Andre's Blog
Perfection is when there is nothing left to take away
Windows 11 - Twice as pretty, half as bright

Last week, after a large Windows update, my laptop popped up an offer to upgrade to Windows 11 before even getting to the sign-in screen. There was only upgrade and decline buttons and while I didn't want to update right at that moment, I didn't want to decline either. I pressed Esc and it continued. No idea if it was the same as decline, but checking Settings > Windows Update confirmed that the offer is still there.

I looked around for Windows 11 upgrade stories and couldn't find anything useful - all articles and posts described the new Windows 11 look and feel and had very little to say about features and general behavior. So, I decided to upgrade on the weekend and check it out for myself.

Getting Ready

I started with a full system backup, which is still available on Windows 10 under Windows 7 Backup, System Image. Once the backup was completed, I kicked off the Windows 11 upgrade in Settings > Windows Update.

The update process is implemented quite nicely and not only it downloaded the update while I was using Windows 10, but it also installed most of it in background, without prompting me to to reboot. Once this part was done, the reboot followed and it took some time to finish, as expected. I didn't time it, but it felt like it tool about an hour and a half.

Taskbar

After Windows 11 started, my desktop icons were still in their original places and most Windows settings, such as privacy, what's running and what's not were still there, which was nice. All taskbar icons appeared in the center of the taskbar, as expected from reading various pages, and I moved them back to the left corner in Settings > Personalization > Taskbar > Taskbar behaviors.

There were a few new taskbar icons, such as Chat and Widgets, that I turned off in taskbar settings. Chat referred to Microsoft Teams, which I usually launch when I need it, and I decided to check out Widgets later.

This brought me to a look similar to that of Windows 10, with the exception of application titles not being visible on taskbar. In Windows 10, there was a taskbar setting to show application titles until there were too many icons, at which point same-application icons were collapsed into a single icon. This setting provided a convenient way to see if anybody commented on Twitter, etc, as the browser changed the title to indicate the number of interactions and now this convenience was gone.

Start Menu

The new Start menu was filled up with social media apps, like Instagram and Facebook. It got me alarmed at first that Microsoft installed all those apps without asking me first, but clicking a couple of icons I realized that Windows 11 installs those apps on the fly, as I clicked on them. Without any warnings or asking for a confirmation to install a new app.

I removed all those from the Start menu via the Uninstall option in the context menu, which made no sense because none of them was installed, but I clicked it anyway to make sure whatever stubs these apps had, they were removed.

Once most of social apps and those I didn't need in the Start menu, like video playback, were removed, the Start menu got pretty pointless. In Windows 10, the Start menu shows a list of applications and additional application shortcuts were in the panel on the right, which could be turned off, but on Windows 11 there is no way to turn it off, so every time I click Start, I see this empty panel and have to click All Apps to see the app list that used to be available right away.

A few system shortcuts were also missing from the Start menu, like Settings and Documents, but those could be turned back on in Settings > Personalization > Start > Folders.

Widgets

The Widgets panel was full of various online junk, like news, weather, and so on. Clicking the settings button in Widgets didn't bring any local settings, but instead took me to a Microsoft website, which asked me to specify my interests, etc. Took me a bit to realize that Microsoft took my One Drive sign-in and without asking me used it to set up Widgets.

This laptop is configured to run Windows with a local administrator account and I use One Drive account only for MS Office and One Note. Grabbing this account to show me all of Microsoft-promoted online junk was not cool. Fortunately, there is Sign-out button in Widgets and as soon as I clicked it, all widgets were gone. Good riddance.

After switching my laptop to a tablet, I realized that I spoke too soon and that swiping the left edge of the screen still brings up an empty Widgets tray and there is no way to disable this action. After some searching, I was able to uninstall Widgets via the following command:

winget uninstall --name "Windows Web Experience Pack"

However, at this point I have no idea if there are any side effects of uninstalling this package, so do your own research before running this command. After using the device for some time I will eventually update this section with more observations. For now, though, I just want to get rid of these annoying widgets.

