Getting Started with Windows 11
Introducing Windows 11
We all started as newbies who did not know much about technology. If you’ve never used an earlier version of Windows, you’re in luck because you won’t have to force your fingers to forget so much of what you’ve learned! Windows 11 is a melding of Windows 10 and macOS, tossed into a blender, speed turned up to full, and poured out on your screen.
Although Windows 10 was a major improvement over Windows 8 and 8.1, some people still had problems understanding and using features such as tiles, Cortana, and the Settings app. Windows 11 makes the experience gentler for everyone. It also further optimizes the touchscreen approach so that it works well with a mouse, too. The user interface is more consistent, and it doesn’t look like the old desktop and the new touchscreen approach forced to work together.
Some of you are reading this book because you chose to run Windows 11. Others are here because Windows 11 came preinstalled on a new computer or because your company forced you to upgrade to Windows 11. Whatever the reason, you’ve ended up with a good operating system, and — if you understand and respect its limitations — it should serve you well. However, you should know that other choices are available, and I present them in this chapter. Who knows, maybe you’re considering returning your new Windows 11 PC already.
Before I get technical, I want you to take a quick look at Windows 11. Then, I explain some important technical terminology, and give an overview of what you need to keep in mind when buying your first Windows 11 PC, laptop, or tablet. Last but not least, I describe what you might not like about Windows 11. It’s better to know all that sooner rather than later. Right?
Table of Contents
Introducing Windows 11
Taking Your First Look at Windows 11
Hardware and Software
Must You Run Windows?
Understanding Important Terminology
Buying a Windows 11 Computer
Looking inside your PC
Secure boot, TPM, and Windows 11
Managing disks and drives
Connecting your PC to other devices
Video, sound, and multimedia
Ultrabooks and convertibles
What You Might Not Like about Windows 11
Seeing What's New in Windows 11
Rolling back to Windows 10
Microsoft's Design Philosophy behind Windows 11
Understanding the Types of Windows 11 Apps
Seeing What's New for the Windows Crowd
A new Start menu and taskbar
Increased role for Settings
Improved Microsoft Edge
Fine-tuned virtual desktops
Improved window snapping and grouping
Widgets are back
Other apps and improvements
Windows 11 Versions
Windows 11 Editions
Buying the right edition, the first time
Narrowing the choices
64-bit is the new normal
Which Version of Windows Are You Running?
Taking Your First Look at Windows 11
First things first. Position yourself in front of your computer and press the power button to turn it on. This thing called Windows 11 will be staring at you, as shown in Figure 1-1. Microsoft calls this the lock screen, and it doesn’t say Windows, much less Windows 11. The lock screen doesn’t display much of anything except the current date and time, with a tiny icon or two to indicate whether your internet connection is working. You may also see the next meeting scheduled in your calendar, how many unopened emails await, or whether you should just take the day off because your holdings in AAPL stock soared again.
You may be tempted to sit and admire the gorgeous picture, whatever it may be, but if you swipe up from the bottom, click or tap anywhere on the picture, or press any key on your keyboard, you see the login screen, resembling the one photo below. If more than one person is set up to use your computer, you’ll see more than one name.
The login screen doesn’t say Login or Welcome to Windows 11 or Howdy. It displays the names and pictures of the people who can use the computer. On the right, note the icons for things such as the language used for the keyboard, the network, accessibility, and power.
Hardware and Software
At the most fundamental level, all computer stuff comes in one of two flavors: hardware or software. Hardware is anything you can touch — a computer screen, a mouse, a hard drive, a keyboard, a Blu-ray drive. Software is everything else: your Microsoft Edge browser, the movies you stream on Netflix, the digital pictures of your last vacation, and programs such as Microsoft Office. If you shoot a bunch of pictures, the pictures themselves are just bits — software. But they’re probably sitting on some sort of memory card inside your smartphone or digital camera. That memory card is hardware. Get the difference?
Windows 11 is software. You can’t touch it in a physical sense, even if you interact with it using the keyboard and a mouse, or a touchscreen. Your PC, on the other hand, is hardware. Kick the computer screen, and your toe hurts. Drop the big box on the floor, and it smashes into pieces. That’s hardware.
Chances are good that one of the major PC manufacturers — such as Lenovo, HP, Dell, Acer, or ASUS — Microsoft, with its Surface line, or even Apple made your hardware. However, Microsoft, and Microsoft alone, makes Windows 11.
When you bought your computer, you paid for a license to use one copy of Windows on that PC. Its manufacturer paid Microsoft a royalty so it could sell you Windows along with the PC. (That royalty may have been close to zero dollars, but it’s a royalty nonetheless.) You may think that you got Windows from, say, Dell — indeed, you may have to contact Dell for technical support on Windows questions — but Windows came from Microsoft.
If you upgraded from Windows 10 to Windows 11, you might have received a free upgrade license — but it’s still a license, whether you paid for it or not. You can’t give it away to someone else.
These days, most software, including Windows 11, asks you to agree to an End User License Agreement (EULA). When you first set up your PC, Windows asks you to click or tap the Accept button to accept a licensing agreement that’s long enough to reach the top of the Empire State Building. If you’re curious about what agreement you accepted, take a look at the official EULA repository at www.microsoft.com/en-us/Useterms/Retail/Windows/11/UseTerms_Retail_Windows_11_English.html.
Must You Run Windows?
Are you wondering if you must run Windows? The short answer is that you don’t have to run Windows on your PC.
The PC you have is a dumb box. (You needed me to tell you that, eh?) To get that box to do anything worthwhile, you need a computer program that takes control of the PC and makes it do things, such as show apps on the screen, respond to mouse clicks or taps, and print resumes. An operating system controls the dumb box and makes it do worthwhile things, in ways that people can understand.
Without an operating system, the computer can sit in a corner and display profound messages on the screen, such as Non-system disk or disk error or Insert system disk and press any key when ready. If you want your computer to do more than that, though, you need an operating system.
Windows is not the only operating system in town. The other big contenders in the PC and PC-like operating system game are Chrome OS, macOS, and Linux:
Chrome OS: Created by Google, Chrome OS is the operating system used on Chromebooks. Affordable Chromebooks have long dominated the best-seller lists at many computer retailers — and for good reason. If you want to surf the web, work on email, compose simple documents, or do anything in a browser — which covers a whole lot of ground these days — a Chromebook and Chrome OS are all you need. Chromebooks can’t run Windows programs such as Office or Photoshop (although they can run web-based versions of them, such as Office Online or Photoshop Express Editor). Despite this limitation, they don’t get infected and have few maintenance problems. You can’t say the same about Windows: That’s why you need a thousand-page book to keep it going. Yes, you do need a reliable internet connection to get the most out of Chrome OS. But some parts of Chrome OS and Google’s apps, including Gmail, can work even if you don’t have an active internet connection.
Chrome OS, which is built on Linux, looks and feels much like the Google Chrome web browser. There are a few minor differences, but in general, you feel like you’re working in the Chrome browser.
macOS: Apple has made great strides running on Intel processors even though they recently switched to making their own, including for the Mac. If you don’t already know how to use Windows or own a Windows computer, it makes sense to consider buying an Apple computer or running macOS or both. Yes, you can build your custom computer and run macOS on it: Check out www.hackintosh.com. But, no, it isn’t legal — the macOS End User License Agreement explicitly forbids installation on a non-Apple-branded computer. Also, installing it is certainly not for the faint of heart.
The performance of the latest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, based on Apple’s M1 chips, is breathtaking. However, they can natively run only macOS, not Windows. If you want Windows on the latest MacBooks, you must purchase Parallels Desktop 17 for Mac or newer, from www.parallels.com.
Linux: The big up-and-coming operating system, which has been upand-coming for a couple of decades now, is Linux (pronounced “LIN-uchs”).
If you are not an IT professional and you plan to use your PC only to get on the internet — to surf the web and send emails — Linux can handle that, with few of the headaches that remain as the hallmark of Windows. By using free programs such as LibreOffice (www.libreoffice.org) and online services such as Google Workspace and Google Drive (www.drive.google.com), you can even cover the basics in word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, contact managers, calendars, and more. Even though Linux doesn’t support the vast array of consumer hardware that Windows offers, it’s popular with many software developers and power users.
In the tablet sphere, iPadOS and Android rule. Windows 11 doesn’t compete with any of them, even though it works on Qualcomm chips designed for mobile devices, and is available on tablets and convertible devices such as the Surface line.
Windows 10 in S mode and Windows 11 in S mode are a confusing development with an unclear future. Designed to compete with Chrome OS and iPads, S mode refers to a set of restrictions on “real” Windows. Supposedly in an attempt to improve battery life, reduce the chance of the PC getting infected, and simplify your life, the S mode in Windows 11 doesn’t run most regular Windows programs. S mode limits users to only apps found in the Microsoft Store. You get Spotify and iTunes but not Google Chrome or Firefox. Fortunately, you can go to the Microsoft Store and upgrade a Windows 11 S mode system so that it’s no longer in S mode.
What do other people choose? It’s hard to measure the percentage of PCs running Windows versus Mac versus Linux. StatCounter (www.statcounter.com) specializes in analyzing the traffic of millions of sites globally and provides lots of useful statistics based on the data they collect. One stat tallies how many Windows computers hit those sites, compared to macOS and Linux. While their data may not be 100 percent representative of real-world market share, it does an excellent job of giving us an idea of operating system penetration. If you look at only desktop operating systems — Windows (on desktops, laptops, 2-in-1s) and macOS/OS X — the numbers in July 2021 (according to StatCounter) broke as shown below. (Linux and Chrome OS barely have more than 1 percent market share, each).
In July 2021, Windows had a market share of 73 percent of all desktop operating systems, and macOS had 15 percent. In Microsoft’s world, Windows 10 is king with a 78 percent market share. Windows 7 is a distant second, with 16 percent, a value that is constantly declining because Microsoft declared its end of life on January 14, 2020. Users are no longer receiving support and updates for Windows 7, and they are highly encouraged to upgrade to Windows 10 or Windows 11. The graph doesn’t include a market share for Windows 11 because it hadn’t been launched. I expect it to reach levels similar to Windows 10 in just a couple of years.
If you look at the bigger picture, including tablets and smartphones, the numbers change dramatically. As of July 2021, StatCounter says that 42 percent of all devices on the internet use Android, while 30 percent use Windows. Mobile operating systems are swallowing the world — and the trend has been in mobile’s favor, not Windows. The number of smartphones sold every year exceed the number of PCs sold. According to Statista, in 2020, 54 percent of all internet traffic was made from mobile devices. And the data trends repeat the same story.
