Hopefully, more will be added over time.
Below the widgets, you’ll see news stories related to topics of your interest. If you want to change the topics you’re interested in, you can click your profile picture in the top right corner of the widgets panel. From there, click Manage your news and interests near the bottom of the pop-up that appears. A web browser window will open, allowing you to change your interests.
Microsoft Edge, the web browser
Edge is Microsoft’s web browser for Windows 10 and Windows 11. It’s been around since 2015, but if you haven’t used it in a while, it’s significantly different and much better now. It’s based on the same foundation as Google Chrome, so it should work identically across the web.
The big difference is it will sync your data using your Microsoft account instead of a Google account. Edge is also available on phones, so you can more easily sync your data across different devices.
You shouldn’t have a hard time figuring out the basics if you’ve used any modern browser. The address bar is at the top, along with the usual navigation buttons. You can find everything else you need using the menu near the top right corner.
Click the ellipsis icon to get access to all the major options you might need. Your history, downloads, and favorites (bookmarks) are all there. You can also right-click any of them and click Show in toolbar if you want the buttons to show up next to the address bar without using the menu.
As Edge is based on Chrome, that also means it can now install extensions made for Chrome, including themes. Find any extension you want on the Chrome Web Store and you should be able to install it normally. Of course, you can still install any browser you prefer, including Google Chrome. But you might not have as much of a reason to switch now.
Install apps in Windows 11
There are two main ways you can install apps in Windows 11. You can use the Microsoft Store, where apps are verified by Microsoft, or you can download them using a browser. Microsoft introduced a brand-new store in Windows 11, and it has a radically different look.
Most of the space is taken up by the spotlight section, which highlights popular or recent additions to the Store. You’ll find different categories on the side menu for apps, games, and movies. You can also access your library to find apps you’ve installed before.
To get the apps you want, you can use the search bar at the top to search for them, or just browse the store until you find what you’re looking for. Most of the changes to the Microsoft Store in Windows 11 are actually behind the scenes. Microsoft is making it easier for developers to put their apps on the store, so you may soon see many more apps showing up there. If you can’t find what you want on the store, you can use your browser to look for apps on the web.
The Settings app
If you want to change something about your Windows 11 PC, the Settings app is probably the place to do it. The most important settings you might want to change are here, and in Windows 11, the app has a brand-new design. The side menu gives you access to all the main sections of the app, which are the following:
- System – Change settings related to the display, sound, notifications, power, and recovery, among others.
- Bluetooth & devices – Manage settings for connected devices, including Bluetooth. You can also change settings for your printer or your webcam here.
- Network & internet – Configure your network connections (including Wi-Fi and cellular), along with IP and DNS settings, data usage limits, and more.
- Personalization – Change the look and feel of your PC. This includes themes, backgrounds, colors, the position of your taskbar, and more.
- Apps – Change settings related to apps and optional features you have installed include setting apps as the default for specific actions.
- Accounts – Change settings related to accounts you’ve added on your PC. This includes backing up your apps and settings.
- Time & Language – Settings related to your preferred language, region, and time zones.
- Gaming – Manage settings for Xbox Game Bar, including video recording settings, plus enable or disable game mode.
- Accessibility – Tools for users with special accessibility needs. You can change text size, visual effects, use color filters, captions, and so on.
- Privacy & security – See which apps can access specific information about the user and how data is used. Settings related to security are also here.
- Windows Update – Check for updates for your PC or sign up for the Windows Insider program.
Included apps in Windows 11
Windows 11 comes with a bunch of apps that help you get things done out of the box. These apps include all the basic functionality you’d expect from a PC. These are all the apps that come pre-installed:
- Alarms & Clock – See clocks for different regions, create alarms and timers, and use a stopwatch.
- Calculator – Includes standard, scientific, and graphing calculator modes, plus it also lets you calculate the difference between two dates. It also includes unit conversion for things like volume, length, weight, temperature, energy, and currency.
