Windows 11 features already in preview: Everything you can try right now
Windows 11 isn’t here yet, but soon you’ll be seeing it show up on laptops and PCs all over. Now that Microsoft has released the first Windows 11 build for Windows Insiders, there are a lot of things to check out. New design elements, apps, and features are already here. Plus, many of the features that were available under the Windows 10 name are also Windows 11 features.
Here’s the thing, Microsoft has been testing these builds with Insiders for quite some time, before it announced Windows 11. Because of that, the builds released to Insiders were labeled as Windows 10. However, these are still Windows 11 features, and now we have a Windows 11 build, that becomes a little clearer. Let’s get into everything that’s new.
Navigate this article:
- New design elements
- New Settings app
- New Microsoft Store
- New and updated apps
- Display improvements
- Multitasking improvements
- x64 emulation on ARM
- Keyboard and input
- Windows Subsystem for Linux
- Other new features
New design elements in Windows 11
It may not be the first thing you notice, but it shouldn’t take long to see that almost every corner in the Windows UI has been changed to a round corner. It’s not a major change when you think about it, but it looks much more welcoming and just attractive when you look at it. Some apps have also been updated with these elements, like the Calculator, Mail, and Calendar apps.
New taskbar and start menu
This will probably be the first thing you notice, but Windows 11 has a new taskbar and Start menu, and the differences are immediately noticeable. The taskbar icons are now centered by default and a few of them are new, including the Windows logo, Search, Task View, and the all-new Widgets button — more on that later.
Once you open the Start menu, more changes come to light. The Start menu UI now floats above the taskbar with its rounded corners, and Live Tiles are gone. You have pinned apps at the top of the Start menu, with a link to the All Apps list. Below that, you have suggested documents and apps based on what you used or installed recently.
The taskbar has even more changes though. Clicking the system tray icon area will show you a new flyout for quick controls like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth toggles, volume, and brightness. You also get playback controls for whatever media is playing on your PC.
Something similar happens if you click the time and date on the taskbar. There’s a new calendar flyout with a cleaner look, and your notifications show up above that. You can also see how these elements are detached from each other instead of being a single tall rectangle.
If you have multiple input languages, you’ll also notice a new language switcher interface, falling in line with the rest of the elements on the taskbar.
File Explorer has also finally received a facelift in Windows 11, after looking almost the same for over 10 years. The biggest change is the top of the window, where the ribbon has made way for a cleaner command bar to take actions on files.
There are also many new icons for folders, including the default system folders like Downloads, Desktop, and Documents. These are now very colorful, making the UI that much more lively.
Outside of File Explorer, some system apps also have new icons, like Windows Security, Notepad, Task Manager, Narrator, the Microsoft Store, and so on. There’s also a tweaked icon in the notification area for when an app is using your location, if you ever notice that.
In addition to icons, Microsoft is also introducing a new font with Windows 11, and that’s already in preview, too. It’s called Segoe UI Variable, and the big change is in the name. This new font scales better for displays with high DPI, which the old Segoe UI font didn’t account for.
Microsoft has tweaked a lot of the default Windows sounds to create a more pleasant and calm experience. This includes everything from notifications to system interactions, like when you adjust the volume on your PC using your mouse. You’ll also hear the return of the Windows startup sound, which will play whenever you start the computer.
New Windows 11 themes
Windows themes aren’t really new, but Windows 11 of course includes its fair share of new ones. There are new backgrounds using colors and shapes in unique ways, and others depicting landscapes. Themes change your background as well as your theme and accent color, but you can still change them individually after the fact. There are also new contrast themes for users with visual impairments.
New Lock screen
The Lock screen has also had its design tweaked. The time and date are now centered, as well as any notifications you might have set on it. For devices with an accelerometer, you’ll also notice a parallax effect for the background.
Windows 11 Widgets
A big new feature in Windows 11 is the new Widgets panel, and you can think of it as a mix between Live Tiles from the Start menu and the News and Interests feature that was rolled out to Windows 10 earlier this year. There are widgets for apps like Weather, Calendar, and Microsoft To Do, but you also get quick access to news from MSN. More widgets have been added over time, such as Family Safety and Microsoft 365 widgets.