Understanding Important Terminology
Some terms pop up so frequently that you’ll find it worthwhile to memorize them or at least understand where they come from. That way, you won’t be caught flatfooted when your first-grader comes home and asks to install TikTok on your computer.
If you want to drive your techie friends nuts the next time you have a problem with your Windows 11 computer, tell them that the hassles occur when you’re “running Microsoft.” They won’t have any idea whether you mean Windows, Word, Outlook, OneNote, or any of a gazillion other programs. Also, they won’t know if you’re talking about a Microsoft program on Windows, the Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, or even Linux.
Windows 11, the operating system (see the preceding section), is a sophisticated computer program. So are computer games, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Word (the word processor part of Office), Google Chrome (the web browser made by Google), those nasty viruses you’ve heard about, that screen saver with the oh-too-perfect fish bubbling and bumbling about, and more.
An app or a program or a desktop app is software (see the earlier “Hardware and Software” section in this chapter) that works on a computer. App is modern and cool; program is old and boring, desktop app or application manages to hit both gongs, but they all mean the same thing.
A Windows app is a program that, at least in theory, runs on any edition of Windows 11. By design, apps (which used to be called Universal Windows Platform, or UWP apps) should run on Windows 11 and Windows 10 on a desktop, a laptop, and a tablet— and even on an Xbox game console, a giant wall-mounted Surface Hub, a HoloLens augmented reality headset, and possibly Internet of Things tiny computers. They also run on Windows 11 in S mode (see the preceding section). Here’s a neat trick that’s available only in Windows 11: It can install and run Android apps too, but only through the Microsoft Store. I talk more about this topic in Book 5, Chapter 1.
For most people, Universal Windows apps don’t mean what they might think it means. Universal Windows apps don’t work on Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 for example. They’re universal only in the sense that they’ll run on Windows 11 and Windows 10.
A special kind of program called a driver makes specific pieces of hardware work with the operating system. The driver acts like a translator that enables Windows to ask your hardware to do what it wants. Imagine that you have a document that you want to print. You edit the document in Word, and then you click or tap the Print button and wait for the document to be printed. Word is an application that tasks the operating system to print the document. The operating system takes the document and asks the printer driver to print the document. The driver takes the document and translates it into a language that the printer understands. Finally, the printer prints the document and delivers it to you. Everything inside your computer and all that is connected to it has a driver: The hard disk inside the PC has a driver, the printer has a driver, your mouse has a driver, and Tiger Woods has a driver (several, actually, and he makes a living with them). I wish that everyone was so talented.
Windows includes many drivers, some created by Microsoft and others created by third parties. The hardware manufacturer is responsible for making its hardware work with your Windows PC, and that includes building and fixing the drivers. However, if Microsoft makes your computer, Microsoft is responsible for the drivers, too. Sometimes you can get a driver from the manufacturer that works better than the one that ships with Windows.
When you stick an app or a program on your computer — and set it up so that you can use it — you install the app or program (or driver).
When you crank up a program — that is, get it going on your computer — you can say you started it, launched it, ran it, or executed it. They all mean the same thing.
If the program quits the way it’s supposed to, you can say it stopped, finished, ended, exited, or terminated. Again, all these terms mean the same thing. If the app stops with some weird error message, you can say it crashed, died, cratered, croaked, went belly up, jumped in the bit bucket, or GPFed (techspeak for “generated a General Protection Fault” — don’t ask), or employ any of a dozen colorful but unprintable epithets. If the program just sits there and you can’t get it to do anything, no matter how you click your mouse or poke the screen, you can say that it froze, hung, stopped responding, or went into a loop.
A bug is something that doesn’t work right. (A bug is not a virus! Viruses work as intended far too often.) US Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper — the intellectual guiding force behind the COBOL programming language and one of the pioneers in the history of computing — often repeated the story of a moth being found in a relay of an ancient Mark II computer. The moth was taped into the technician’s logbook on September 9, 1947. (See Below)
The people who invented all this terminology think of the internet as being some great blob in the sky — it’s up, as in “up in the sky.” So, if you send something from your computer to the internet, you’re uploading. If you take something off the internet and put it on your computer, you’re downloading.
The cloud is just a marketing term for the internet. Saying that you put your data “in the cloud” sounds so much cooler than saying you copied it to storage on the internet. Programs can run in the cloud — which is to say that they run on the internet. Just about everything that has anything to do with computers can be done in the cloud. Just watch your pocketbook.
If you use cloud storage, you’re just sticking your data on some company’s computers. Put a file in Microsoft OneDrive, and it goes onto one of Microsoft’s computers. Put it in Google Drive, and it goes to Google’s storage in the sky. Move it to Dropbox, and it’s sitting on a Dropbox server.
When you connect computers and devices to each other, you network them. The network can be wired, using cables; wireless, often called Wi-Fi, the name for the main body of wireless networking standards; or a combination of wired and wireless. At the heart of a network sits a box, called a router or an access point, that computers connect to via cables or Wi-Fi. If the router has “rabbit ears” on top, for wireless connections, it’s usually called a Wi-Fi router. Do keep in mind that some Wi-Fi routers have antennae hidden inside their box.
You can hook up to the internet in two basic ways: wired and wireless. Wired is easy: You plug one end of a network cable into a router or some other box that connects to the internet, and the other end into your computer. Wireless falls into two categories: Wi-Fi connections, as you’ll find in many homes, coffee shops, airports, and all kinds of public places; and cellular (mobile phone–style) wireless connections. Cellular wireless internet connections are identified with one of the G levels: 2G, 3G, 4G, or maybe even 5G. Each G level is faster than its predecessor.
This part gets a little tricky. If your smartphone can connect to a 4G or 5G network, you can set it up to behave like a Wi-Fi router: Your laptop talks to the smartphone, and the smartphone talks to the internet over its 4G (or 5G) connection. That’s called tethering — your laptop is tethered to your smartphone. Not all smartphones can tether, and not all manufacturers and mobile carriers allow it.
Special boxes called mobile hotspot units work much the same way: The mobile hotspot connects to the 3G or 4G (or 5G) connection, and your laptop gets tethered to the mobile hotspot box. Most smartphones these days can be configured as mobile hotspots.
If you plug your internet connection into the wall, you have broadband, which may run via fiber (a cable that uses light waves), DSL or ADSL (which use regular old phone lines), cable (as in cable TV), or satellite. The fiber, DSL, cable, or satellite box is called a modem, although it’s really a router. Although fiber-optic lines are inherently much faster than DSL or cable, individual results can be all over the lot. Ask your neighbors what they’re using and then pick the best. If you don’t like your current service, vote with your wallet.
Turning to the dark side of the force, Luke, the distinctions among viruses, worms, and trojans grow blurrier every day. That’s why most journalists and tech specialists use the generic term malware to describe anything that can harm a computer. In general, they’re programs that replicate and can be harmful, and the worst ones blend different approaches. Spyware gathers information about you and then phones home with all the juicy details. Adware gets in your face with dodgy ads, all too frequently installing itself on your computer without your knowledge or consent. Ransomware scrambles (or threatens to scramble) your data and demands a payment to unscramble it.
If a bad guy manages to take over your computer without your knowledge, turning it into a zombie that spews spam by remote control, you’re in a botnet. (And yes, the term spam comes from the immortal Monty Python routine that’s set in a cafe serving Hormel’s Spam luncheon meat, the chorus bellowing “lovely Spam, wonderful Spam.”) Check out Book 9 for details about preventing malware and the like from messing with you.
The most successful botnets employ rootkits — programs that run underneath Windows, evading detection because regular antivirus programs can’t see them. The number of Windows 10 and Windows 11 computers running rootkits is probably two or three or four orders of magnitude less than the number of zombified Windows XP computers. However, as long as Windows XP computers are out there, botnets will continue to be a major threat to everyone.
This section covers about 90 percent of the buzzwords you hear in common parlance. If you get stuck at a party where the bafflegab is flowing freely, do not hesitate to invent your own words. Nobody will ever know the difference.
Buying a Windows 11 Computer
Here is how it usually goes: You decide that you need to buy a new PC, and then spend a couple weeks brushing up on the details — price, storage, size, processor, memory — and doing lots of comparison shopping. You end up at your local Computers Are Us shop, and the guy behind the counter convinces you that the best bargain you’ll ever see is sitting right here, right now, and you better take it quick before somebody else nabs it.
Your eyes glaze over as you look at yet another spec sheet and try to figure out one last time whether a RAM is a ROM, whether a solid-state drive is worth the effort, and whether you need a SATA 6 Gbps, or NVMe, or USB 3 or C. In the end, you figure that the person behind the counter must know more than you, so you plunk down your credit card and hope that you got a good deal.
The next Sunday morning, you look at the ads on Newegg (www.newegg.com) or Best Buy (www.bestbuy.com) or Amazon (www.amazon.com) and discover that you could have bought the same PC for 20 percent less. The only thing you know for sure is that your PC is hopelessly becoming out of date, and the next time you’ll be smarter about the entire process.
YOU MAY NOT NEED TO PAY MORE TO GET A CLEAN PC
I hate it when the computer I want comes loaded with all that nice, “free” crapware. I would seriously consider paying more to get a clean computer. You do not need an antivirus and internet security program preinstalled on your new PC. It’s going to open and beg for money next month. Windows 11 comes with Windows Security (formerly known as Windows Defender), and it works great — for free.
Browser toolbars? Puh-lease.
You can choose your own internet service provider. AT&T? Verizon? Who needs you?
And trialware? Whether it’s Quicken or any of a zillion other programs, if you must pay for a preinstalled app in three months or six months, you don’t want it.
If you’re looking for a new computer but can’t find an option to buy a PC without all the extras, look elsewhere. The big PC companies are slowly getting a clue, but until they clean up their act, you may be better served buying from a smaler retailer who has not yet presold every bit that isn’t nailed down. Or you can buy directly from Microsoft: Its Surface tablets and laptops are as clean as the driven snow. Pricey. But blissfully clean.
The online Microsoft Store sells new, clean computers from major manufacturers. Before you spend money on a computer, check to see whether it’s available crapware free (usually at the same price). Go to www.microsoftstore.com and choose any PC. The ones on offer ship without any of the junk.
If you bought a new computer with all that gunk, you can get rid of it by performing a reset or reinstall.