Task Manager

Task Manager was available in Windows 10 with a right click on the taskbar and now it was gone. The only way to launch was via the Start menu. I ended up pinning Task Manager to the Start menu, so there is use for this empty area after all.

All Task Manager settings were gone and I had to reconfigure all columns and views again. Surprising, given that the application didn't change, so one would expect the existing configuration remain intact.

File Manager

File Manager lost its ribbon, which I never used, so for me it was a good change. I cannot say the same, however, about removing 3rd-party apps from the immediate context menus, such as those added by 7zip and Beyond Compare. In Windows 11, I have to right-click on the item for a neat context menu and then click Show more options to bring up the old context menu with all the useful stuff.

One thing I noticed, but I cannot remember if it was there before the upgrade, was that File Explorer now had a Linux icon for Linux on Windows (WSL) file systems. It was a nice convenience - I always had to search for the path on the system drive before.

Tablet Mode

Windows 10 had a tablet mode, which came in handy when using a pen because Windows switched all applications to a full screen mode and the taskbar wasn't getting in the way when drawing on the screen.

When I switched my laptop to a tablet on Windows 11, the taskbar remained where it was, just icons got spaced more, so it was apparent that Windows recognized the mode switch, but didn't seem to do anything else.

After researching this for a bit I learned that Microsoft simply dropped the tablet mode as a feature from Windows 11.

Backup

Windows 10 had two built-in backup options - File History and Windows 7 Backup, and one available with a One Drive subscription.

File History was a weird form of file copy that collected multiple zip'ped files in the file history folder. I never used it because there are better backup options available. In Windows 11 File History was completely removed from Settings and can now be found only via search, which brings up the old Control Panel app.

Windows 7 Backup is a simple, but, nevertheless, a true backup application, which creates a point-in-time copy of the current computer state, including a bare metal backup in the form of a System Image, which can be restored after booting computer from a USB key. Fortunately, Windows 7 Backup is still operational in Windows 11.

As far as I can see from scattered documentation, One Drive sync is not really a backup, but rather a cloud file sync option. It's similar to how, a mirrored RAID1 drive cannot be called a backup because once a file is deleted from a mirrored drive, it's gone and while it can still be retrieved from the recycle bin or via some safety options, that's not how a backup works. One Drive does offer a file version history, but that tracks file history, not a storage snapshot, like a backup would.

Having said that, One Drive is not very well documented and maybe I missed some backup options. I didn't spend a lot of time researching it because it is prohibitively expensive for storage volumes exceeding 1TB in size.

Storage Spaces

I love Storage Spaces and have been using them for years. It got a bit challenging to use them with laptops because there is no drive eject button and I had to find a solution that I described in an earlier post, but other than that Storage Spaces have been wonderful for storing large volumes of data in a reliable and relatively inexpensive way.

When I attached my Storage Spaces enclosures after the upgrade, Windows 11 offered to upgrade them to the new format. The way it was phrased, made me think (erroneously) that Microsoft implemented the eject button for Storage Spaces. So, I did a foolish thing and upgraded both of my storage pools, making them incompatible with Windows 10.

Later I realized that the upgrade message wasn't actually referring to being able to remove Storage Spaces drives safely, but rather to being able to remove physical disks from a storage pool.

Once I realized what happened, I left one of the enclosures upgraded, but had to delete and recreate a storage pool on the other enclosure, so I can move files between Windows 10 and Windows 11. Checking both version for both storage pools, I could see that the storage pool created on Windows 10 reported version Windows Server 2022 Preview in PowerShell and as version 25 in Settings > Storage Spaces and the upgraded storage pool had version Windows Server 2022 reported in PowerShell and version 27 in Settings > Storage Spaces. You can see storage pool versions with this PowerShell command.

