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Taking Microsoft’s Windows 11 for a Test Drive

For tech reviewers, critiquing a new operating system is something of an absurd ritual. It’s like being a professional house inspector who delivers a report that always goes like this: Here’s what you need to know about the home you are about to move into. Some parts are significant, but there are substantial problems. You’re moving in any way, though, so you’re going to have to learn to live with it.

That’s because operating systems are essentially where your digital life takes place. If you own a personal computer made to run Windows, you’re probably going to keep using the next version of Windows no matter how good or bad it is. That’s how I felt as I tried out Windows 11, Microsoft’s first big operating system update in six years. The company has marketed it as a new start to Windows with a modern, people-centric design.

(Not new is how tech companies constantly remind us that their products were designed for users instead of being for my Labrador retriever.) The software will be a free update for many Windows personal computers this holiday season. New to Windows are tools for productivity, like the ability to instantly shrink and reorganize windows and support for mobile Android apps. Yet Windows 11 is ultimately an evolution.

While there are improvements, parts of it feel frustratingly familiar. I tested an early, unfinished version of Windows 11 for a week. Some highs, like a design that makes the software behave similarly to mobile devices, and some lows, like the dated concept of widgets, which are essentially miniature apps that live inside a dashboard on your screen. Here’s my inspection report summing up the good, the meh, and the ugly.

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