If that describes your experiences, relax. It happens to everybody. Take solace in the fact that technology evolves at an incredible pace, and many people can’t keep up with it. As always, I’m here to help and share everything you need to know about buying a Windows 11 PC:
Decide if you’re going to use a touchscreen. Although a touch-sensitive screen is not a prerequisite for using apps on Windows 11, you’ll probably find it easier to use apps with your fingers than with your mouse. Swiping with a finger is easy; swiping with a trackpad works well, depending on the trackpad; swiping with a mouse is a disaster. However, if you know that you won’t be using Windows 11 apps or Android apps optimized for touch from the Microsoft Store, a touchscreen won’t hurt but probably is not worth the additional expense. Experienced, mouse-savvy Windows users often find that using a mouse and a touchscreen at the same time is an ergonomic pain in the arm. Unless you have fingertips the size of pinheads — or you always use a stylus — using classic Windows programs on a touchscreen is an excruciating experience. Best to leave the touching to apps that are demonstrably touch-friendly.
There is no substitute for physically trying the hardware on a touch-sensitive Windows 11 computer. Hands come in all shapes and sizes, and fingers, too. What works for size XXL hands with ten thumbs (present company included) may not cut the mustard for svelte hands and fingers experienced at taking cotton balls out of medicine bottles.
- Get a screen that’s at least 1920 x 1080 pixels — the minimum resolution to play high-definition (1080p) movies. You probably want to stream movies from Netflix and watch videos on YouTube. For a pleasant experience, don’t get stingy when purchasing a monitor. Make sure that it’s at least full HD – meaning that it has 1920 x 1080 pixels in resolution. Going higher makes for an even better experience. Therefore, if you have the cash, you won’t be sorry if you buy a 1440p or a 4K display.
- If you’re going to use the old-fashioned Windows 7–style desktop, get a high-quality monitor, a solid keyboard, and a mouse that feels comfortable. If you are upgrading your computer and love your keyboard and mouse, you may want to keep them. Corollary: Don’t buy a computer online unless you know that your fingers are going to like the keyboard, your wrist will tolerate the mouse, and your eyes will fall in love with the monitor.
Go overboard with hard drives. In the best of all worlds, get a computer with a solid-state drive (SSD) for the system drive (the C: drive) plus a large hard drive for storage. For the low-down on SSDs, hard drives, backups, and putting them all together, see the upcoming section “Managing disks and drives.”
How much hard drive space do you need? How long is a string? Unless you have an enormous collection of videos, movies, or songs, 1TB (=1,024GB = 1,048,576MB) should suffice. That’s big enough to handle about 1,000 broadcast-quality movies. Consider that the printed collection of the US Library of Congress runs about 10TB.
If you’re getting a laptop or ultrabook with an SSD, consider buying an external 1TB or larger drive at the same time. You will use it. External hard drives are cheap and plug-in easy to use.
Or you can just stick all that extra data in the cloud, with OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, or some competitor. For what it’s worth, I used Dropbox in every phase of writing this book.
If you want to spend more money, go for a faster internet connection and a better chair. You need both items much more than you need a marginally faster, or bigger, computer.
Looking Inside Your PC
It’s time to share some information about the inner workings of a desktop or laptop PC. The big box that your desktop computer lives in is sometimes called a CPU, or central processing unit (see Figure 1-5). Right off the bat, you’re bound to get confused, unless somebody clues you in on one important detail: The main computer chip inside that big box is also called a CPU. I prefer to call the big box “the PC” because of the naming ambiguity, but you’ve probably thought of a few better names.
The big box contains many parts and pieces (and no small amount of dust and dirt), but the crucial, central element inside every PC is the motherboard. (You can see a picture of a motherboard here: www.asus.com/Motherboards-Components/ Motherboards/PRIME/PRIME-Z590-V).
The following items are attached to the motherboard:
The processor, or CPU: This gizmo does the main computing. It’s probably from Intel or AMD. Different manufacturers rate their processors in different ways, and it’s impossible to compare performance by just looking at the part number. Yes, Intel Core i7 CPUs usually run faster than Core i5s, and Core i3s are the slowest of the three, but there are many nuances. The same goes for AMD’s Ryzen 7, Ryzen 5, and Ryzen 3 line-up of processors.
Unless you tackle intensive video games, create and edit audio or video files, or recalculate spreadsheets with the national debt, the processor doesn’t count for much. You don’t need a fancy processor if you’re streaming audio and video (say, with YouTube or Netflix). If in doubt, check out the reviews at www.tomshardware.com and www.anandtech.com. Windows 11 requires an Intel Core processor from at least 2017, an AMD Ryzen processor from 2019 onward, or a processor from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 line-up.
Memory chips and places to put them: Memory is measured in megabytes (1MB = 1,024KB = 1,048,576 characters), gigabytes (1GB = 1,024MB), and terabytes (1TB = 1,024GB). Microsoft recommends a minimum of 4GB of RAM. Unless you have an exciting cornfield that you want to watch grow while using Windows 11, aim for 8GB or more. Most desktop computers allow you to add more memory, while many laptops don’t.
Boosting your computer’s memory to 8GB from 4GB makes the machine snappier, especially if you run memory hogs such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, or Google Chrome. If you leave Outlook open and work with it all day and run almost any other major program at the same time, 16GB is a wise choice. If you’re going to do some video editing, gaming, or software development, you probably need more. But for most people, 8GB or 16GB will run everything well.
- Video card: Most motherboards include remarkably good built-in video. If you want more video oomph, you must buy a video card and put it in a card slot. Advanced motherboards have multiple PCI-Express card slots, to allow you to strap together two video cards and speed up video even more. If you want to run a VR or AR headset, such as an Oculus Rift, you’ll need a much more capable video setup. Note that Windows 11 requires a DirectX 12–compatible video card, which means all video cards released in 2016 and beyond should be fine.
- SSD: Solid-state drives, or SSDs, are fast and cheap storage. You don’t have to buy an expensive drive to benefit from tangible speed improvements. If you don’t want to wait a lot for your programs to load, and you don’t want Windows 11 to take minutes to boot, buying an SSD is a must. In comparison, hard disk drives (HDDs) are slow and dated. You should use an HDD for storing your personal files and backing up your data, not for running Windows 11, games, and apps. Remember, Windows 11 alone requires 64GB of storage, so don’t be stingy with your SSD: Choose one with at least 256GB of storage space.
Card slots (also known as expansion slots): Laptops have limited (if any) expansion slots on the motherboard. Desktops contain several expansion slots. Modern slots come in two flavors: PCI and PCI-Express (also known as PCIe or PCI-E). Many expansion cards require PCIe slots: video cards, sound card, network cards, and so on. PCI cards don’t fit in PCIe slots, and vice versa. To make things more confusing, PCIe slots comes in four sizes — literally, the size of the bracket and the number of bumps on the bottoms of the card is different. The PCIe 1x is smallest, the relatively uncommon PCIe 4x is considerably larger, and PCIe 8x is a bit bigger still. PCIe 16x is just a little bit bigger than an old-fashioned PCI slot. Most video cards these days require a PCIe 16x slot. Or two.
If you’re buying a monitor separately from the rest of the system, make sure the monitor takes video input in a form that your PC can produce. See the upcoming section “Displays” for details.
USB (Universal Serial Bus) connections: The USB cable has a flat connector that plugs into your USB slots. Keep in mind that USB 3 is considerably faster than USB 2, and any kind of USB device can plug into a USB 3 slot, whether or not the device itself supports USB 3 level speeds.
USB Type-C (often called USB C) is a different kind of cable that requires a different kind of slot. It has two big advantages: The plug is reversible, making it impossible to plug it in upside down, and you can run a considerable amount of power through a USB-C, making it a good choice for power supplies. Many laptops these days get charged through a USB C connection.
Make sure you get plenty of USB slots — at least two and preferably four or more. Pay extra for a USB C slot or two. More details are in the section “Managing disks and drives,” later in this chapter.
Here are a few upgrade dos and don’ts:
- Do not let a salesperson talk you into eviscerating your PC and upgrading the CPU: Intel Core i7 isn’t that much faster than Intel Core i5; a 3.0-GHz PC doesn’t run a whole lot faster than a 2.8-GHz PC. The same is true for AMD’s Ryzen 7 versus Ryzen 5.
- Do not expect big performance improvements by adding more memory when you hit 16GB of RAM, unless you’re running Google Chrome all day with 42 open tabs or editing videos.
- Do consider upgrading to a faster video card or one with more memory if you have an older one installed. Windows 11 will take good advantage of an upgraded video card.
- Do wait until you can afford a new PC, and then give away your old one, rather than nickel-and-dime yourself to death on little upgrades.
- Do buy a new SSD if you can’t afford to buy a new PC and you want more performance. Install Windows 11 and all your apps and games on the SSD. No other hardware component delivers bigger performance improvements than the switch from HDD to SSD.
If you decide to add memory, have the company that sells you the memory install it. The process is simple, quick, and easy — if you know what you’re doing. Having the dealer install the memory also puts the monkey on the dealer’s back if a memory chip doesn’t work or a bracket snaps.
Secure boot, TPM, and Windows 11
Windows 11 is a big deal when it comes to the security requirements it has for running on PCs and devices. Microsoft wants it to become the most secure Windows version ever and decided to enforce some stringent restrictions. As a result, for Windows 11 to work, your PC must have a processor with an embedded Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0 and Secure Boot support. The TPM 2.0 chip has been a requirement for Windows devices since 2016, and Secure Boot has been around since the days of Windows 8. Because of that, you may think that these security features aren’t be a big deal and that most computers should be able to handle Windows 11. However, many computers with a TPM 2.0 chip don’t have it enabled by default, and you have to fiddle with your computer’s BIOS to enable it — a task many users have no idea how to perform. To cope with this issue, motherboard manufacturers like ASUS have released new BIOS updates that enable this chip for you. Most probably others will follow their example. However, if your PC runs Windows 10 and you want to upgrade to Windows 11, you can’t do that without enabling TPM and Secure Boot first.
What is a TPM chip, you ask? It’s a device used to generate and store secure and unique cryptographic keys. The cryptographic keys are encrypted and can be decrypted only by the TPM chip that created and encrypted them. Encryption software such as BitLocker in Windows 11 uses the TPM chip to protect the keys used to encrypt your files. Since the key stored in each TPM chip is unique to that device, encryption software can quickly verify that the system seeking access to the encrypted data is the expected system and not a different one.
Secure Boot, on the other hand, detects tampering attempts that may compromise your PC’s boot process (which spans when you press the power button on your PC to when Windows starts) and key files of the operating system. When Secure Boot detects something fishy, it rejects the code and makes sure only good code is executed. Both security features are a big deal when it comes to protecting your data and your computer from all kinds of nasty cyberthreats.
