Windows 11: best features explained

Here are the best features on Windows 11 that you'll get after upgrading your PC starting October 5.

Windows 11 best features
Windows 11 best features

Windows 11 is the most significant update that Microsoft has done in the past decade, with tons of new features and changes around security, productivity, and design, and in this guide, we’ll highlight and explain the best ones.

The newest version of Windows is rolling out now slowly to new eligible laptops and desktop computers. In the following weeks and months, the company will expand to other devices, depending on many factors like hardware age and eligibility, reliability metrics, etc. Then it will become fully available during the second half of 2022.

After upgrading to Windows 11 (version 21H2), you will notice that many things have changed, including the new desktop interface that now includes a new Start menu and Taskbar. Action Center has now been split into two features, including Notification Center and Quick Settings. Windows 11 introduces many design changes with new Fluent Design materials and rounded corners. Also, in this new version, you will find new features like Auto-HDR, Linux GUI apps support in WSL, Widgets, Cleanup Recommendations, and x64 emulator for ARM-based devices. Furthermore, for multitasking, you will even find features like Snap layouts and Snap groups. And Windows 11 will now remember the windows locations based on the monitor connection and a lot more.

In this guide, you will get to know the best new Windows 11 features you should be excited about, from the most interesting design changes to the biggest new features to those hidden enhancements.

Best features on Windows 11

Here’s a list highlighting the best features you should check out after installing the latest version of the OS.

1. New Start menu

Perhaps one of the biggest changes on Windows 11 is the redesigned Start menu that ditches the Live Tiles in favor of traditional icons and introduces a new minimalistic design. The menu has been inspired by the menu that Microsoft was working on for Windows 10X. It floats above the Taskbar, and it follows the new OS-style design with rounded corners and semi-transparent materials.

Windows 11 Start menu
Windows 11 Start menu

The menu is now front and center rather than aligned on the left, and it works just like a simple launcher. You have a section to pin your favorite apps, and there’s a section that surfaces your recent documents and installs. In addition, the menu now includes a search box to make it easier to find your files and applications.

Although the Start menu is now centered by default, you can always change the alignment to the traditional left side.

2. Windows 11 Taskbar

It might look similar, but Windows 11 also introduces a new Taskbar, which is also aligned to the center of the screen. The new bar includes a new Start button and buttons to access several new and redesigned features, including Search, Task View, Widgets, and Chat.

Taskbar aligned centered and left
Taskbar aligned centered and left

There are new animations for many actions and other design tweaks like the new pill-shaped indicator that changes size for running apps to indicate where they are minimized or maximized.

Also, now it comes with “Snap groups,” which is a feature that allows you to hover an app that belongs to a set of windows snapped in the screen to switch to snapped group without having to re-snap anything quickly.

The system tray at the bottom-right corner now includes groups-related icons into a single button to open the new “Notification Center” and “Quick Settings.”

Although there’s a new Taskbar, many users will feel that this design takes a step backward since it’s less functional than the previous version. For example, you cannot move the bar to the top, left, or right side of the screen. The options to change the sizes of the icons and show labels are gone. You can no longer drop apps or files, and you can’t even hide the items in the system tray.

3. Notification Center and Quick Settings

Windows 11 is now splitting Action Center into two experiences, including “Notification Center” and “Quick Settings.”

Notification Center is the new interface to view your notifications and calendar. You can access these views by clicking the group of icons with the time and date or using the Windows key + N keyboard shortcut.

Notification Center
Notification Center

Quick Settings includes controls to manage many features, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Airplane mode, Battery saver, Focus Assist, Night light, volume, and brightness without opening the Settings app.

Quick Settings media controls
Quick Settings media controls

You can open the interface by clicking the network, volume, and power group of icons or using the Windows key + A keyboard shortcut.

On Windows 11, above the Quick Settings flyouts, you will also find media controls when playing videos in Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, or supported media apps.

4. Windows 11 Widgets

Another feature new to Windows 11 is Widgets, a new dashboard that slides in from the left side of the screen to provide different types of information, such as weather, news, tracking, sports, entertainment, and more.

Windows 11 Widgets
Windows 11 Widgets

You can open Widgets with the dedicated button in the Taskbar or using the Windows key + W keyboard shortcut. On touch-enabled devices, you can swipe from the left edge to open the experience.

5. Snap layouts and Snap groups

Snap assist gets two new great features, including “Snap layouts” and “Snap groups,” to make it easier to organize and work with multiple windows on the screen.

“Snap layouts” is available from the maximize button in File Explorer and other apps that gives you a visual aid to snap windows on the screen using different grids.

Windows 11 Snap layouts
Windows 11 Snap layouts

On smaller screens, you will see a set of four snap layouts or six layouts on larger screens. You can also open the snap layouts flyout with the Windows key + Z keyboard shortcut.