New Settings app in Windows 11
The Settings app has been given a huge makeover with Windows 11, and it looks much nicer than before. Instead of using a mostly flat color, the app now uses a slightly translucent background that reflects the color of whatever is behind it. Every section now has a colorful icon, and there’s no landing page with huge buttons for each section.
You can immediately see every section, and the first one is open by default. At the top of each section, the most relevant settings are made easily accessible, with the various remaining settings below them.
Microsoft has also cleaned up the top-level menu. The Phone settings page has been merged into the Bluetooth & Devices page, while privacy and security settings have merged into a single page, with Windows Update becoming its own page.
Some settings have also been moved around, such as activation, troubleshoot, and recovery settings now being under System, rather than Windows Update. The Typing page has been from the Devices section to Time & Language. Then there are numerous changes in each section of the app.
The System section has quite a few changes:
- The Power & Sleep and Battery pages have been merged into Power & Battery, and there’s a new look with graphs showing recent battery usage and charging status.
- The Notifications page has been simplified to make controls for each app more easily accessible.
- The graphics settings in the Display page can now automatically populate the list of apps to set to run on a specific GPU, though you can still add more manually. For PCs with multiple GPUs, you can also set one GPU to be the default high-performance GPU.
- The Sound page has also been redesigned with a cleaner look and easier access to more settings. More options have also been brought over from the Control Panel to the Settings app, including the ability to set a device as default.
- You’ll now find the Nearby sharing page in this section.
The Storage page also has many improvements. Disk management has been integrated into the Settings app, as has the Storage Spaces feature. These let you manage the drives connected to your PC, as well as create pools of storage across different drives.
Other improvements here include reliability warnings for SSDs. When Windows detects that one of your drives is at risk of failing, you’ll get a warning notification so you can replace the drive before losing your data. Meanwhile, disk optimization is still separate from the Settings app, but Microsoft has added a new Advanced view that lets you see additional drives.
Bluetooth & devices
The most noticeable change under this section is what Microsoft calls hero control. You’ll immediately be able to see connected devices and their battery level (if supported) and disconnect or remove them immediately.
There’s also a new Camera settings page. This lets you adjust the brightness and contrast of your camera, which can help you be more visible during video calls.
Network & Internet
This section also has many changes in Windows 11, starting with a hero control that gives you quick access to your network properties and data usage. The data usage page has been updated to show both the overall data usage and the statistics per app, and you can now set a data limit without turning your network into a metered network. For Wi-Fi, you can now see the list of available connections in the Settings app as well as the network flyout.
Another big change is the ability to manage your network adapters directly from the Settings app, another feature brought over from the Control panel.
DNS settings for your internet connection are now more readily accessible in the connection properties. You can access these by going into Network & Internet > Properties for your current connection.
This section has a new page for customizing your device usage, so you can get a more personalized experience based on what you’re more likely to do. The taskbar settings have also been streamlined to make all the options more accessible and group them more logically.
The Apps section has an updated Apps & Features page that includes your app list and settings for where to get apps from and whether apps can share experiences across devices. Meanwhile, the Default Apps page now lets users set the default app for any given file type from the main page using the search bar. The overall performance of this page has also been dramatically improved.
Possibly one of the biggest additions in the new Settings app is the new Windows backup page. You’ll now be able to sync your device settings and your app list, so you can quickly get your favorite apps on another device. You can also set up your files backup to OneDrive from here.
Time & Language
There’s now a unified Language & Region page that contains all the settings related to languages and regional settings like date and time formats.
Accessibility is the new name for the Ease of Access section, which should make it more recognizable for everyone. It also has new features like new contrast themes, new simplified caption settings, and improvements to Narrator.
Windows Insiders can now check the Windows Insider Program section to see if they have the latest build available for their PC. This page also includes a link to the changelog of the latest build to see what’s new.
