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Microsoft is back with a new version of Windows that’s designed to feel modern and easy to use.
It’s been six long years since the last mainline version of Windows shipped, and a lot has changed in the OS space since then. Microsoft is back with a roaring passion to create a modern version of the Windows user experience that’s simple to use, beautifully designed, and well-connected, all in an effort to make you more productive in your professional or creative workflows.
In a world where more and more people are back using PCs in their day-to-day lives, Microsoft thought it was important to deliver a fresh OS designed from the ground up for working from home, while also catering to a new generation of people who have and are still growing up with smartphones and tablets as their primary “computer.”
I’ve been using Windows 11 since it first went into preview back in June on all my PCs. I’ve loved my time with it, and I think it’s the start of a great new era for the OS. That said, this is the first release of Windows 11, meaning there is certainly room for improvement in a number of areas. So, with all that in mind, let’s dive in to the details.
Windows 11 review:
First things to do
Taskbar & Action Center
Snap Assist & Task View
Touch & Pen
Bottom line: Microsoft is back with a new version of Windows, featuring an updated design, new features, and a renewed interest in modernizing the desktop UX, at the cost of some classic Windows functionality.
Compatibility: Generally, any PC released from 2018 onwards should be fully compatible with Windows 11.
Windows 11 is now generally available as an update for eligible Windows 10 PCs. Microsoft is taking a measured and phased approach to the rollout, however, meaning not everybody will be offered the update immediately. When your PC is ready, a big popup will appear in Windows Update that will allow you to initiate the download and install process, and Windows will do the rest.
Your PC must meet the following requirements to be eligible for the Windows 11 upgrade:
Windows 11 is also available on new PCs starting October 5, including on the new Surface Laptop Studio, Surface Pro 8, and Surface Go 3. More devices from other PC makers are expected to begin shipping from October 5 onwards as well, all with Windows 11 preloaded.
Be sure to check out our list of best Windows 11 PCs if you’re interested in seeing what new PCs are ready for Windows 11.
Windows 11: What’s new
Windows 11 focuses on three key areas: a fresh and modern UX designed to make using Windows simpler, new features and tweaks built around making you more productive, and a renewed focus on the Microsoft Store.
Most of the top-level user interfaces have been updated with a fresh look with new animations, iconography, and sounds. Everything from the Start menu and Taskbar right down to the context menus and in-box apps have been updated to look more consistent with the rest of the new Windows 11 design.
One of Microsoft’s goals with Windows 11 has been to declutter and simplify the user experience (UX) where possible. Microsoft is trying to make the Windows UX easier to use for casual PC users who may be more familiar with modern OS experiences such as iOS and Android, but this comes at the cost of simplifying some common features or behaviors that some old-school Windows die-hards may struggle to adapt to.
The good news is, for those who prefer simplicity over complexity, Windows 11 is going to be a great release for you. It’s an absolute joy to use, with a fluid UX that is almost perfect. Windows 11 is a breath of fresh air for those who enjoy the spectacle of software design, and a great release for those who value productivity enhancements and “getting to work” over everything else.
Windows 11: First things to do
Windows 11 has a brand new out-of-box experience, which walks you through setup. Gone is the old Cortana-driven installer, and in its place is a clean and simplistic design that takes you through setting up Windows 11 with ease. That said, Microsoft has made some policy changes here that you need to know about.
For the first time, Microsoft is making it mandatory for PCs with Windows 11 Home to be signed in with a Microsoft Account and connected to Wi-Fi during the out-of-box experience. There’s no longer any way to skip this, meaning you are required to use one if you want to begin using your PC with Windows 11.
I don’t find this to be much of a big deal, as I actually like the integration and benefits you get with signing into a Microsoft Account. However, I know there are many people out there who refuse to use one, and this is going to be a problem for those people. Luckily, Microsoft doesn’t force this same requirement on Windows 11 Pro, so there is a way around it if you really can’t stomach it.
Once you’re up and running on Windows 11, the first thing you need to do is head to the Microsoft Store app and check for updates to ensure that you have the latest versions of all the pre-installed Windows 11 apps. Once that’s done, you should also head to Windows Update in the new Settings app and check for updates there to ensure you have the latest drivers designed for Windows 11.
Windows 11: Start menu
Windows 11 introduces new interfaces in almost every area of the desktop experience, and that includes the Start menu. Start has been a staple part of the Windows user experience decades, so it’s always a big deal when it changes significantly, as it has on Windows 11. Now, this isn’t a “Windows 8-level” change, but it’s still going to take some getting used to.