These requirements significantly reduce the list of processors that work with Windows 11. To run this operating system, PCs and devices must have an Intel Core processor from at least 2017 or an AMD Ryzen processor from 2019 onward. They also need at least 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage on their hard drives. It’s ironic that Microsoft’s own $3,499 Surface Studio 2 desktop, which was released at the end of 2018 and is still being sold, doesn’t make the cut. New and expensive hardware like this isn’t “good enough” for Windows 11. And I’m sure Microsoft’s inflexible attitude on this subject will make many people frustrated.
Before upgrading a Windows 10 PC to Windows 11, it’s a good idea to download and install the PC Health Check app from Microsoft (see Figure 1-6). Run it and click or tap Check Now. It tells you whether or not you can install Windows 11 and why. Download it here: www.softpedia.com/get/System/System-Info/PC-Health-Check.shtml
Although tablets have been on the market for more than a decade, they didn’t really take off until Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. The old Windows 7 tablets required a stylus (a special kind of pen) and had truly little software that took advantage of touch input. Since the iPad took off, every Windows hardware manufacturer has been clamoring to join the game. Even Microsoft has entered the computer-manufacturing fray with its line of innovative tablets known as Surface.
The result is a real hodge-podge of Windows tablets, many kinds of 2-in-1s (which have a removable keyboard, as shown in Figure 1-7, and thus transform to a genuine tablet), and laptops and ultrabooks with all sorts of weird hinges, including some that flip around like an orangutan on a swing.
The choice has never been broader. All major PC manufacturers offer traditional laptops as well as some variant on the 2-in-1, many still have desktops, and more than a few even make Chromebooks!
I did most of the touch-sensitive work in this book on an ASUS ZenBook Duo (see photo below). With a 10th-generation Intel Core i7-10510U processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB solid-state drive, the ZenBook Duo is the fastest, most capable laptop I’ve ever used. It has a NVIDIA GeForce MX250 with 2GB of memory that works great for all kinds of professional tasks, including video editing and architectural drawing. I’m blown away by its dual-screen configuration and how it enhances my productivity.
The ZenBook Duo has two USB 3.1 ports, one USB C, an HDMI output for high-definition monitors (or TVs!), and a microSD card reader. Another cool feature is the webcam with facial-recognition support, which makes it easy to sign into Windows using your face instead of your password. Don’t worry, your photo isn’t sent to Microsoft; it is stored locally, on your PC.
Of course, this oomph comes at a price of around $2000. A couple thousand bucks for a desktop replacement is great, but if you just want a laptop, you can find respectable, traditional Windows 11 laptops (ultrabooks, whatever you want to call them), with or without touchscreens, for a few hundred dollars.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro (refer to Figure 1-7) starts at $749 or so, without the keyboard. The Surface Laptop Go, including the keyboard, is $549 and up. The Surface Book, which is both a laptop and a tablet, starts at $1599.
If you’re thinking about buying a Windows 11 tablet, keep these points in mind:
- Focus on weight, heat, and battery life. Touch-sensitive tablets are meant to be carried, not lugged around like a suitcase. The last thing you need is a box so hot that it burns a hole in your pants, or a fan so noisy you can’t carry on a conversation during an online meeting.
- Make sure you get multi-touch. Some manufacturers like to skimp and make tablets that respond only to one or two touch points. You need at least four just to run Windows 11, and ten wouldn’t be overkill.
- The screen should run at 1920 x 1080 pixels or better. Anything with a smaller resolution will have you squinting to look at the desktop.
- Get a solid-state drive. In addition to making the machine much, much faster, a solid-state drive (SSD) also saves on weight, heat, and battery life. Don’t be overly concerned about the amount of storage on a tablet. Many people with Windows 11 tablets end up putting all their data in the cloud using OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, or Box.
- Try before you buy. The screen must be sensitive to your big fingers and look good, too. Not an easy combination. You might have specific issues; for example, I dislike bouncy keyboards. Better to know the limitations before you fork over the cash.
- Make sure you can return it. If you have experience with a “real” keyboard and mouse, you may find that you hate using a tablet to replicate the kinds of things you used to do with a laptop or desktop PC.
As the hardware market matures, you can expect to see many variations on the tablet theme.
OLED VERSUS LED
OLED (organic light-emitting diode) screens are found on TVs, computer monitors, laptop screens, tablets, and even smartphones. Their prices are headed down fast. Can or should they supplant LED screens, which have led the computer charge since the turn of the century? That’s’ a tough question with no easy answer.
First, understand that an LED screen is an LCD (liquid crystal display) screen — an older technology — augmented by backlighting or edge lighting, typically from LEDs or fluorescent lamps. A wide variety of LED screens are available, but most of the screens you see nowadays incorporate IPS (in-plane switching) technology, which boosts color fidelity and viewing angles.
OLED is a horse of a different color. IPS LED pixels rely on the backlight or sidelight to push the color to your eyes. OLED (pronounced “oh-led”) pixels make their own light. If you take an LED screen into a dark room and bring up a black screen, you can see variations in the screen brightness because the backlight intensity changes, if only a little bit. OLED blacks, by contrast, are uniform and thus deeper.
All sorts of new techniques are being thrown at LED, and LED screens are getting better and better. HDR (high dynamic range) improvements, for example, make LED pictures stand out in ways they never could before. Quantum dots improve lighting and color. Many people feel that OLEDs have blacker blacks, but the best LEDs produce better bright colors.
The huge difference is in price: OLED screens are still more expensive than LED, although the price of OLED is dropping rapidly. In addition, OLEDs don’t last as long as LEDs — say, a decade with normal use. There is also some concern that OLEDs draw more power — and will burn through a laptop battery — faster than LCDs, but some contest that statement. Much depends on the particular LED and OLED you compare.
The computer monitor or screen — and LED, LCD, OLED, and plasma TVs — use technology that’s quite different from old-fashioned television circuitry from your parent’s childhood. A traditional TV scans lines across the screen from left to right, with hundreds of lines stacked on top of each other. Colors on each individual line vary. The almost infinitely variable color on an old-fashioned TV combined with a comparatively small number of lines makes for pleasant but fuzzy pictures.
By contrast (pun intended, of course), computer monitors, touch-sensitive tablet screens, and plasma, LED, OLED, and LCD TVs work with dots of light called pixels. Each pixel can have a different color, created by tiny, colored gizmos sitting next to each other. As a result, the picture displayed on computer monitors (and plasma and LCD TVs) is much sharper than on conventional TV tubes.
The more pixels you can cram on a screen — that is, the higher the screen resolution — the more information you can pack on the screen. That’s important if you tend to have more than one word-processing document open at a time, for example. At a resolution of 1024 x 768, two open Word documents placed side by side look big and fuzzy, like caterpillars viewed through a dirty magnifying glass. At 1280 x 1024, those same two documents look sharp, but the text may be so small that you must squint to read it. If you move up to wide-screen territory — 1920 x 1080 (full HD), or even 2560 x 1440 (also called 1440p) — with a good monitor, two documents side-by-side look stunning. Run up to 4K technology, at 3840 x 2160 or better — the resolution available on many premium ultrabooks — and you need a magnifying glass to see the pixels.
A special-purpose computer called a graphics processing unit (GPU), stuck on your video card or integrated into the CPU, creates everything displayed on your computer’s screen. The GPU has to juggle all the pixels and all the colors, so if you’re a gaming fan, the speed of the video card (and, to a lesser extent, the speed of the monitor) can make the difference between a zapped alien and a lost energy shield. If you want to experience Windows 11 in all its glory, you need a fast GPU with at least 1GB (and preferably 4GB or more) of its own memory.
Computer monitors and tablets are sold by size, measured diagonally (glass only, not the bezel or frame), like TV sets. And just like with TV sets, the only way to pick a good computer screen over a run-of-the-mill one is to compare them side-by-side or to follow the recommendation of someone who has.
Managing disks and drives
Your PC’s memory chips hold information only temporarily: Turn off the electricity, and the contents of RAM go bye-bye. If you want to reuse your work, keeping it around after the plug has been pulled, you must save it, typically on a hard drive or possibly in the cloud (which means you copy it to a location on the internet).
The following list describes the most common types of disks and drives:
Hard drive: The technology’s changing rapidly, with traditional hard disk drives (HDDs) now being replaced by solid-state drives (SSDs), which have no moving parts and, to a lesser extent, hybrid drives, which bolt together a rotating drive with an SSD. Each technology has benefits and drawbacks. Yes, you can run a regular HDD drive as your C: drive, and it will work fine. But tablets, laptops, or desktops with SSD drives run like lightning. The SSD wins as speed king. After you use an SSD as your main system (C:) drive, you’ll never go back to a spinning platter, I guarantee.
SSDs feature low power consumption and give off less heat than HDDs. SSDs have no moving parts, so they don’t wear out like hard drives. And, if you drop a hard drive and a solid-state drive off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, one of them may survive. Or maybe not.
SSDs are great for the main drive, but they may be too expensive for storing pictures, movies, and photos. Price and technical considerations (see the Table of Contents “Solid-state drives have problems, too”) assure that hard drives will still be around.
Hybrid drives combine the benefits and problems of both HDDs and SSDs. Although HDDs have long had caches — chunks of memory that hold data before being written to the drive and after it’s read from the drive — hybrid drives have a full SSD to act as a buffer.
If you can stretch the budget, start with an SSD for the system drive and a big hard drive (one that attaches with a USB cable) for storing photos, movies, and music, and then get another drive (which can be inside your PC, outside attached with a USB cable, or even on a different PC on your network) to run File History.
If you want full on-the-fly protection against dying hard drives, get three hard drives — one SSD and two hard drives, either inside the box or outside attached with USB or eSATA cables — and run Storage Spaces.
Many people opt for a fast SSD for files needed immediately coupled with cloud storage for the big stuff. Now that Google offers free unlimited photo storage — and with the rise of data streaming instead of purchased CDs — the need for giant hard drives has hit the skids.
For the enthusiast, a three-tier system, with SSDs storing data you need all the time, intermediate backup in the cloud, and multi-terabyte data repositories hanging off your PC is the way to go. Privacy concerns (and the, uh, intervention of various governments) have people worried about cloud storage. Rightfully so.
SD card memory: Many smaller computers, and some tablets, have built-in SD card readers. (Apple and some Google tablets don’t have SD — the companies would rather sell you more on-board memory at inflated prices!) You probably know Secure Digital (SD) cards best as the kind of memory used in digital cameras and smartphones (see Figure 1-9). A microSD card can be plugged into an SD card adapter to have it function like an SD card.
Many desktop computer cases have drive bays. Why not use one of them for a multifunction card reader? That way, you can slip a memory card out of your digital camera and transfer files at will. SD card, microSD card, CompactFlash, memory stick — whatever you have — a multifunction reader can read them all and costs a pittance.