New Microsoft Store in Windows 11
Microsoft has also given a facelift to the Microsoft Store. The app now has a much more appealing look with a side menu organizing things into sections, and more icons making the interface more appealing. You’ll also notice some subtle animations when hovering your mouse over items.
Of course, TikTok is now available, though you can also get it on Windows 10. Android apps aren’t available yet, so you’ll need to wait a little longer for that.
New and updated apps in Windows 11
Windows 11 is going to ship with a few new and updates apps, many of which Insiders can already try. These include Windows Terminal, an updated Snipping Tool, and more.
Windows Terminal is the next evolution of the command line, and it brings together all your command line environments. You can run the Command Prompt, PowerShell, Azure Cloud Shell, and your Linux distributions inside Windows Terminal, all with a tabbed interface so you don’t need multiple windows. You can also customize the appearance of each of your profiles so they’re easy to identify at a glance.
Power Automate Desktop
As for Power Automate Desktop, it’s a tool that can automatically do all sorts of tasks. Its most basic use is letting you record a series of steps, like opening an app and performing a specific action, then running all those steps automatically whenever you need them. You can however create flows manually for all kinds of purposes. You can automate recurring tasks so you don’t have to do them manually every time.
Chat with Microsoft Teams
There’s also a new Chat feature powered by Microsoft Teams. You’ll see a new Chat icon on the taskbar, which gives you quick access to recent contacts, as well as shortcuts to start a new meeting or chat. You can also open the full-fledged Microsoft Teams app, which has been rebuilt for Windows 11.
With Windows 11, Microsoft has finally unified the Snip & Sketch and classic Snipping Tool apps. The new app retains the Snipping Tool name, but now has a modern interface much more similar to Snip & Sketch. However, some elements were taken from the classic Snipping Tool, like easier access to snip delay options and the ability to set the type of capture (square, freeform, etc) before starting.
Clock app with Focus Sessions
Another app getting a big update is Alarms & Clock, which is now just called Clock. While most of the app is the same, it now has a brand-new feature called Focus Sessions. This lets you set a time limit for how long you want to work, and then helps you stay focused during that time. The app automatically sets up five minute breaks so you can get some air (though you can configure the break settings).
Additionally, this feature includes integration with Spotify, so you can listen to music to help you focus without having to switch between apps. Plus, there’s Microsoft To Do integration as well, which lets you see any tasks you have to work on, and choose the tasks you want to focus on for your focus session. This feature is currently only available in the Dev channel, but it should roll out more broadly soon.
Display improvements in Windows 11
If you have an HDR monitor, Windows 11 is going to bring a couple of major features, especially if you’re into gaming. One of the big features available in preview right now is Auto HDR mode. This is a DirectX feature, and what it does is enable HDR capabilities for over 1,000 games, even if they’re not coded to have HDR support.
It’s not quite the same as having native HDR support, but you should still see a big improvement in lighting in games. You may already be familiar with these features on Xbox, and the concept is essentially the same here.
Even if you’re not a gamer, there are some HDR-related improvements for you. Microsoft has added support for HDR for color managed apps, like Adobe Photoshop. This allows those apps to access the full gamut of your HDR monitor. You need to enable this setting per app under its compatibility properties.
Windows 11 also lets you see the HDR certification of your monitor. If you’re unsure what level of HDR your monitor supports, this might help. You can find it in Settings -> System -> Display -> Advanced display. Microsoft has also added the ability to disable Content adaptive brightness control (CABC) for displays that support it. This should be under your brightness slider in the Settings app.
Dynamic refresh rate
Microsoft is also adding the ability for Windows 11 to dynamically adjust the refresh rate on your monitor, specifically for high-refresh-rate displays. This is more of a benefit to your battery life, because you don’t always need the display to update at its maximum speed. For example, if the computer is idle, it can save power by not refreshing the display as often.