The new Start menu has taken the simplistic approach to doing an app launcher. No longer is the Start menu home to a completely customizable layout of app tiles; it’s now a grid of icons that you can pin, unpin, and reorganize, and that’s pretty much it. Live tiles are gone, with apps now displaying a static app icon and its name beneath it. This is basically exactly how other modern OSes do things these days, so it’s no surprise to see Windows joining the fray.
The Start menu offers three rows of six icons that you can have pinned, with the ability to scroll through “pages” if you have more apps that you need to pin. There’s also a full apps list that shows you all your installed apps that can be accessed via the “all apps” button located just above your pinned apps.
Along the top of the Start menu is a search bar, which really only acts as a shortcut to the dedicated Search function you can access via the search icon on your Taskbar. Search and Start are still split up on Windows 11, which is fine, but not my favorite way of doing things. There’s a very clear disjointed experience when opening Start and beginning to type, as there’s no animation involved when switching between the two interfaces.
Below your pinned apps is a new “Recommended” area that acts as a recents menu for things like documents and installed apps. Whenever you install a new app or open an Office document, it will appear directly in this Recommended area for quick access. It’s very handy, but I’ve found it becomes cluttered very quickly as it has no filter controls at all. That means any documents, whether they be photos, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, or even random files in some cases, can show up there.
I’d love to see filter options become available in the future. For example, I’d love to be able to set how long certain file types actually show up in the Recommended area as a recent file, or filter out certain file types altogether. I rarely, if ever, use Excel, so if I’m opening an Excel spreadsheet, I already know I’m probably not going to need to access it again. Being able to hide Excel file types from the Recommended feed, in this case, would be good, too.
Additionally, you can’t disable the Recommended area if it’s something you know you’re not going to use. Even if you clear it and turn the feature “off,” a big empty space that cannot be collapsed or hidden will remain. This makes the whole UX look a little silly, as you can’t use that extra space to show more pinned apps if that’s something you’d want to do.
Windows 11: Taskbar and Action Center
A big area of change on Windows 11 is with the new Taskbar, which has essentially been rebuilt from the ground up with simplicity at its core. You’ll immediately notice that Microsoft has changed the layout of the Taskbar so system buttons and pinned or running apps are centered. This is a big change to the Taskbar, which has always been left-aligned.
I would’ve thought this change would take a long time to get used to, but I adjusted to it almost instantly. In fact, I really like the new Taskbar layout, and after just a few hours of using Windows 11, came to prefer my icons being centered. They feel more immediately accessible, and I no longer have to turn my head all the way into the corner on my massive ultrawide monitor. Things just look cleaner, which is a big deal for me personally.
All of the system icons (those being Start, Task View, Search, Teams Chat, and Widgets) have cute little animations that play when you click on them. And your pinned or running apps also have subtle pulse animations that play when you click on them. These small animations go a really long way to making Windows 11 feel like a fluid experience, which is leaps and bounds over the user experience on Windows 10.
Microsoft has done everything it can to simplify this UX to the point in which it might be somewhat problematic for long-time Windows users. For example, you can no longer configure the Taskbar to appear on the left, right, or top of your display. There are also no additional Taskbar options in the right-click menu, with everything now moving into the new Settings app.
Microsoft has also removed common functions that even I’ve struggled with in my daily workflow. On every version of Windows prior, you’ve been able to drag a file into an app icon on the taskbar to drop it into that app, but that feature is gone on Windows 11. Without it, multitasking becomes a little trickier. The Taskbar is also worse if you use multiple monitors, too, as things like the date and time no longer show up on your other displays, only the main one.
While I really like the new design of the Taskbar, the functionality of it has certainly taken a step back on Windows 11. If you’re the kind of person who never really touched the Taskbar outside of clicking it to launch apps, you won’t have any problems here. However, if you’re used to utilizing some of the Taskbar’s more advanced features on Windows 10, such as toolbars, multitasking shortcuts, and more, most of those are gone now on Windows 11.
Elsewhere, the System Tray has been re-done on Windows 11 in an attempt to simplify it as much as possible. Microsoft has split up the Action Center into two separate flyouts: one for notifications and the other for quick settings. Clicking on the date and time button will open up your calendar view and notifications, and clicking on either Wi-Fi, Volume, or Battery will open the new Quick Settings panel.
I really like this new Quick Settings panel, as you can now configure things like Wi-Fi without being sent into the Settings app first. Some of the toggles have additional menus that let you configure them directly within the Quick Settings panel, which keeps you in your flow and doesn’t get in the way of your currently open app. That said, not all of the toggles can be configured directly from the Quick Settings panel, such as Bluetooth, which still takes you to the main Settings app.