- Calendar – See a calendar along with events synced using your Microsoft account. You can also add other accounts, like Google, to sync those events. It’s part of the Mail & Calendar app.
- Camera – Take pictures and record video using the camera on your device.
- Clipchamp – Microsoft’s recently-acquired video editing software is far more advanced than what the company offers with the Photos app (see below). It allows for multiple audio and video tracks and exports in up to Full HD. Paid plans offer more features.
- Cortana – Microsoft’s digital voice assistant. It can handle basic requests like searching the web and finding files on your PC. For business users, it has some additional capabilities.
- Feedback Hub – An app where users can send feedback to Microsoft about Windows.
- Family – Manage your Microsoft family settings, such as seeing screen time for you and your children, tweaking parental controls, and locating family members.
- File Explorer – Navigate the files on your local drive or OneDrive.
- Get Help – Find help with common issues in Windows 11
- Get Started – Set up OneDrive backups, change your default browser to Edge, and link your Android phone.
- Mail – Lets you send and receive emails from your Microsoft account and other accounts you want to add to the app. It’s part of the Mail & Calendar app, and accounts you add here will also be added to the Calendar.
- Maps – Standard mapping app, including the ability to get directions, turn-by-turn navigation, and a satellite view of the world. Some cities may also have 3D aerial views.
- Media Player – This modern media player replaces the old Groove Music app, as well as the Movies & TV app for playing locally-stored videos if you want it to.
- Microsoft Edge – Microsoft’s new web browser. It’s based on the same foundation as Google Chrome, so it shares the same basic capabilities, including support for Chrome extensions.
- Microsoft News – Gets news on topics you’re interested in and sources you select.
- Microsoft Solitaire Collection – A collection of card games you can play by yourself.
- Microsoft Store – You can go here to download and install new apps like TikTok. It also has sections for games and movies.
- Microsoft To Do – Create to-do lists, which can be shared with other users. Lists are synced with your Microsoft account and can be accessed on other devices with the app installed.
- Movies & TV – A basic video player that lets you watch videos on your PC, as well as movies and shows purchased from the Microsoft Store.
- Notepad – A basic text editor for taking quick notes
- Office – Shortcuts to web versions of the major Office apps, including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Files are stored on OneDrive and easily accessible from the home page, too.
- OneDrive – Lets you manage your files on OneDrive and sync them to your PC. You can sync your entire OneDrive or only download files as you need them.
- Paint – A basic app for drawing and image editing.
- Photos – A photo and video viewer with basic editing capabilities. You can crop, rotate, and adjust photos, trim videos, or create video projects using your files.
- Phone Link – Connect to an Android phone to see notifications, messages, and photos from it. You can also make calls using the app, and with some phones, you can even project your screen to your PC. This requires the Your Phone Companion/Link to Windows app on your phone
- Settings – Change settings on your PC, including display, sound, power, Bluetooth, and more.
- Snipping – Take screenshots of your screen, a single window, or a specific area of your screen, and edit them as needed. The screenshot too can be launched with the Windows key + Shift + S.
- Sticky Notes – Take notes on your desktop and keep them visible when you need them. Sticky notes can have different colors, and they sync across devices, too. You can see them on your phone with the OneNote app or Microsoft Launcher.
- Tips – Includes tips for using different parts of Windows 11.
- Video Editor – Part of the Photos app. lets you create video projects using photos and videos on your device, as well as add music, text, and some effects.
- Voice Recorder – Record voice clips using your microphone
- Weather – Access detailed weather information for your current location or other cities.
- Windows Security – Security tools like Windows Firewall and other protection settings. Includes virus protection with Microsoft Defender.
- Windows Terminal – A command-line tool that brings together things like Command prompt and Windows PowerShell in the same app.
- Windows Tools – A set of tools for advanced users to manage their device. It also includes things like the Character Map, Power Automate, and older Windows apps.