Multitasking improvements in Windows 11
Snap Assist is a feature of Windows 10 that likely flies under the radar for many, but Microsoft is making it better and easier to find in Windows 11. When you hover your mouse over the maximize button on a window, you see a series of options for how you can snap that window to a specific part of the display.
This lets you use multiple apps side by side, depending on the resolution of your screen and the orientation of your device. You can even have up to three apps side-by-side now, which would take a while to set up in Windows 10.
To go along with that, there are now Snap groups. Once you’ve set up a layout you want to use, if you switch to another app, you can always find the exact layout you were using before. You can just hover above any of the apps that are part of the layout on the taskbar, and the full Snap Group will be available.
Virtual desktop improvements
If you use virtual desktops, there are some improvements on the way in Windows 11, too. You can now reorder your desktops and rename them. Plus, the Task View icon on the taskbar now lets you quickly switch between desktops or create a new one by hovering your mouse over it.
Using dual monitors can be a huge boost to productivity, and with Windows 11, it’s much better. Now, when you unplug a monitor from your PC, all of its windows are minimized to your taskbar, instead of moving to the main display. Plus, when you reconnect the second display, the windows go back to their rightful places, so everything should stay organized much more easily.
x64 emulation for Windows 11 ARM devices
Another big Windows 11 feature is that ARM-powered devices can now emulate x64 apps. Until now, Windows ARM laptops like the HP Elite Folio could only run native ARM apps, or emulate x86 (32-bit) apps. That was a problem because there are a few apps that no longer offer 32-bit variants. With support for x64 emulation, almost every Windows app should now work with ARM-based devices. This was first made available to Insiders in late 2020, but it will arrive with Windows 11.
Additionally, Microsoft has introduced ARM64EC, a new tool that lets developers mix ARM64EC and x64 components. This allows apps to run closer to native performance, while also not forcing developers to recompile entire apps for ARM. There are even ARM64EC versions of Microsoft Office apps available now, complete with support for x64 add-ins.
Keyboard and input improvements in Windows 11
To clarify, no, this won’t change your hardware. But Microsoft is greatly improving the touch keyboard experience, as well as things like the clipboard and emoji picker. Let’s break down the new input features in Windows 11.
First, there’s the touch keyboard. It has a new design that uses transparency effects (when undocked) and has a bunch of new features. It also now supports themes, borrowed by Microsoft’s SwiftKey, which develops customizable keyboards for iOS and Android.
There are a few built-in themes, and you can also create a custom one with whatever image you’d like. The keyboard now has built-in emoji and animated GIF search powered by Tenor. The menu has been revamped to be easier to navigate, and you can now easily undock the keyboard from the bottom of the screen and move it around the screen.
The voice typing feature also has a new, more modern look in Windows 11. You can press the Windows key + H to launch it in a text field to start typing. There’s also a new voice typing launcher you can enable by tapping the gear icon. This makes it so that whenever you tap a text field, you can quickly start voice typing, even if you don’t have a keyboard attached.
Clipboard and emoji panel
If you don’t use the touch keyboard, some improvements are also coming your way. The emoji picker (Windows key + .) has been updated to include support for animated GIFs and search features, so you can more easily find the emoji/GIF you want. Additionally, it also now includes the Windows clipboard history feature, so it’s all part of the same UI. You can still go straight into the clipboard with Windows key + V though.
On that note, the clipboard UI has a new button for pasting content as plain text, so you don’t have to worry about copying weirdly formatted text.
New touchscreen gestures
If you have a 2-in-1 or tablet, the touchscreen experience is going to feel a bit different in Windows 11. For starters, swiping in from the left side of the screen will bring up the new widgets panel, instead of Task View. Meanwhile, swiping in from the right will still show your notifications, but now you’ll see your calendar instead of quick settings.
The bigger changes are in support for three and four finger gestures. Now, you can swipe up with three fingers to see your open apps, or swipe down to show your desktop (after which you can swipe up to restore your apps). You can also swipe left or right to switch between your most recent apps. And if you swipe left or right with four fingers, you can switch between virtual desktops.
