Microsoft’s Windows 11 Preview 1 for Windows Insiders just became available a few days ago, and I installed it as soon as I could. There has been a lot of hype surrounding its refreshed visual design, and the idea of the O.G. operating system finally being modernized in a way that allowed it to compete with the likes of Chrome OS and Linux in terms of being user-friendly and approachable.
It’s long since been a bulky, hideous, OS in my opinion, but it’s got a lot right this time around, and I wanted to talk about that for a moment. While this may cause some controversy, I can’t help but say that it’s clear Windows 11 has taken more than a few pages out of Google’s book for Chrome OS. However, I don’t see this as a bad thing – instead, I see it as a necessary path forward, and one that is long overdue. Let’s discuss.
I want to talk about Microsoft’s new approach to the visual design of Windows. The most immediate and striking change to the free upgrade (Yes, Windows 10X was repurposed) you’ll eventually receive if you own a PC is drastically different than that of the leaked build that made its way online this past week. While I was watching the reveal trailer for Windows 11, I was immediately up in arms about how similar to Chrome OS it looked and felt in many regards, but I had to stop myself.
You see, Microsoft didn’t copy Google, per se. Google has largely popularized a modern standard for the user experience – one that originated with Linux and one that Microsoft has been stubborn to implement for decades. The new design boasts a centered taskbar, app-like pinning in the Start button, a quick settings-style system tray with tiles, an updated notification experience, and a completely redesigned Settings application among many other things (Oh, and a renewed universal approach to tablet and desktop UI adaptation much like Chromebooks).
Actually, Windows 11 looks a lot more like my Material You for Chrome OS mock-ups than Chrome OS does now! See the gallery below to see all of the striking similarities. However, before we all get upset about the blatant mimick that Windows 11 appears to be, we have to realize that this is bigger than that – it’s simply the new standard.
One thing is for certain – Microsoft is aiming for Chromebook users with this release. Sure, they’ve taken special care to design their new operating system around its core user-base (although undoubtedly making many of them angry with TPM requirements and over-simplification of UI elements), but with this radically new eye candy, I think they’ve finally learned their lesson – no one likes an ugly operating system, and most regular people aren’t willing to stick around and deal with all of the overly-complicated nonsense if Google’s OS is easier to use and built around their needs.
With that being said, Windows 11 does not put a special focus on web apps in the same way that Chrome OS does, and while it will run Android applications like Google’s laptops do, PCs will only source apps from the Amazon app store (a fairly useless and limited storefront, in my opinion), or via side loading.
Despite the temptation for many to jump back into the arms of their ex, keep in mind that though it seems to have changed its ways and has renewed beauty, the reason you left Windows remains. It’s just relying on time, distance, and new perfume to draw you back in, but it still has skeletons in its closet. It’s still more vulnerable than a Chromebook, and still unnecessarily complex for most regular people’s needs.
Anyone who wants a simple, web-first experience that has become known as the future of computing should stick to their Chromebook. During my experiment where I switched to Windows 10 for a week and tried to make it as much like Chrome OS as possible, I used things like Taskbar X – an add-on to center the taskbar icons, and other tricks to achieve what Windows 11 gives by default. I had to jump through a few hoops to pin my web apps in the new start menu (less than with Windows 10 though), whereas Chrome OS does this by default, so what you’re seeing below isn’t the out-of-the-box experience.
Still, it’s a much-needed improvement for those like myself who must dual-wield operating systems for different purposes and deserves every bit of praise it’s receiving. Now, I can use my Chromebook for most work, and then switch to my Windows machine for game development and feel less alienated with the interface and how I access what’s important to me. In the end, the user wins when corporations like Google and Microsoft follow each other’s trends and create experiences that put the consumer and their expectations first. Now that they seem to have unified on the design front, my hope is that security and other more important aspects of computing are to follow.