Microsoft is preparing to release Windows 11 later this year, and Windows Insiders can already try it today. The new operating system brings a lot of visual and design changes, as well as new features and apps. It’s the biggest visual overhaul Windows has received since Windows 10 launched, so there’s a lot to get used to. If you’re struggling with how to use Windows 11, we’re here to help.
Before we get started, if you want to know everything that’s new in Windows 11, you can check our guide. We’ve listed every major and not-so-major change that’s already available to try. You can also read our Windows 11 coverage to learn more about what’s still to come.
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If you’ve used Windows 10 or other versions, some changes will be apparent as soon as you boot into the desktop. Out of the box, the taskbar icons will be centered instead of on the left side. You can change the taskbar alignment in the Settings app -> Personalization -> Taskbar. The option is under Taskbar behaviors. You’ll also notice a new icon for Windows, in addition to a few new icons next to it.
One of these icons is Search, and you might already be familiar with it from Windows 10. It lets you search your PC and the web for just about anything. The icon with a black and white square is Task View, and it lets you see all of your open apps. You can also hover over the icon to see your desktops, which we’ll get into a bit more later.
Finally, there’s another new icon for widgets, which we’ll also talk about later. You can remove any of the buttons (except for Start) and apps by right-clicking them and then clicking Unpin from taskbar.
Over in the right corner of the taskbar, you’ll find a few things. At the very end of the taskbar, there’s an invisible button that lets you see the desktop. When you put your mouse over it, a small black line will appear, so you can use that to know if you’re in the right spot.
Right next to that button is your notification counter along with the time and date. If you click this area, you’ll see a calendar showing the events you’ve added to your Outlook calendar. The calendar shows a full month, though you can collapse using the arrow at the top, so it shows just two weeks. The notifications are listed above the calendar. Apps and websites can send you notifications to alert you to things like messages and events, and if you don’t see them right away, they’re stored here.
Next, there’s a set of three icons – Network, sound, and battery. Clicking this will give you access to the Quick Settings panel. Here, you’ll see sliders for your system volume level and the display brightness, along with a number of quick actions. By default, these are:
- Wi-Fi – Lets you turn Wi-Fi connections on or off. Clicking the arrow lets you see the available networks around you.
- Bluetooth – Lets you turn Bluetooth on or off so you can connect devices like Bluetooth headsets or other peripherals.
- Airplane mode – Disables all wireless connectivity to avoid interfering with airplane communications.
- Battery saver – Lets you enable or disable battery saver mode if you have a laptop. This helps your battery last longer, but certain background tasks are paused and notifications may be slower to arrive. This setting can’t be changed when your laptop is plugged into an outlet.
- Focus Assist – This is the Windows equivalent of do not disturb. Priority only mode lets you get notifications from certain apps you choose, which you can do by right-clicking the icon and choosing Go to Settings. Alarm only mode means you’ll only be disturbed for alarms.
- Accessibility – This gives you quick access to various accessibility tools. These are Magnifier, Color filters, Narrator, Mono audio, and Sticky keys.
You can also customize these Quick Settings using the gear icon at the bottom of the panel to add and remove items to your liking. Also, if you’re playing any media on your PC, you’re going to see playback controls above the Quick Settings panel.
Finally, there’s the overflow menu. You’ll notice it by the OneDrive (cloud) icon that should show up by default, along with the arrow to expand the list. These are icons for certain apps and they serve as quick shortcuts to those apps. What you see here is dependent on the apps you install. In the case of OneDrive, that’s preinstalled with Windows 11, and the icon lets you see quick information about your sync status.
Windows 11 Start menu
The Start menu is at the launchpad for almost everything you do on Windows, and Windows 11 shakes things up significantly. The Start button has a new icon, and clicking it brings you to this view.
As you can see, lots of things are different. Live Tiles are gone, and instead, you get a grid of pinned apps at the top. You can click the All apps button to see a list of all your installed apps. You can right-click an app to pin it or unpin it from the Start menu. If you want to re-arrange your pinned apps, you can simply click (or touch) the app and drag it around.
- Start menu
- All apps list
- Rearranging pinned apps
At the bottom, a Recommended section shows you your recent files and recently installed apps. You can click the More button to see all recommended items. If you don’t want a particular item to be listed, you can right-click it and choose Remove from list.
- Removing an item from the recommended list
- Full list of recommended items
The bottom bar of the Start menu contains the user and power menus. Clicking your user name lets you change accounts settings, while the power button lets you shut down or restart your PC. You can also customize certain shortcuts to show up in this bar. To do that, go to the Settings app and head to Personalization -> Start.
- User menu
- Power menu
- Changing the folders that appear in Start
Windows 11 Widgets
Another thing that’s brand new in Windows 11 is the new widgets panel. As we mentioned above, you can open it by clicking the icon on the taskbar, and what it does is show you quick glanceable information from apps and services. At the top, you’ll see widgets for things like weather, Microsoft To Do, OneDrive, and things like sports scores.
You can click the ellipsis icon near the corner of each card to resize or remove it, or use the Add widgets button to add new widgets. Right now, there aren’t a lot of widgets to choose from, but there are a few Microsoft ones. Hopefully, more will be added over time.
Below the widgets, you’ll see news stories related to topics of your interest. If you want to change the topics you’re interested in, you can click your profile picture in the top right corner of the widgets panel. From there, click Manage your news and interests near the bottom of the pop-up that appears. A web browser window will open, allowing you to change your interests.