“Snap groups” is a way to switch back quickly to your group of snapped windows when switching to a different app. For instance, you can snap together at least two apps. Then if you suddenly switch to another app, you can hover over one of these open apps in the Taskbar to find the snap group and click to switch back.

Snap groups
Snap groups

6. Modern File Explorer

Although File Explorer has been part of Windows for a long time, the application is finally getting a much-needed interface lift. You are still not getting tabs, but there are many changes that make the app new while keeping the familiar look and feel.

File Explorer new icons
File Explorer new icons

The design was done using the Windows UI Library (WinUI) that includes new visual elements, animations, and controls that match the style of Windows 11.

File Explorer removes the ribbon-style menu and introduces a new minimalist header that combines the title bar and menu into a unified interface that includes the new command bar.

Also, there’s a new context menu with semi-transparent materials and rounded corners. The “right-click” menu includes a row with common commands like Cut, Copy, Rename, Share, and Delete, and below, you will find the options you can use with that specific file.

File Explorer context menu
File Explorer context menu

Alongside the new interface, File Explorer now comes with new default icons with new styles, orientations, and colors, including three new designs for the default folder icon. One shows when the folder is empty, another one slightly different that indicates that folder has files, and you will even find an updated version of the zip folder icon.

New folder icons
New folder icons

Furthermore, there is an updated Share experience, scrollbar, and now the file manager integrates with the Windows Subsystem for Linux to allow you quick access to your Linux distros files.

7. New Settings app

Windows 11 also ships with a new Settings app. The new app has a completely redesigned interface, regroups and integrates new settings, ports more features from Control Panel, removes the homepage, and a lot more.

Windows 11 Settings app
Windows 11 Settings app

Similar to other parts of Windows, the new Settings app features a modern design with rounded corners, a semi-transparent interface, and modern and colorful icons.

The navigation structure is similar to the previous version, but there are more options, and the settings are grouped using different logic.

The app no longer includes a homepage. Instead, as you open it, you will be taken to the System section. And as you navigate each section, the settings pages will be listed on the right side instead of the left.

As you drill down through the pages, at the top, you will find the new breadcrumbs system to indicate your current location in the app. You can click each breadcrumb to jump back to a previous page.

Settings breadcrumbs
Settings breadcrumbs

Also, each section can show hero controls for frequently used settings or a specific feature.

Furthermore, the new Settings app can now recommend settings adjustments based on their current state.

8. Auto-HDR for gaming and DirectStorage

Beyond productivity, Windows 11 is also bringing some major improvements for gaming, including support Auto-HDR for gaming, DirectStorage, and DirectX 12 Ultimate support.

For gamers, Windows 11 is also bringing a new feature known as Auto HDR for games. It has been designed to improve the gaming experience by automatically converting compatible titles from standard-dynamic-range (SDR) to high-dynamic-range (HDR), which unlocks brighter and bolder colors on compatible displays for a more immersive and realistic experience.

Once you enable the feature, you will get a more immersive and realistic gaming experience with an increased range of color and luminance in more than 1000 DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 PC games.

Although this is one of the biggest features on Windows 11, it’s only supported on specific hardware, which means that you will need a monitor that supports HDR.

DirectStorage is a new technology that allows games assets to load faster to the graphics card without bugging down the processor. In other words, this means faster load times and more detailed game worlds. (This feature will require the latest NVMe drives and optimization by the game developers.)

Also, Windows 11 now supports DirectX 12 Ultimate. DirectX 12 is the technology standard for creating and managing gaming, images, and multimedia (such as visual effects and audio effects) that run on Windows-based devices.

9. Cleanup recommendations

Storage sense has a new feature known as Cleanup recommendations is a feature designed to automate the process of identifying the contents that can help free up hard drive space on the computer.

Cleanup recommendations interface
Cleanup recommendations interface

The feature is part of the Storage settings. It automatically detects and displays the amount of data that Windows 11 can reclaim by deleting specific large or unused files, uninstalling apps that you do not use, and clearing copies of files already uploaded to OneDrive.

Windows cannot delete files and apps for you, but if the device is running out of space, the settings page allows you to select and delete unused files and remove apps to make more room for other content.

10. Disks & volumes

Windows 10 introduces a new Disk Management tool built into the Settings app known as Disk & volumes. Although the OS has included a tool to manage drives for a long time, it’s a console still part of the Control Panel. The new experience was built from the ground up with modern improvements and accessibility in mind. It also features better integration with features like Storage Spaces and the Storage breakdown page.

Windows 11 Disks & volumes settings
Windows 11 Disks & volumes settings

The new tool allows you to view all the drives connected to the device, and you can create, resize, format, and change letters for partitions.

In addition, the experience also has a hidden feature, a health monitor feature to keep tabs on the health of Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) Solid-State Drives (SSDs).

If there is an issue with the storage, you will get a notification to access the drive to back up the data before it’s too late. The notification will open the drive page, where you can find more information, including the life remaining on the drive, temperature, and available space.

