Last week, Microsoft introduced Windows 11, the first major new version of its in-house OS in six years. The Redmond firm said that the first Windows 11 Insider Preview would arrive this week with a ton of new features, and it’s not wasting any time. The first Windows 11 beta is here in the form of build 22000.51, and it’s available for Insiders in the Dev channel.

Windows 11 design changes

The very first thing on Microsoft’s list of Windows 11 features is better visuals, and that adds up to rounded corners. It might seem like a simple thing, but Windows over the past decade has had a lot of sharp corners. Frankly, it didn’t make for a visually pleasant experience.

Start Menu and taskbar

There’s a new Start Menu. This is probably the most obvious change in the whole OS. In fact, this is the first time that the Start Menu hasn’t been attached to the bottom-left corner of the screen since it was introduced with Windows 95. All of the elements on the lock screen are centered too, and if you’re using something that has an accelerometer, it even has a parallax motion effect.

Notification center and Quick Settings

Clicking on the date and time in the taskbar brings up the notification center. It’s going to give you your calendar and notification in an all-new multi-panel design.

Probably a bigger change are that there are just two buttons on the right side of the taskbar now. One of them is the one that opens the notification center. The other launches Quick Settings. The network, volume, and battery icons all launch Quick Settings, rather than popping up their own little settings menu like they do in Windows 10.

Windows 11 themes

The Windows 11 preview build comes with six built-in themes. This is something that we already saw with the previous build that we went hands-on with.

The first two are the default themes, which come in light and dark flavors. There are also new contrast themes that can be found by going to Settings -> Accessibility -> Contrast themes.

The Windows 11 preview has new sounds, and Microsoft says the sound scheme is “lighter, more atmospheric, and a bit shorter overall”. Generally, they’re just meant to be more pleasant than the sounds in Windows 10. Try changing the volume and hearing the chime. Interestingly, Microsoft also said there are different sounds for light and dark modes.

Widgets

At first glance, the widgets in Windows 11 seemed like a prettier and rebranded version of News and interests from Windows 10, rather than a new feature. News and interests is gone, and widgets in Windows 11 are a much improved version of that.

You can add or remove widgets, and you can rearrange them. First-party widgets include calendar, weather, traffic, Microsoft To Do, photos from OneDrive, sports, stocks, and tips. One thing that Microsoft didn’t confirm is third-party widget support.

You can access widgets from the icon in the taskbar, by swiping in from the left, or by pressing Win + W.

Multitasking features in Windows 11

Ever since Windows 7 was introduced, Microsoft has been working hard at giving users better ways of using split-screen apps. With Windows 10, it introduced Snap Assist, which let you snap one window to the side, and that the OS would show you your open apps so you could pick one for the other side.

Windows 11 introduces Snap Layouts, which is available in today’s preview. As you can see from the image above, there are a variety of layouts that you can choose from. All you have to do is pick one, and which ever position you click on, that’s where your app will end up. You can bring this up by hovering over the maximize button. Snap Assist will help you populate the rest of the screen.

On top of Snap Layouts, we have Snap Groups. Here’s an example. If you work with two Edge windows side-by-side, then you’re used to hovering over the Edge icon in the taskbar and picking the one you want to open. To bring up your full view, you’d hover over the icon again and pull up the other window as well.

Voice typing improvements

There’s a new voice typing launcher feature in Windows 11. You can turn this on in settings, as it’s not on by default. Whenever a textbox is in focus, you’ll see a little box at the bottom of a screen that you can tap to start voice typing.

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