CD, DVD, or Blu-ray drive: Of course, these types of drives work with CDs, DVDs, and the Sony Blu-ray discs, respectively, which can be filled with data or contain music or movies. CDs hold about 700MB of data; DVDs hold 4GB, or six times as much as a CD. Dual-layer DVDs (which use two separate layers on top of the disc) hold about 8GB, and Blu-ray discs hold 50GB, or six times as much as a dual-layer DVD.
Fewer and fewer machines these days come with built-in DVD drives: If you want to schlep data from one place to another, a USB drive works fine — and going through the cloud is even easier. For most storage requirements, though, big, cheap USB drives are hard to beat.
USB drive or key drive: It’s half the size of a pack of gum and able to hold an entire PowerPoint presentation or two or six, plus a few full-length movies. Flash memory (also known as a jump drive, thumb drive, or memory stick) should be your first choice for external storage space or for copying files between computers. (See Photo Below) You can even use USB drives on many DVD players and TV set-top boxes.
Pop one of these guys in a USB slot and suddenly Windows knows it has another drive — except that this one’s fast, portable, and incredibly easy to use. It’s okay to go for the cheapest flash drive you can find as long as it belongs to a recognized manufacturer.
SOLID STATE DRIVES HAVE PROBLEMS TOO
Although I love my SSD system drives and would never go back to rotating hard disk drives (HDDs), SSDs aren’t perfect. First, they don’t have any moving parts, and it looks like they’re more reliable than HDDs. But when an HDD starts to go belly up, you can usually tell: whirring and gnashing, whining and groaning. Expiring SSDs don’t give off advanced warning signals or sounds. When an HDD dies, you can frequently get the data back, although it can be expensive and time-consuming. When an SSD goes, you rarely get a second chance.
SSDs must take care of lots of internal bookkeeping, both for trimming unused space and for load balancing to guarantee uniform wear patterns. Trimming is the process in which the operating system tells the SSD which data blocks are no longer needed and can be deleted, or are marked as free for rewriting. SSDs slow down after you’ve used them for a few months or years. The speed decrease is usually associated with the bookkeeping programs kicking in over time.
What about USB 3? If you have a hard drive that sits outside your computer — an external drive — or a USB drive, it’ll run faster if it’s designed for USB 3 and attached to a USB 3 connector. Expect performance with USB 3 that’s three to five times as fast as USB 2. For most other outside devices, USB 3 is overkill, and USB 2 works just as well.
This list is by no means definitive: New storage options come out every day.
Connecting your PC to other devices
Your PC connects to the outside world by using a bewildering variety of cables and connectors. I describe the most common in this list:
USB (Universal Serial Bus) cable: This cable has a flat connector (known as USB A) that plugs into your PC, as shown in Figure 1-11. The other end is sometimes shaped like a D (called USB B), but smaller devices have tiny terminators (usually called USB mini and USB micro, each of which can have two different shapes).
USB 2 connectors work with any device, but hardware — such as a hard drive — that uses USB 3 will be much faster if you use a USB 3 cable and plug it into the back of your computer in a USB 3 port. USB 2 works with USB 3 devices, but you won’t get the additional speed. Note that not all PCs have USB 3 ports, especially older PCs.
USB-C is a special kind of USB connection that supports amazingly fast data transmission and high levels of power. You know when you have USB-C because it’s impossible to insert the plug upside down — both sides work
equally well. It’s becoming the go-to choice for connecting peripherals and, in some cases, power supplies.
USB is the connector of choice for just about any kind of hardware — printer, scanner, smartphone, digital camera, portable hard drive, and even the mouse. Apple’s iPhones and iPads use a USB connector on one end — to plug in to your computers — but the other end is Lightning (common on Apple devices, not so common on Windows PCs) and doesn’t look or act like any other connector.
If you run out of USB connections on the back of your PC, get a USB hub with a separate power supply and plug away.
- LAN cable: Also known as a CAT-5, CAT-6, or RJ-45 cable, it’s the most common kind of network connector. It looks like an overweight telephone plug. One end plugs in to your PC, typically into a network interface card (or NIC, pronounced “nick”) or a network connector on the motherboard. The other end plugs in to your wireless router or switch or into a cable modem, DSL box, router, or other internet connection-sharing device.
- Keyboard and mouse cable: Most mice and keyboards (even cordless mice and keyboards) come with USB connectors.
- Bluetooth is a short-distance wireless connection. Once upon a time, Bluetooth was finicky and hard to set up. In recent years, it has become quite useful and is now used to connect all kinds of accessories: speakers, headsets, mice, and keyboards.
- DisplayPort and HDMI connectors: Modern computer monitors and smart TVs use small HDMI (see Figure 1-14), DisplayPort (see Figure 1-15) or mini DisplayPort connectors, which transmit both audio and video over one cable.
Video, sound, and multimedia
Unless you’re using a cheap laptop or a tablet, chances are good that you’re running Windows 11 on a PC with at least a little oomph in the audio department. In the simplest case, you have to be concerned about four specific sound jacks (or groups of sound jacks) because each one does something different.
Here’s how the four key jacks are usually marked, although sometimes you must root around in the documentation to find the details:
- Line In: This stereo input jack is usually blue. It feeds a stereo audio signal — generally from an amplified source — into the PC. Use this jack to receive audio output into your computer from your iPad, cable box, TV set, radio, CD player, electric guitar, or other audio-generating box.
- Mic In: This jack is usually pink. It’s for unamplified sources, like most microphones or some electric guitars. If you use a cheap microphone for Skype or another VoIP service that lets you talk long distance for free, and the mic doesn’t have a USB connector, plug in the microphone here. In a pinch, you can plug any of the Line In devices into the Mic In jack — but you may hear only mono sound, not stereo, and you may have to turn the volume way down to avoid some ugly distortion when the amplifier inside your PC increases the strength of an already amplified signal.
- Line Out: This stereo output jack is usually lime green. In many cases, it can be used for headphones or patched into powered speakers. If you don’t have fancy output jacks (such as the Sony-Philips SPDIF), Line Out is the source for the highest-quality sound your computer can produce. If you go for a multi-speaker setup, Line Out is for the front speaker.
- Rear Surround Out: Usually black, this jack isn’t used often. It’s intended to be used if you have independent powered rear speakers. Most people with rear speakers use the Line Out connector and plug it into their home theater system, which then drives the rear speakers; or they use the HDMI cable (see the preceding section) to hook up to their TVs. If your computer can produce full surround sound output and you have the amplifier to handle it, you’ll get much better results using the black audio jack.
Many desktop computers have two more jacks: Orange is a direct feed for your subwoofer, and the gray (or brown) one is for your side speakers. Again, you must put an amplifier between the jacks and your speakers.
Laptops typically have just two jacks, pink for Mic In and lime for Line Out. If you have a headphone with a mic, that’s the right combination. It’s also common to plug powered external speakers into the lime jack.
Tablets and smartphones usually have headphone jack, which works just like a lime green Line Out jack.
High-end audio systems may support optical connections. Check both the computer end of the connection and the speaker/receiver end to make sure they’ll line up.
PC manufacturers love to extol the virtues of their advanced sound systems, but the simple fact is that you can hook up a plain-vanilla PC to a home stereo and get good enough sound. Just connect the Line Out jack on the back of your PC to the Aux In jack on your home stereo or entertainment center. Voilà!
Ultrabooks and convertibles
Netbooks, a popular concept in the days of Windows 7, were small laptops designed to provide the basics people needed from a laptop at an affordable price. Think of them as the precursor to today’s Chromebooks.
Then along came the iPad, and at least 80 percent of the reason for using a netbook disappeared. Sales of netbooks have not fared well, and I don’t see a comeback any time soon. Tablets blow the doors off netbooks, and 2-in-1s mopped up the remains.
Ultrabooks are a slightly different story. Intel coined (and trademarked) the term Ultrabook and set the specs. For a manufacturer to call its piece of iron an Ultrabook, it must be less than 21mm thick, run for five hours on a battery charge, and resume from hibernation in seven seconds or less. In other words, it must work a lot like an iPad.
Intel threw a $300 million marketing budget at Ultrabooks, but they fizzled. Now the specs seem positively ancient, and the term Ultrabook doesn’t have the wow factor it once enjoyed.
If you’re in the market for a new machine, drop by your favorite hardware store and look around. You might find something different that strikes your fancy. Or you may decide that you just want to stick with a boring desktop machine with a mechanical keyboard and a wide monitor the size of a football field. Guess what I work on, alongside the ZenBook Duo?
What You Might Not Like About Windows 11
Windows 11 is not all greatness. There are frustrating bits, as in any operating system. Here are the negative aspects that I think every Windows 11 customer should know before using it:
- Forced updates: Windows 11 users do not have any choice about updates. When Microsoft releases a patch, it gets applied. Considering the troublesome update history Windows 10 had, this is not a great policy on Microsoft’s part. Unfortunately, all you can do is pause Windows 11 updates for up to five weeks. How annoying is that? Well, you’ll soon find out.
- Inflexible hardware requirements: As mentioned earlier in this chapter, you must have an Intel Core processor from at least 2017 or an AMD Ryzen processor from 2019 onward. As a result, only people with a new PC can run Windows 11, and they must also enable security features like the TPM chip and Secure Boot. I think these restrictions will lower the adoption rate for Windows 11 and drive many users mad. While Windows 11 is better than Windows 10, that doesn’t justify the cost of replacing a not-so-old computer with a new one.
- Privacy concerns: Microsoft is following the same path blazed by Google, Facebook, Apple (to a lesser extent), and many other tech companies. They’re all scraping information about you, snooping on what you’re doing, to sell you things. I don’t think Microsoft is worse than the others, and Windows 11 has lots of privacy controls. In Book 2, Chapter 6, I talk about reducing the amount of data that Microsoft collects about you.
- Too many preinstalled apps: Many people rely on apps to get their work done and to keep their lives sunny side up. The problem is that most Windows 11 PCs come with lots of crapware preinstalled: free apps and games that you don’t need, which eventually ask you for money.
I’ve learned how to block Microsoft’s forced updates and have come to peace with the fact that it’s snooping on me. (Hey, I’ve used Google’s Chrome browser for years, and it’s been harvesting data the entire time.) Windows 11 may or may not give you more headaches than the alternatives, but it gives you more opportunities, too.
Welcome to Windows 11!