11. Storage Spaces

Although Storage Spaces is not a new feature, the ability to manage the experience through the Settings app is new to Windows 11.

Windows 11 Storage Spaces
Windows 11 Storage Spaces

Using the new interface, you can create and manage storage pools and spaces, add and remove drives, and optimize pools within the Settings app without opening Control Panel or PowerShell.

12. Camera settings

Another change on Windows 11 21H2 is the ability to manage webcams and network cameras settings.

Windows 11 Cameras settings
Windows 11 Cameras settings

You can manage features like brightness, contrast, rotation settings, and even enable or disable Video HDR and Eye Contact in the camera settings using the new settings. The Video HDR and Eye Contact features are only available in supported hardware.

13. SMB compression

On Windows 11, “SMB compression” is a new feature designed to request file compression during a transfer over the network. The idea is to make file transfers faster and reduce the bandwidth for large files without compressing files at the source and then decompressing the contents at the destination.

SMB compression
SMB compression

The benefit of this type of compression is on networks with less bandwidth, for instance, on computers or servers with 1Gbps Ethernet or Wi-Fi adapters. However, you may not see the benefit if you have two servers with 100Gbps network adapters with Solid-State Drives (SSDs). In practice, it may even take more time.

14. WSL Linux GUI apps support

One of the biggest features of this release is the ability to install and run Linux GUI (graphical user interface) apps as if they were natively installed on Windows 11.

Linux GUI apps on Windows 11
Linux GUI apps on Windows 11

The Linux GUI apps support even includes support for speakers and microphones, which means that if you install a media app, the peripherals will pass through and appear in the app. GPU accelerated 3D graphics are also supported to run any app that needs to do complex 3D rendering leveraging OpenGL.

When using this new Windows 11 feature, you do not have to run an X server manually since WSL automatically starts a new companion system distro, which comes with a Wayland, X server, pulse audio server, and all the required components. After you close the app and the WSL session, the system distro will end automatically.

Also, the apps will register with the Start menu automatically, which means that you don’t have to open the console to run a command to launch the app.

15. System optimization

If you upgrade to Windows 11, you will notice that your laptop or desktop computer will run faster. This is because the new version introduces several under-the-hood improvements to utilize resources better to make the system more responsive and snappier.

One of these improvements is the work done in the resource management that prioritizes apps running in focused (foreground) by giving them more processor, memory, and other system resources. For example, under heavy load (even at 90 or 95 percent), Windows 11 will redistribute the compute resources to launch without any lag when launching an app.

This technique also applies to the Windows shell itself, the browser, and your open tabs but using the “Sleeping tabs” feature that reduces memory by 32 percent and 37 percent of processor usage.

These improvements help to achieve longer battery life and better performance.

In addition, Microsoft is making the resume for sleep feature around 25 percent faster by reducing the starvation across key processing threads to preserve the power for the threads, and Windows Hello is up to 30 percent faster.

Windows 11 reduces the overall footprint. This was done by expanding the use of compression technologies and by setting non-critical built-in apps to a “stub” state that also reduces the space on the hard drive, background download activity, and download traffic.

Furthermore, starting with this release, updates will download and install faster due to the update engine, which only pulls down the necessary changes, making updates up to 40 percent smaller.

16. Multiple displays

You will also find that Windows 11 21H2 does a better job handling windows on a multiple display setup. In this new version, you can connect an external monitor to expand your work canvas, and as you disconnect the monitor, the app will minimize automatically. Then when you reconnect the display, the system will restore the apps automatically to their original location.

17. Touch keyboard

Windows 11 is also bringing improvements for touch-enabled devices, and one of the most noticeable is the new Touch keyboard.

Touch keyboard settings
Touch keyboard settings

The new touch keyboard includes a lot of enhancements to the previous version, including an improved design with rounded corners and acrylic material, and you can now change the size of the text or the keyboard itself.

Also, the touch keyboard now includes support for theming. You can choose from twelve different themes, or you can create a customized theme.

18. Out-of-box experience (OOBE)

Microsoft is also improving the out-of-box experience, which is the wizard that allows you to complete the initial setup of the operating system with a new account, privacy settings, and custom preferences when setting a new device or after a clean installation.

Windows 11 OOBE
Windows 11 OOBE

The new experience moves away from the dull blue and dark colors in favor of white and gray colors with a more intuitive and friendly interface to match the new modern design language of Windows 11 21H2.

You will also find new animations as you move through each page, and there is a new option to set the computer name as you complete the setup in this new version.

19. Windows 11 x64 emulator

If you have an ARM-based device, such as the Surface Pro X, after installing Windows 11, you will be able to install and run more applications thanks to the new x64 emulator that allows you to seamlessly install any traditional and modern applications designed for Intel and AMD processors.

These are some of the best features and improvements coming with Windows 11. Do you know other hidden gems in this update that weren’t mentioned? Let us know in the comments.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and Email him at [email protected].