Windows 11 arrives: my initial impressions


Disclosure:  Microsoft is a client of the author.

I’m fascinated by the coverage of Windows 11, particularly when compared to the media circus that surrounded Windows 95. When it was released, folks were far too excited and bought it much too quickly— only to discover Microsoft had a lot to learn about releasing a complex OS. 

Windows 11 reflects lessons learned over the past three decades. I’m writing this on a Windows 11 machine I just built over the weekend. I had issues with initial compatibility because even though this system used 11th-generation Intel technology, getting Windows 11 to work on it was far more complex than a Windows 10 setup has ever been. (I build one or two systems every year.)  But the extra pain I endured showcases the shift between optimizing for usability and optimizing for security, which sadly reflects the world we live in now. 

Let me walk you through my experience and why it was likely worth the effort. 

Windows 11 setup vs. Windows 95

The first system I built from scratch was in 1994; it was a Windows 95 system and it took me weeks to build it.  Back then, folks rarely built their own PCs because it wasn’t easy. Motherboards and cases, for instance, weren’t built to the same standard. So I had to float the motherboard in the case using rubber furniture feet because the mounting holes in the motherboard didn’t match up with anything in the case. I loaded the OS with a stack of floppies, then discovered a distinct lack of drivers. And since there was no full-fledged internet yet, getting drivers that worked was an exercise in futility.

Lost work due to crashes was the norm. I recall some nimrod (a technical term) at Intel who installed Windows 95 in one of Intel’s fabs; it failed and brought down the entire line (likely ending the career of said nimrod). In my case, I decided to put the OS on our CEO’s laptop and bricked it, effectively making me an honorary nimrod.    

Let’s just say that ompared to Windows 95, the Windows 11 install was a dream.  But it wasn’t without issues. 

After I built the system, I tried to install the OS and got the dreaded “your hardware isn’t compatible with Windows 11” warning. I went back, read the instructions, making sure the system was set for UEFI storage, that secure boot was enabled, and that the firmware TPM was enabled — or so I thought.  Neither the OS error nor the BIOS language explained that you need to select PTT to get Windows 11 to load if you don’t have a TPM module. You’d think this would be in the instructions, but it isn’t — and even finding a discussion on what dTPM meant wasn’t particularly easy.  (For instance, on Reddit, they argued THAT TPM was AMD’s version of PTT, which doesn’t make sense if this is an Intel motherboard, which it is.)  If you go to Wikipedia, it doesn’t even seem to know what dTPM is, which seems a tad problematic since Wikipedia  seems to know everything. 

Once that one setting was changed, Windows 11 installed without a hitch, largely unaccompanied. (I broke for lunch during most of the installation.) The OS booted up without a hitch, and the only issue I had was my primary microphone wouldn’t work. That got corrected once I loaded the MSI drivers that came with the motherboard. 

My Windows 11 experience

As noted above, I’m now working on Windows 11. The UI is undoubtedly different, and I find the typical annoyance of looking for things in different places. For instance, when I wanted a list of my apps, I clicked on the Microsoft logo, which is in the middle of the screen now rather than on the left, and then clicked on “more.” But that brought up an unalphabetized list of apps which wasn’t at all helpful. However, if you click on “all apps” at the top right, you get an alphabetized list of apps.  It reminds me a bit of how Android organizes apps. 

There isn’t a search field in the taskbar anymore; you have to click on the magnifying glass, which is an additional step, but cleaner in appearance. Given that I use that search bar once or twice a month, the annoyance was minor. I get that people don’t like UI changes, and I’ve seen others argue that Microsoft should have had a Windows 10 mode so that we could avoid the new UI. But after a couple of hours, I was no longer annoyed with the changes and most things are working well. 

Now that both my primary desktop and laptop have been successfully upgraded to Windows 11, I’m good. 

Why upgrade?

Yes, Windows 11 is a tad annoying initially, and usability doesn’t seem that different from Windows 10. So why upgrade?  

Windows 11 marks the first time Microsoft has really taken security in the OS seriously. Windows 10 was far easier to install with security features like UEFI, Secure Boot, and the TPM disabled. So even though you paid for these critical security elements, most of us turned them off. Having them off was like leaving your front door unlocked; you were vulnerable to attacks that those paid-for security elements would otherwise block. 

Windows 11 is more secure. You can’t install or run it with those features disabled by default, which means you are getting more of the security you’ve purchased, even though those features add to the difficulty of upgrading. Many of us pick fast over safe; with all of the breaches and malware out there, we need to change that behavior. 

There are significant breaches going on all around us. (As I was wriring this, Twitch got hit.) You do not want to be the person that introduces your company to malware, is the source of a breach, or is the entry point for ransomware. In those instances, getting fired might be the best thing that could happen to you; the worst is being held liable for the resulting damage. And while your IT shop might be understanding, your management probably won’t be. 

You certainly can put off installing Windows 11, much like you can put off getting a Covid-19 vaccine. Still, that decision in either case could have dire consequences — especially since Windows 11 might be the equivalent of a vaccine against much of the malware currently driving IT nuts. 

Stay safe out there.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.



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