Seeing What's New in Windows 11
Windows 11 is available as a free upgrade for Windows 10. You can get it from Windows Update, when Microsoft offers it to you, if your PC meets its steep system requirements, or upgrade manually using Windows 11 Installation Assistant at www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows11. You can also buy Windows 11 from Amazon and other shops and install it yourself, or get it preinstalled on a new laptop, tablet, PC, or hybrid device.
While it does have many cool features, new apps, and useful technologies (all covered in this chapter), Windows 11 initially proved to be relatively buggy. For example, soon after its launch, it was plagued by performance issues on systems with AMD Ryzen processors. If you have made the jump from Windows 10 to Windows 11 but find that it doesn’t deliver suitable performance or stability, roll back to Windows 10 for a time, before making the jump again in a few months. I start this chapter by showing the steps required to get back to Windows 10.
Then I present the short story of Windows 11 and the principles Microsoft used in designing it. I also talk about the many different kinds of apps you can use in this operating system, including Android apps. Yes, you read that right!
Lastly, I describe all the new features and changes you might notice when you switch from a previous version of Windows to Windows 11.
Rolling Back to Windows 10
Before digging into an examination of the new nooks and crannies in Windows 11, I’d like to pause for a second and let you know about an option you may have. If you upgraded from Windows 10 to Windows 11 in the past 10 days, and you don’t like Windows 11, you can roll back to your old version. This works for only 10 days because a scheduled program comes in and wipes out the backup after 10 days.
If it’s been 10 days or less since Windows 11 was installed and you want to roll back to Windows 10, the following steps show you how.
Note that this technique is only for upgraders; it doesn’t apply to new Windows 11 systems or computers on which you installed Windows 11 by wiping out the hard drive. For these systems, your only chance to go back to Windows 10 is to install it manually and erase Windows 11.
Click or tap the Windows logo icon and then Settings. Alternatively, you can press Windows+I on your keyboard.
The Settings app opens.
In the left column, choose System. On the right, click or tap Recovery.
You see the recovery options offered by Windows 11, as shown in the photo below.
Click or tap the Go Back button.
Microsoft asks you why you are going back.
Choose a reason from the list and then click or tap Next.
Microsoft tells you that you should check for updates, because they might fix the problems you’ve been having. A funny but weak attempt to get you to stay with Windows 11, if you ask me.
Click or tap No, Thanks.
Microsoft informs you that you won’t be able to use your PC until the rollback is done. Also, after going back, you might have to reinstall some apps and might lose some settings.
- Click or tap No, Thanks.
Click or tap Next.
Microsoft gives you one last warning that you need to know the password of the user account that you used to sign into Windows 10.
- Make sure you remember this password and then click or tap Next.
Click or tap Go Back to Windows 10.
Your computer reboots and then restores Windows 10. This process takes quite a while and may involve some reboots. Arm yourself to be patient. If everything goes well, at some point you’ll see the Windows 10 lock screen.
Microsoft's Design Philosophy behind Windows 11
Initially, Microsoft planned to make Windows 10X (code-named Santorini), not Windows 11. Windows 10X was going to be a simplified version of Windows 10 that would compete with Chrome OS and be released on foldable mobile devices such as Surface Neo (another product that didn’t make it to the market).
Windows 10X was expected to be released sometime in 2020, and it featured some significant changes compared to Windows 10:
- A new taskbar with icons aligned to the center, rather than to the left.
- The removal of legacy components and legacy desktop apps from Windows 10 that were designed for PCs, not mobile devices with touchscreens.
- A redesigned Start menu without tiles and a friendlier user interface with an easier to use right-click menu.
In May 2021, Microsoft announced that Windows 10X was cancelled but many of its features would be used in future products. In Windows 11, Microsoft didn’t remove the legacy desktop apps and components from Windows 10, but it did adopt many of the user interface features that were developed for Windows 10X. The new operating system features a more pleasant-looking user interface, with lots of translucency effects, shadows, a new color palette, new icons, rounder corners for app windows, and sleek desktop backgrounds. Simply look at the photo below to see what I mean or give yourself a tour by opening the Start menu, File Explorer, Settings, and other Windows 11 apps.
Visually, Windows 11 is the most beautiful Windows ever. However, as you discover while reading this book and familiarizing yourself with Windows 11, it can also be one of the most frustrating Windows versions ever.
Understanding the Types of Windows 11 Apps
Windows 11 can run several different kinds of programs. Computer programs (you can also call them applications or desktop apps if you want) work by interacting with an operating system. Since the dawn of Windows, programs have communicated with the operating system through a specific set of routines (application programming interfaces, or APIs) known colloquially and collectively as Win32. With rare exceptions, Windows desktop apps — the kind you use every day — take advantage of Win32 APIs to work with Windows.
In early June 2011, at the D: All Things Digital conference in California, Steven Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green gave their first demo of Windows 8. As part of the demo, they showed off new Metro apps, which interacted with Windows in a different way. They used the newly minted API set known as Windows Runtime or, more commonly, the WinRT API. Microsoft started calling the WinRT based apps immersive and full screen, but most of the world settled on Microsoft’s internal code name, Metro apps. Microsoft, however, has since changed the name to Modern UI, then Windows 8 apps, Windows Store Apps, Modern apps, Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps, and Microsoft Store apps. They all mean the same thing: newer apps that run with this new API instead of the traditional Win32 APIs.
In this book, to minimize confusion, I use the terms Windows 11 app and just app when referring to apps that use the new API.
Windows 11 apps have several characteristics that make them different from desktop apps:
- They’re sandboxed — stuck inside a software cocoon that isolates the apps from the operating system and from each other, so that it’s hard to spread infections through them. These apps can’t modify system files and settings, which makes them safer to use.
- They can be easily interrupted, so their power consumption can be minimized. If a Windows 11 app hangs, it’s almost impossible for it to freeze the machine.
- They’re designed to work both with touchscreens and a mouse and keyboard. In contrast, desktop apps were optimized for mouse and keyboard.
- You can’t run multiple instances of the same app in parallel like you do with many desktop apps or programs — or at least not yet.
- They’re distributed only through the Microsoft Store. In contrast, desktop apps can be downloaded from anywhere on the internet. One upside is that Windows 11 apps are updated automatically by the Microsoft Store app. Often, desktop apps need to be updated manually, or they have a separate updater that runs in the background.
- When you buy an app from the Microsoft Store, Microsoft gets a commission. In contrast, you can buy a desktop app anywhere and Microsoft doesn’t get a commission, unless you buy it from Microsoft or the app is made by Microsoft.
Android apps are another hot topic for Windows 11. According to Microsoft, in Windows 11, you’ll be able to find Android apps in the Microsoft Store, which then hands you off to the Amazon Appstore. This feature wasn’t available at launch, but the company says it soon will be. Basically, all the apps that work on Amazon’s Kindle tablets that use Android should work on Windows 11 too. This move may increase the appeal for using Windows 11 on tablets and other touch devices, but many will be disappointed that this interconnectivity won’t cover the Android apps from Google’s Play Store.
Unlike Windows 10, the Microsoft Store for Windows 11 will host all types of apps: desktop apps, Windows 11 apps, and Android apps (again, not at launch, but they should show up soon after this book is published). To top things off, it also includes games, movies, and TV shows (see photo below).
Also, the Microsoft Store has more desktop apps, including Adobe Reader, VLC Media Player, Discord, and Zoom Cloud Meetings. After the appalling App Store for Windows 8 and the mediocre store for Windows 10, this seems a bit too good to be true, doesn’t it?
Seeing What's New for the Windows Crowd
Depending on which version of Windows you’re coming from, Windows 11 may be a bit different or a lot different. In the sections that follow, I present the most significant changes that you’re likely to notice.
A new Start menu and taskbar
Windows 11 has a new Start menu and taskbar. They’re inspired by the world of macOS, so they’re a lot more beautiful than previous incarnations but also less customizable. They’re both centered on the screen, as shown below.
Unlike in Windows 10 and 8, the new Start menu doesn’t have tiles (dynamic shortcuts that display live data from the apps they point to). The classic shortcuts from Windows 7 are back. Also, you can no longer resize the Start menu, and the way it is organized is fixed.
The taskbar looks good and works well with not only the mouse and keyboard but also touchscreen devices. However, you can’t place it at the side of the screen, add toolbars to it, or change its size.
Increased role for settings
One of the things I love about Windows 11 is the new Settings app. First, it is better organized than it was in Windows 10 and a lot better than it was in Windows 8.
You can get where you need to faster because the categories in Settings appear in a column on the left, with the relevant settings alongside on the right, as shown below. There’s no intermediary step as there was in Windows 10. In addition, a Search box enables you to quickly find any setting.
Next, even more settings have migrated from the old Control Panel, making Settings even more useful than in Windows 10. However, I wish Microsoft would have finished this journey, so that I could stop having to use the dated Control Panel, which works well only with a mouse, not with touch.
According to Microsoft, Windows 11 should offer more performance than Windows 10. Among all the improvements, one that caught my attention was that Windows 11 can prioritize apps in the foreground. Apps you’re opening or using receive more hardware resources (including processor power) from the operating system than the ones in the background. That on its own should make apps feel faster in Windows 11.
Optimizations for laptop and tablet users mean the operating system uses less power than previous versions of Windows. For example, in Microsoft Edge, the Sleeping Tabs feature is on by default, putting open browser tabs in sleep mode after they haven’t been used for a certain amount of time. According to Microsoft, this feature can lead to a huge decrease in processor and memory usage — about 30 percent less CPU time and RAM used.
If you read the news about the Windows 11 launch, you’ll know that bugs and driver issues impaired performance. For example, on otherwise powerful AMD processors, some apps experienced performance hits of up to 5 percent, while some eSports games had performance hits that could reach 15 percent. The computer market has not supported this new operating system yet with fully optimized drivers. I expect that news about performance issues will be commonplace for the first 6 to 12 months after Windows 11’s release. And the performance improvements that Microsoft brags about will be truly noticeable by everyone probably a year after Windows 11’s launch.
Gaming is a big deal in Windows 11, and Microsoft wants its operating system to
be the best choice for gamers.
HDR is a technology designed to make images resemble the real world as closely as possible. To make images look authentic, devices with HDR use wider ranges of colors, brighter light areas, and darker blacks for shades. DirectX is a collection of application programming interfaces (APIs) for handling tasks related to games.
If you have a monitor with High Dynamic Range (HDR) support, you can take advantage of a cool aspect of Windows 11: The auto HDR feature, which intelligently expands the color and brightness range up to HDR of DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 non-HDR games. This seamless feature will give you a new gaming experience that takes full advantage of your HDR monitor’s capabilities.