Get-StoragePool | ft FriendlyName,Version

Storage Space Online/Offline

Browsing through Settings > Storage Spaces I noticed in storage space Properties a button titled Take offline. Thinking that it might be a convoluted way to eject a storage space, I ran a write/detach test against one of the storage spaces, which wrote a 2GB file with random data to a fixed disk and the same data to a storage spaces drive. Once both files were written out, I clicked the Take offline button and detached the enclosure. Comparing both files afterwards indicated that taking a storage space offline does not flush its cache al outstanding data is lost. Not sure why Microsoft exposed this functionality, but it is better to stay away from this button.

Settings

Most of the visible work in Windows 11, for me, was in the Settings app, which now has most panels functional without launching the matching Control Panel applications, like Windows 10 used to do. However, some things still require Control Panel, which is really annoying at times. For example, there is no way to change a storage space drive letter in Settings and I had to use Manage Storage Spaces in Control Panel to do that.

What's even worse is that Storage Spaces used to have their own section in Settings that was reachable with with a couple of clicks and now I have to click Storage, which immediately starts unnecessarily populating all storage usage bars, then expand Advanced storage settings and only then click Storage Spaces, which brings up a dedicated panel to configure storage spaces. This process must be repeated every time the pane needs to be refreshed.

Little Annoyances

While overall upgrade to Windows 11 worked out quite well, there is a number of little things that are too small to have a section for them, but annoying enough to know that Microsoft rushed Windows 11.

For example, every time my laptop wakes up from sleep, the laptop screen go 100% brightness, while the brightness slider remains at 70%. Moving it one click 69/70 and back gets brightness restored, but this needs to be done every time.

For another example, clock time used to be shown on its own in the notification area and was easy to see. Now Microsoft crammed time and date in the same space where just time used to be, so each component is half as large as before and it is much harder to see time and date.

Yet another one that makes one wonder how Microsoft came up with this idea is that clicking the Network icon in the notification area brings up a panel with brightness and volume controls, a focus assist button, and controls to add other icons, like rotation lock, battery saver and screen projection controls.

I wish I could say that I reached the end of the list for these.

Final Thoughts

I have been using Windows 11 for just one day and in this short amount of time I didn't find any useful functionality added in what is supposed to be a whole new version of Windows, while I stumbled upon a lot of little things that either take more clicks to reach or just disappeared altogether.

Maybe my usage patterns are further away from the Microsoft's target audience than I thought they were and maybe in the coming days and weeks I will find some of those useful features I missed today (will update this post then), but at this point I must say that I'm not quite sure if this upgrade deserved the major version bump it received - maybe it should have been just Windows 10.5, at least until Control Panel is completely gone.

Update 2022-01-22

As I keep working with Windows 11, new impressions, good and bad are piling up. Will keep these in two simple lists.

Good

  • When I detach the laptop from the docking station and then put it back in, some applications (not all) that were running on a stationary display attached to the docking station now find their way back to that display on their own. I used spend a few minutes moving them back one by one with Win-Shift-Arrow.
  • The brightness bug mentioned in the little annoyances section got fixed in one of the Windows 11 updates in the last couple of days.

Bad

  • Switching applications with Alt-Tab became much more difficult because the selection frame is a 1-2 pixel wide black line that is really hard to and where there is a lot of windows open, it sometimes takes a couple of tries to activate the right one.
  • Dragging a document onto a minimized application used to restore it after a couple of second delay, so a dragged document could be opened. Now hovering over a minimized application does nothing, so you have to drag it back, so you don't move it or copy somewhere by accident, then I have to restore the target application and then drag it again.
  • High DPI settings in Properties > Compatibility don't work anymore. That made running Linux on a VMware workstation more difficult because now it runs with tiny text on a high-resolution display.
  • Spoke about brightness bug being fixed too soon - either it was reintroduced in a recent update or it is just intermittent, but closing/opening a laptop lid or reconnecting to a docking station lights up the laptop screen at 100%, while its brightness slider remains at the original value.
  • Notifications are hard to read now because they are cut-off in the pop-up. The calendar must be minimized to make some of them more visible by reusing the calendar real estate and some remain cut off even after that.
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