- Xbox – Buy games and manage your game library, including Xbox Game Pass.
- Xbox game bar – An overlay that can be used in most games to start screen recordings, access Xbox chat, and more. It includes widgets for performance insights and even Spotify integration to listen to music.
Multitasking in Windows 11
Windows 11 has some great multi-tasking tools, and some of them are new even if you’ve already used Windows 10. There are a few key things that make Windows 11 good for multi-tasking.
Windows 10 introduced the concept of virtual desktops in Windows, and now Microsoft just calls them desktops. Desktops let you create separate spaces for different types of apps. For example, you may have a desktop for your games, and one for your work apps. In Windows 11, you can rename the desktops and order them in any way you’d like.
To access your virtual desktops, you can click the Task View button or press Windows key + Tab. Another thing that’s new in Windows 11 is you can hover your mouse over the Task View icon to quickly see your different desktops or to create a new one. That way, you don’t have to bring up the whole task switcher interface.
Snap layouts and groups
Windows 11 lets you easily snap apps next to each other, too. Like in Windows 10, you can drag windows to the sides of the screen to snap them to a specific position. But now, there’s a new feature called Snap layouts. When you hover your mouse over the maximize/restore down button, you’ll see a grid of possible layouts you can choose to automatically snap apps on your screen. This includes some new layouts like seeing three apps side-by-side. When you snap the first app, Windows will guide you to finish the layout with the apps you want.
Once you’ve set up a Snap layout, you can also get back to it quickly if you happen to open another app over it. Hover your mouse over any of the taskbar icons for the apps in your Snap layout, and you’ll see the full Snap group as an option. Click it, and you’ll be back to the layout you were using.
Using dual monitors
Many people like to use two or more monitors to help increase productivity. In the Settings app, you can change how the two displays are laid out relative to each other. Using multiple monitors is nothing new to Windows, but Windows 11 brings some improvements.
Now, when you unplug a monitor, the windows in that monitor are minimized automatically, and when you plug it back in, your windows are restored in the right monitor. It makes multi-tasking much easier.
Using a touchscreen in Windows 11
If you have a tablet with Windows 11, there are some extra things you may want to know about using a touchscreen. The basic things are what you’d expect. Tapping something acts like a left mouse click, while tapping and holding is a right-mouse click. It’s not too far off from using a modern smartphone. However, there are some gestures you might want to know about to make the most of your experience.
For starters, swiping in from the left side of the screen will bring up the Widgets panel, whereas in Windows 10, it opened the Task View. Swiping in from the right still brings up your notifications, but instead of Quick Settings, now you’ll see your calendar. To access your Quick Settings, just tap the group including the Wi-Fi, sound, and battery icons.
Then there are the multi-finger touch gestures, which are brand-new in Windows 11. These gestures are like what you might find on laptops with a Precision touchpad. You can swipe left or right with three fingers to switch to your most recently used app, or swipe down to minimize all the windows. Swiping up with three fingers opens Task View, but if you swipe up after swiping down, you’ll just restore the windows you minimized. Finally, you can swipe left or right with four fingers on the screen to switch between virtual desktops.
Touch gestures in Windows 11 version 22H2
In Windows 11 version 22H2, Microsoft also added a few new touch gestures that make using a touchscreen even easier. You can now swipe up from the taskbar to open the Start menu, or swipe up from the notification area to access the Quick Settings panel. Swiping sideways with three fingers now makes it easier to switch between apps, too, and if you want to use Snap Layouts, you can now drag an app to the top of the screen to have various layouts appear to choose from. We have an extensive guide on using touch gestures in Windows 11 if you want to learn more about the latest gestures available.
That should cover most of the basics of how to use Windows 11. Whether you’re a complete newbie to Windows or you’ve used a previous version, there’s a bit of a learning curve. However, once you get the hang of it, it should feel just like Windows 10, and everything should work as expected.
Do you have any questions about using Windows 11? Let us know in the comments!