There’s also dynamic refresh rate functionality, which automatically helps you switch between different refresh rates. For example, Windows 11 might use 60hz when reading your email or a Word document on your laptop, which lowers battery consumption on your laptop, but it then switches to 120 Hz automatically when gaming to give you the most fluid gaming experience.
A more interesting technical feature of Windows 11 that will affect the gaming of tomorrow but not today’s is direct storage. This feature allows your Windows 11 computer to bypass the processor when it needs to load data from an NVMe solid-state drive to the graphics card. NVMe, or Non-Volatile Memory Express, is standard software interface that enables SSDs and other components to run directly through the PCI Express (PCIe) physical interface directly attached to a computer’s processor.
Direct storage decreases the amount of processor power required by games when loading textures (the graphics you see on the screen), which means that games should load faster too. However, games must implement specific support for direct storage and, when Windows 11 was launched, no games provided that support.
I expect direct storage support in games to be the norm in a couple of years. To cater to the needs of gamers, Windows 11, just like Windows 10, has a game mode that starts automatically when it detects that you’re playing something. You can also start it manually. Game mode prioritizes the processor and graphics card resources to your game. It also stops Windows Update from installing driver updates or showing update notifications during your play. Another useful feature is that it stops all notifications from all apps so that they don’t interfere with your game.
Another feature is the Xbox game bar. With it, you can take screen shots while you play and record videos of your gameplay. You can also use it to quickly adjust the audio and voice settings — useful when you play online with others and must coordinate with them. The Xbox game bar also shows you the performance of your computer (processor, RAM, and graphics card resource consumption) and allows you to chat and interact with your friends on Xbox, as shown below.
Press Win+G to display the Xbox game bar at any time, including when you’re not playing. Familiarize yourself with all the buttons and features, so that you can use it productively while you play games.
Improved Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge has replaced Internet Explorer and is now based on the same Chromium open-source project found in Google Chrome and Opera.
The new Edge from Windows (shown in photo below) is a standards-compliant and screamingly fast browser, ready to take on just about any website anywhere. Microsoft Edge may see Microsoft taking back the mindshare it’s been steadily losing on the browser front for the past decade or so. Recently, it managed the performance to overtake Mozilla Firefox in market share, which is quite something.
Where Internet Explorer was frequently infected by wayward Flash programs and bad PDF files, Microsoft Edge is immune. And all the flotsam that came along with Internet Explorer — the ancient (and penetrable) COM extensions, custom toolbars, even Silverlight — are no longer used.
Apple has Siri, Google has Google Assistant, and Amazon has Alexa. Microsoft has Cortana, the Redmond version of an AI-based personal assistant, shown in the photo below. When Windows 10 was launched, Cortana was integrated into Windows Search, so it had the potential to know too much about what you do on your computer. Cortana never took off, and it was used a lot less than Siri or Google Assistant. Because of that, Microsoft decided to decouple it from the rest of Windows, and in Windows 11 it is a separate entity.
You can ignore it if you want, and you’ll never know Cortana is part of Windows 11, or you can enable it, and have it sit in the background, listening for your commands. The choice is entirely yours, and the good news is that Cortana is no longer aggressively pushed by Microsoft.
Due to its strict security hardware requirements (supported processors, UEFI, Secure Boot, TPM), Windows 11 can be more easily secured by business organizations. Because of this hardline approach, you get the following benefits:
- Encryption is turned on by default, which means that lost or stolen Windows 11 devices are harder to crack.
- Chip-to-cloud protection (or virtualization-based security) is built-in, meaning that many cloud-based security solutions and services can be operated more securely, including in remote or hybrid work scenarios.
- Container isolation for apps that are frequent targets for cyberattacks, such as Office or Microsoft Edge, means that a compromised app can’t mess with the operating system, because it has no access to it, and can’t cause even more damage.
- Secure passwordless logins through biometric authentication, USB keys, or authentication apps provide for faster logins.
Fine-tuned virtual desktops
Windows has had virtual (or multiple) desktops since Windows XP, but before Windows 10, you had to install a third-party app — or something like Sysinternals desktop from Microsoft — to get them to work. Windows 11 implements virtual desktops (see below) in a way that is useful and a bit less confusing than in Windows 10. For example, virtual desktops in Windows 11 no longer include the timeline from Windows 10.
You can name virtual desktops any way you want and change their desktop background, to help you keep track of which is which. It took Microsoft a long time to realize that this tiny improvement makes a world of difference.
Multiple desktops are handy if you tend to multitask. You can set up one desktop to handle your mail, calendar, and day-to-day stuff, and another desktop for your latest project or projects. Got a crunch project? Fire up a new desktop.
To start a new desktop, press Win+Ctrl+D. To see all available desktops, click or tap the task view icon on the taskbar (to the right of the search icon). App windows can be moved between desktops by right-clicking and choosing Move To. Alt+Tab still rotates among all running windows. Clicking or tapping an icon in the taskbar brings up the associated program, regardless of which desktop it’s on.
Improved window snapping and grouping
You use multiple windows and apps on your computer, and one of the easiest ways to organize them on the desktop is with the snap feature. It allows you to quickly position your windows on the screen by dragging them to the sides or corners. You can split the screen into two, three, or four areas. In Windows 11, snap is even better and easier to use: Hover your cursor on the square icon next to the close icon (X) in the top-right corner of any window, and you see a list of up to six snap layouts to choose from (photo below).
The number of layouts depends on the resolution of your screen. Displays that are full HD or higher have six snap layouts. On older monitors or on resolutions lower than full HD (or 1080p), you get four snap layouts, as in Windows 10.
Open windows are also organized into snap groups that remember the positions of windows on the screen.
Widgets are back
Widgets are a group of small graphical apps designed to provide at-a-glance information about news, weather, sports results, stocks, traffic, and the like, as shown below. They are accessible straight from the taskbar and can be customized to show only the widgets you want. Widgets include a Bing search bar that opens results in Microsoft Edge.
The look and content delivery style of Windows 11’s widgets are similar to the News and Interests widget in Windows 10 and the live tiles in the Windows 10 Start menu.
Other apps and improvements
Microsoft has given many built-in apps a much-needed makeover:
Windows Terminal is now built into Windows 11 instead of a separate app you download from the Microsoft Store. With it, you can use only one
command-line shell for executing commands in PowerShell, Command Prompt, and Azure Cloud Shell.
- Paint has a received a fresh look, with sleek menus and visuals and useful tools for basic image editing.
- Photos has a better user interface, a new photo-viewing experience, and an updated photo-editing toolbar. A part of this blog shares what you need to know about using this app.
- Snipping Tool combines the Snipping Tool and Snip & Sketch apps from Windows 10 into one screen shot–taking app. The new app from Windows 11 is better and simpler to use than its predecessors.
- Xbox from Windows 11 is better than it was in Windows 10. If you have an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, the Xbox app lets you play through Xbox Cloud Gaming directly, with no browser required.
- Clock now includes focus sessions, which help you improve productivity by implementing time-management methodologies such as the Pomodoro technique.
- Calculator is even more advanced than in Windows 10 and can plot equations in graphing mode.
- Microsoft Store looks better, works better, and includes a lot more useful apps than it did in Windows 10. Another cool aspect is that the search experience makes it easier to filter your results.
- Microsoft Teams is now part of Windows 11 and added to the taskbar, to the right of the widgets icon.
There are also some general improvements at a user interface level, which come in handy:
- Quick settings are now separate from notifications and offer more things you can toggle on and off. Windows 11 apps can add their own quick settings (for example, Spotify), and they’re easily accessible with a mouse and keyboard as well as touch. To see them in action, press Windows+A on your keyboard.
- Microsoft has improved the touch experience, with more space between icons on the taskbar. Windows 11 also adds haptics to your digital pen, so you can hear and feel vibrations as you take notes or draw on the screen.
- Windows 11 introduces voice typing and commands.
Windows 11 Versions
Back in 2015, Microsoft told us that Windows 10 was the last version of Windows. Fast-forward to October 2021, and they changed their mind because we now have Windows 11. This won’t be the last version of Windows, either, even if Windows 11 lives a long life, like Windows 10 still does. To make things even more confusing, Windows 11 has several editions, most of which you can ignore, and a Windows 11 Home in S mode edition that’s quite troublesome if you run it when you don’t know what it is. In this chapter, I explain how Windows 11 versions and editions are different and advise you on which one to buy.
Also, contrary to what you might expect, Windows 11 isn’t free, even though you get it preinstalled on a new laptop, PC, Microsoft Surface, or All-In-One device or as a free upgrade to Windows 10.
Here are some facts about purchasing Windows 11:
- You can upgrade from a genuine copy of Windows 10 to Windows 11 for free, if your PC meets the minimum system requirements that I detail in the first part of this blog.
- If you’re building a new PC, you must buy Windows 11. And if you buy a new PC with Windows 11 preinstalled, the PC manufacturer most probably paid for Windows 11 and passed along this cost in the price of the PC.
EDITION VERSUS VERSION
Microsoft makes a distinction between versions and editions of Windows. Windows versions started with the venerable Windows 1.0, continued through Windows XP and Windows 7, and reached their lofty heights with Windows 10 and Windows 11. In the past, a version change was a big bump — from Windows 7, for example, to Windows 8, to Windows 10. With the launch of Windows 10 and Microsoft’s Windows as a Service concept, the version bumps became tiny or almost imperceptible — but when you install a new version, you get a new copy of Windows.
Versions in Windows 10 often came with nonsensical names such as the Fall Creators update or May 2021 update. Many tech support engineers just give them numbers, which correspond roughly to when they were released: Windows 10 version 1507, 1709, 2009, 21H1, 21H2, and so on. When we got Windows 10, Microsoft released two versions of Windows per year. With Windows 11, Microsoft is going to release one version per year. A Windows 11 version represents a minor upgrade over the previous one, with just a few new features and improvements and several bug fixes.
Windows editions, on the other hand, refer to the capabilities of an individual copy of Windows. You probably know about Windows Home and Windows Pro. Once upon a time, we had a Windows Ultimate, but it died with Windows 7, which was the last to have some meaningful stuff added to it.
If you haven’t yet bought a copy of Windows, you can save yourself some headaches and more than a few bucks by buying the right edition the first time. There are many versions and editions of Windows 11, and I explain them all in simple terms, so that you can understand which is best for you.
Finally, you may already have Windows 11 on your computer, but you don’t know which edition and version you have. This information is helpful in understanding what you can and can’t do with Windows 11, as well as when you need tech support. Read this part of the blog to its end for steps on finding the exact edition and version you’re using.