Microsoft Edge, the web browser
Edge is Microsoft’s web browser for Windows 10 and Windows 11. It’s been around since 2015, but if you haven’t used it in a while, it’s significantly different and much better now. It’s based on the same foundation as Google Chrome, so it should work identically across the web.
The big difference is it will sync your data using your Microsoft account instead of a Google account. Edge is also available on phones, so you can more easily sync your data across different devices.
You shouldn’t have a hard time figuring out the basics if you’ve used any modern browser. The address bar is at the top, along with the usual navigation buttons. You can find everything else you need using the menu near the top right corner.
Click the ellipsis icon to get access to all the major options you might need. Your history, downloads, and favorites (bookmarks) are all there. You can also right-click any of them and click Show in toolbar if you want the buttons to show up next to the address bar without using the menu.
As Edge is based on Chrome, that also means it can now install extensions made for Chrome, including themes. Find any extension you want on the Chrome Web Store and you should be able to install it normally. Of course, you can still install any browser you prefer, including Google Chrome. But you might not have as much of a reason to switch now.
Install apps in Windows 11
There are two main ways you can install apps in Windows 11. You can use the Microsoft Store, where apps are verified by Microsoft, or you can download them using a browser. Microsoft introduced a brand-new store in Windows 11, and it has a radically different look.
Most of the space is taken up by the spotlight section, which highlights popular or recent additions to the Store. You’ll find different categories on the side menu for apps, games, and movies. You can also access your library to find apps you’ve installed before.
To get the apps you want, you can use the search bar at the top to search for them, or just browse the store until you find what you’re looking for. Most of the changes to the Microsoft Store in Windows 11 are actually behind the scenes. Microsoft is making it easier for developers to put their apps on the store, so you may soon see many more apps showing up there. If you can’t find what you want on the store, you can use your browser to look for apps on the web.
The Settings app
If you want to change something about your Windows 11 PC, the Settings app is probably the place to do it. The most important settings you might want to change are here, and in Windows 11, the app has a brand-new design. The side menu gives you access to all the main sections of the app, which are the following:
Included apps in Windows 11
Windows 11 comes with a bunch of apps that help you get things done out of the box. These apps include all the basic functionality you’d expect from a PC. These are all the apps that come pre-installed:
Multitasking in Windows 11
Windows 11 has some great multi-tasking tools, and some of them are new even if you’ve already used Windows 10. There are a few key things that make Windows 11 good for multi-tasking.
Windows 10 introduced the concept of virtual desktops in Windows, and now Microsoft just calls them desktops. Desktops let you create separate spaces for different types of apps. For example, you may have a desktop for your games, and one for your work apps. In Windows 11, you can rename the desktops and order them in any way you’d like.
To access your virtual desktops, you can click the Task View button or press Windows key + Tab. Another thing that’s new in Windows 11 is you can hover your mouse over the Task View icon to quickly see your different desktops or to create a new one. That way, you don’t have to bring up the whole task switcher interface.
Snap layouts and groups
Windows 11 lets you easily snap apps next to each other, too. Like in Windows 10, you can drag windows to the sides of the screen to snap them to a specific position. But now, there’s a new feature called Snap layouts. When you hover your mouse over the maximize/restore down button, you’ll see a grid of possible layouts you can choose to automatically snap apps on your screen. This includes some new layouts like seeing three apps side-by-side. When you snap the first app, Windows will guide you to finish the layout with the apps you want.
- Starting a Snap layout
- Suggestions for the second app to snap
- Snapping the final app in a Snap layout
Once you’ve set up a Snap layout, you can also get back to it quickly if you happen to open another app over it. Hover your mouse over any of the taskbar icons for the apps in your Snap layout, and you’ll see the full Snap group as an option. Click it, and you’ll be back to the layout you were using.
Using dual monitors
Many people like to use two or more monitors to help increase productivity. In the Settings app, you can change how the two displays are laid out relative to each other. Using multiple monitors is nothing new to Windows, but Windows 11 brings some improvements.
Now, when you unplug a monitor, the windows in that monitor are minimized automatically, and when you plug it back in, your windows are restored in the right monitor. It makes multi-tasking much easier.
Using a touchscreen in Windows 11
If you have a tablet with Windows 11, there are some extra things you may want to know about using a touchscreen. The basic things are what you’d expect. Tapping something acts like a left mouse click, while tapping and holding is a right-mouse click. It’s not too far off from using a modern smartphone. However, there are some gestures you might want to know about to make the most of your experience.
For starters, swiping in from the left side of the screen will bring up the Widgets panel, whereas in Windows 10, it opened the Task View. Swiping in from the right still brings up your notifications, but instead of Quick Settings, now you’ll see your calendar. To access your Quick Settings, just tap the group including the Wi-Fi, sound, and battery icons.
Then there are the multi-finger touch gestures, which are brand-new in Windows 11. These gestures are like what you might find on laptops with a Precision touchpad. You can swipe left or right with three fingers to switch to your most recently used app, or swipe down to minimize all the windows. Swiping up with three fingers opens Task View, but if you swipe up after swiping down, you’ll just restore the windows you minimized. Finally, you can swipe left or right with four fingers on the screen to switch between virtual desktops.
That should cover most of the basics of how to use Windows 11. Whether you’re a complete newbie to Windows or you’ve used a previous version, there’s a bit of a learning curve. However, once you get the hang of it, it should feel just like Windows 10, and everything should work as expected.
Do you have any questions about using Windows 11? Let us know in the comments!