New pen menu
Microsoft has also tweaked some pen features in Windows 11. There’s a new pen menu for devices that support active pens, and it’s something of a successor to the Windows Ink Workspace from Windows 10. Now, you can customize the shortcuts available in this space, so you can quickly launch any apps you use with your pen.
Windows Subsystem for Linux in Windows 11
Windows 11 will also bring a few major features for the Windows Subsystem for Linux, which are already in preview. The biggest addition is support for GUI apps. Yes, you can run Linux apps in Windows now, and not just by using a command line interface.
Not only that, Linux apps are added to your Windows start menu right alongside your Windows apps. Linux apps also now support GPU compute so you can run apps that depend on GPU power.
File management for Linux has also been improved. When you install WSL, you’ll now see a Linux section in File Explorer so you can manage your Linux files. Additionally, you can now mount physical disks directly in Linux, so if you want to use a Linux file system that Windows doesn’t support, you can now do that.
Other improvements include new install and update commands for WSL in PowerShell. These let you quickly install WSL on your system and upgrade it to the latest version, which you’ll need to do to get support for GUI Linux apps. You can also now run commands at startup in WSL by configuring the wsl.conf file in your distro. You’ll need to add a command option under a boot section in the file.
New OOBE experience in Windows 11
Another feature that’s changed significantly in Windows 11 is the out-of-box experience (OOBE). This is what you see when your first set up your computer, or after a reset or a clean install, so you won’t notice it if you’re just upgrading to Windows 11. Still the new OOBE is much more colorful and lively compared to the static blue background of the Windows 10 experience.
The steps are still fairly similar, though you won’t have Cortana getting in the way this time.
You’ll also notice that Windows 11 now asks you about your device usage when you set it up. This is so it can provide you with a more tailored experience based on what you do on your PC.
Other Windows 11 features
There are a few more features and updates Microsoft has added to Windows 11, but they’re not all as big. Here are some other improvements you can try in preview right now.
Improved Bluetooth audio experience
If you’ve ever used a Bluetooth headset with your PC, you’ve probably noticed how messy the experience can be. Until now, you’d see two different output devices for a single headset. That’s because Windows uses one output device for higher quality audio when you’re not using the microphone, then switches to a lower-quality output for communication apps where the microphone is in use.
With Windows 11, Microsoft is simplifying the audio outputs for Bluetooth devices, so switching between different types of apps is seamless and your audio always works.
New command line tools
Microsoft is adding a couple of new command line features to Windows 11. One is the ability to reset UWP apps if you prefer over using the Settings app. You can run the following command, using the package name of the app you want to reset:
Get-AppxPackage *calculator* | Reset-AppxPackage
There’s also a new DiskUsage tool that lets you see how your disk space is being used on your drive. You can run the tool in a specific directory to find large files in that folder, for example.
Task Manager improvements
The Task Manager now displays which architecture is used by each of your apps. In the details tab, you’ll see a new Architecture label, which will specify if a given process is x86, x64, or ARM.
Additionally, Windows 11 will add an Eco mode feature to Task manager. If you notice an app using too many resources on your PC, you can toggle Eco mode to throttle that usage.
Finally, if you use the Edge browser, Microsoft is testing a more detailed view where each Edge process is clearly identified. That means you’ll be able to see specific services, extensions, and tabs to help you understand what’s using resources. Both of these features are only available to a subset of Insiders though, so even if you get a preview build, you might not have them yet.
Improved time zone switching
If you travel a lot with your PC, Microsoft has tweaked the behavior for time zone switching. When Windows is very confident you’ve switched time zones, it’ll change your time zone and send you a notification letting you know. If Windows isn’t sure whether you’ve changed time zones, the notification will instead ask the user to confirm the change.
Those are all the biggest changes available to try right now, but as always, more is on the way. We’ll keep updating this article with new information as Microsoft releases new preview builds, so keep checking back to see what might have been added. We only have the first Windows 11 build right now, and more will be coming soon. We already know of features like Android apps and a redesigned Paint app, which aren’t available yet.