Windows 11 Editions
Windows 11 appears in seven different major editions. Fortunately, most people need to concern themselves with only two editions, and you can quickly narrow the list to one. Contemplating the 32-bit conundrum is no longer necessary, as it was with Windows 10 and Windows 7, because Windows 11 is available only in a 64-bit incarnation.
In a nutshell, the Windows 11 editions (and targeted customer bases) look like this:
- Windows 11 Home — the version you probably want — works great unless you need one of the features in Windows 11 Pro. A big bonus for many is that Windows 11 Home makes all the myriad Windows languages — 140 of them, from Afrikaans to Yoruba — available at no extra cost. Its biggest downside is that it doesn’t include BitLocker encryption and Remote Desktop.
- Windows 11 Pro includes everything in Windows 11 Home plus Encrypting File System and BitLocker (see the BitLocker sidebar later in this chapter) for protecting your hard drive’s data; Hyper-V for running virtual machines; the software necessary for your computer to act as a Remote Desktop host — the “puppet” in remote desktop session; and the capability to attach the computer to a corporate domain network.
- Windows 11 Enterprise is available only to companies that buy Microsoft’s Volume License program. It offers a handful of additional features over those in Pro, but they don’t matter unless you’re going to buy a handful of licenses or more. There’s also an Enterprise LTSC (Long-Term Servicing Channel) with new versions released once every two to three years and security updates for ten years after each version is released.
- Windows 11 Education looks and works just like Windows 11 Enterprise but is available only to schools, through a program called Academic Volume Licensing. It also has a slightly smaller feature-set than the Enterprise edition.
- Windows 11 Pro Education is a special edition of Windows 11 for the educational sector that’s similar to Windows 11 Pro. It includes a Set Up School PCs app that allows provisioning settings using a USB flash drive. It does not have Cortana, Microsoft Store suggestions, or Windows Spotlight.
- Windows 11 Pro for Workstations is designed for high-end hardware that costs a lot, intensive computing tasks, and the latest server processors and file systems. Unlike other editions of Windows 11, Pro for Workstations work on PCs with four processors (instead of a maximum two), and a maximum of 6TB of RAM (instead of a maximum 2TB). If you aren’t a data scientist, CAD professional, researcher, or media producer, this edition isn’t right for you.
- Windows 11 IoT is designed for low-cost such as the Raspberry Pi and specialized machines, such as robots, ATMs, POS terminals, and barcode scanners. There are two editions of Windows 11 IoT: IoT Enterprise and IoT Core.
All editions except IoT run on only Intel and AMD processors. They’re traditional Windows.
You’ll hear about Windows 11 editions designed for ARM chips and Qualcomm processors — chips originally designed for smartphones. In theory, those editions work the same way as their Intel/AMD brethren but can run only emulated desktop apps.
To make your life a little bit more complicated, Windows 11 Home can run in S mode. Microsoft is peddling S mode as an alternative to Chromebooks — stripped down, fast starting, battery friendly, and offering better protection against infections with viruses and other forms of malware.
Windows Vista and Windows 7 both had Ultimate editions, which included absolutely everything. Windows 11 doesn’t work that way. If you want the whole enchilada, you must pay for volume licensing.
Windows Media Center — the Windows XP–era way to turn a PC into a set-top box — is not available in any version of Windows 11. Do yourself a favor and buy a Chromecast or use your cable company’s DVR if you really have to record TV.
Windows 11 Home running in S mode runs only apps. That bears repeating: S mode doesn’t run old-fashioned Windows programs. It’s restricted to running just Windows 11 apps from the Microsoft Store. Luckily, only Windows 11 Home can run in S mode. Other editions like Pro or Enterprise can’t.
Buying the right edition, the first time
What if you aim too low and buy Windows 11 Home and decide later that you really want Windows 11 Pro? Be of good cheer. Switching editions is not as tough as you think.
Microsoft chose the feature sets assigned to each Windows edition with one specific goal in mind: maximize Microsoft’s profits. If you want to move from Windows 11 Home to Windows 11 Pro (the only upgrade available to individuals), you need to buy the Windows 11 Pro Pack. To buy an upgrade, click or tap the Start icon (shown in the margin), Settings, System, and then About. Then, inside the Related settings, find the Product key and activation information.
Similarly, moving from Windows 11 Home in S mode to plain Windows 11 Home requires only a trip to the Microsoft Store.
Upgrading is easy and cheap, but not as cheap as buying the correct version the first time.
Narrowing the choices
If you’re a regular home user, you can dismiss five Windows editions immediately:
- Windows 11 Enterprise is an option only if you own a large business and want to go through Microsoft’s Volume Licensing program or purchase a Windows 365 Enterprise or Microsoft 365 for Enterprise subscription.
- Windows 11 Education and Windows 11 Pro Education, similarly, can be purchased only in large quantities. If you’re a student, faculty member, or staff member at a licensed school, you must contact the IT department to get set up.
- Windows 11 Pro for Workstations is useful only for professional users with expensive hardware and specific needs. Most people should ignore it.
- Windows 11 IoT is a viable choice for enthusiasts and software developers who want to tinker with Raspberry Pi and program their own devices to perform specific tasks.
BITLOCKER AND ENCRYPTING FILE SYSTEM
BitLocker was introduced in Windows Vista and has been improved since. BitLocker runs underneath Windows: It starts before the operating system starts. The Windows partition on a BitLocker-protected drive is completely encrypted, so bad guys who try to get to the file system can’t find it.
Encrypting File System (EFS) is a method for encrypting individual files or groups of files on a hard drive. EFS starts after Windows boots: It runs as a program under Windows, which means it can leave traces of itself and the data that’s being encrypted in temporary Windows places that may be sniffed by malicious programs. The Windows directory isn’t encrypted by EFS, so bad people who can get access to the directory can hammer it with brute-force password attacks. Widely available tools can hack EFS if the cracker can reboot the computer that is attacking. Thus, for example, EFS can’t protect the hard drive on a stolen laptop or notebook. Windows has supported EFS since Windows 2000.
EFS and BitLocker are complementary technologies: BitLocker provides coarse all-or-nothing protection for an entire drive. EFS lets you encrypt specific files or groups of files. Used together, they can be hard to crack.
There’s also BitLocker To Go, which provides BitLocker-style protection to removable drives, including USB drives. You should use it when storing important data on your USB drives.
That leaves you with Windows 11 Home, unless you have the need to do one of the following:
- Connect to a corporate network. If your company doesn’t give you a copy of Windows 11 Enterprise, you need to spend the extra bucks and buy Windows 11 Pro.
Play the role of the host in a Remote Desktop interaction. If you’re stuck with Remote Desktop, you must buy Windows 11 Pro.
Note that you can use Remote Assistance any time, on any Windows PC. The Windows 11 Pro restriction is specifically for Remote Desktop, which is commonly used inside companies but not that much by other types of users.
Many business users find that TeamViewer, a free alternative to Remote Desktop, does everything they need and that Remote Desktop amounts to overkill. TeamViewer lets you access and control your home or office PC from any place that has an internet connection. Look at its website, www.teamviewer.com.
- Provide added security to protect your data from prying eyes or to keep your notebook’s data safe even if the notebook is stolen. Start by determining whether you need Encrypting File System (EFS), BitLocker, or both (see the BitLocker sidebar). Windows 11 Pro has EFS and BitLocker — with BitLocker To Go tossed in for even more protection.
- Run Hyper-V. Some people can benefit from running virtual machines inside Windows 11. If you absolutely must get an old Windows 7 program to cooperate, for example, running Hyper-V with a licensed copy of Windows 7 may be the best choice. For most people, virtual machines are an interesting toy but not much more.
64-bit is the new normal
If you’ve settled on Windows 11 as your operating system of choice, there’s no more stressing about whether you want the 32-bit flavor or the 64-bit flavor of the Home edition, as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows 10. That’s because Windows 11 is the first consumer operating system from Microsoft to support only 64-bit processors. It doesn’t work on older 32-bit processors, and it accepts only modern hardware that meets its strict security requirements.
Not being able to use Windows 11 on old hardware can be annoying, but there are important benefits to this enforcement on Microsoft’s part:
- Performance: The 32-bit flavor of Windows — the flavor that everyone was using more than a decade ago — has a limit on the amount of memory that it can use. Give or take a nip here and a tuck there, 32-bit machines can see, at most, 3.4 or 3.5 gigabytes (GB) of memory. You can stick 4GB of memory into your computer, but in the 32-bit world, anything beyond 3.5GB is simply out of reach. With many desktop apps acting like resource hogs, such as the Google Chrome browser, you want 4GB or more on any PC.
- Security: Security is one more good reason for running a 64-bit flavor of Windows. Microsoft enforced strict security constraints on drivers that support hardware in 64-bit machines — constraints that just couldn’t be enforced in the older, laxer 32-bit environment.
There’s only one problem with 64-bit Windows: drivers. Some people have older hardware that doesn’t work in any 64-bit flavor of Windows. Their hardware isn’t supported if the manufacturer decides that it isn’t worth the money to build a solid 64-bit savvy driver so that the old hardware can work with the new operating system. You, as a customer, get the short end of the stick and are forced to buy new hardware.
Applications, however, are a different story. All 32-bit apps work on 64-bit Windows and shouldn’t be an issue.
Which Version of Windows Are You Running?
You may be curious to know which version of Windows you’re running on your current machine. The easy way to tell is to first log in and press the Windows key on your keyboard. If your desktop is like
- the first photo below, you’re running some version of Windows 10. Note the Windows logo wallpaper, the large Search box in the lower-left corner next to the Windows icon, and the large tiles on the right side of the Start menu.
- the second photo below, you’re running Windows 11. Note how the icons on the taskbar are centered, not left-aligned as they are in Windows 10. Also, the tiles from the Windows 10 Start menu are gone, replaced by traditional shortcut. And there’s a new Recommended section that lists recent apps and recently opened files, for quick access.
If you have Windows 11, here’s how to see your specific edition and version:
Click or tap the search icon (magnifying glass) on the taskbar, and type about.
Search results appear. At the top of the stack you should see something like About Your PC.
Press Enter or click or tap About Your PC.
You see an About window with lots of technical details.
On the right, scroll down until you get to Device Specifications, shown in the photo below
To the right of System Type, you can see that you’re using a 64-bit version of Windows 11.
Scroll down a bit more until you see Windows Specifications.
In this section, you see the edition of Windows 11, the version, the date it was installed, and the OS build number.
The OS build number is useful if you need to contact Microsoft’s tech support service. It helps the support engineer figure out the exact build of Windows 11 and the appropriate patches or steps required to troubleshoot problems with your specific version.