I do like how this implementation reduces the amount of flyouts that come straight from the Taskbar. Having all these options in one panel makes the UX feel much less cluttered and convoluted, which is the whole point of Windows 11.
Windows 11: Widgets
A new feature that Microsoft is trying to push on Windows 11 is “Widgets,” which exists as a hidden panel that flies out above your desktop from the left side of the screen. There’s a dedicated button for it on the Taskbar, or you can access it by swiping in from the left edge of your display. The panel consists of a widgets area at the top that has a handful of customizable widgets to choose from, and your Microsoft Start news feed below it.
As of right now, I’ve not found this Widget panel to be all that useful in my day-to-day workflow. The idea is that the Widget panel is always available to you for at a glance info, but I often forget it even exists, partly because I have no use for most of the widgets, and because the panel itself often has to first reload after not being opened for a few hours. Here’s a full list of the available widgets in this first release of Windows 11:
Of all the widgets present, the Weather widget is the one i’ve found most useful. The Photos widget is nice, but it’s not something that makes me want to open the widgets panel to begin with. I’m also not a huge fan of how the widgets panel will force you into Microsoft Edge at any given opportunity.
Clicking on a widget or news article doesn’t open that content inside the widget panel. It instead closes the widget panel and opens Microsoft Edge. This makes the UX feel really disjointed and jarring, as it throws you out of one UI and into another just to bring you an extended weather view. What’s worse is that you can’t even configure the widgets panel to open in a browser of your choice; it’s Edge and that’s it. This is a really lame choise on Microsoft’s part.
Overall, I am not a fan of Widgets on Windows 11. This is one of those things I think you’ll check out for five minutes, and then never use again. In fact, on my PCs, it’s usually one of the first things I turn off.
Windows 11: Snap Assist and Task View
One area that Microsoft has focused a lot of effort on is the multitasking and productivity aspect of Windows 11, which has seen lots of great improvements that almost make upgrading to Windows 11 worth it on their own. We’ll begin with improvements to Snap Assist, which builds upon the classic Aero Snap feature first introduced with Windows 7.
In addition to being able to drag an app to the left or right of your display to snap it side-by-side, you can now hover over the maximize button with your cursor to see a drop down of all the different snap layouts available to you. This makes it super easy to snap two or more apps without needing to move your mouse to the very edge of your display, which is great if you’re using a large display such as an ultrawide.
Speaking of big displays, Microsoft has also added new snap layouts that take advantage of bigger screens. There are now new snapping grids for three apps in a row, which makes much better use of that extra screen real estate. All of the fluid animations present here make using Snap Assist on Windows 11 a complete joy to use. This entire UX feels excellent, and I think it’s one of Windows 11’s highlight features.
For tablet users, Snap Assist will now intelligently snap apps above and below when using a device in portrait mode, a behavior that was missing in prior versions of Windows. Microsoft has also updated the switching orientation animation so that it’s much more fluid, and also remembers where your apps were positioned when switching between landscape and portrait mode.
There are also made several key changes and improvements to the Task View UI, which is where many go to see an overview of all their running apps. On Windows 11, Microsoft has removed the old Timeline feature, instead prioritizing your open apps and Virtual Desktops, which now appear along the bottom of your display. Virtual Desktops are much more customizable now, with abilities such as renaming and even setting custom wallpapers for each desktop.
You can also reorganize your desktops by clicking and dragging, and they’ll even persist across reboots meaning you can really set up your PC so that you have a different virtual desktop for each of your workflows. For example, I have one for working and one for gaming. I still think there’s room for improvement here, however. I’d like to be able to customize pinned apps on the Taskbar and in Start separately across virtual desktops. Right now, that’s not possible.
Windows 11: Teams Chat
Windows 11 has a new chat function that ties itself directly with the consumer-facing version of Microsoft Teams. Yes, Microsoft has a version of Teams that it intends for you to use with your friends and family outside of work. This chat service is still in its infancy, which explains why Microsoft is building it into Windows 11 in an attempt to kickstart the network and get people chatting.
Unfortunately, its integration with Windows 11 feels a little rough around the edges. The flyout on the Taskbar feels native enough, but chat windows pop out into their own window in the corner of your display, not where the chat flyout is. This also places a secondary Teams app icon on your Taskbar, so now I have two Teams icons for the same service. The actual chat button the Taskbar is clearly only a launcher for chats inside the actual Microsoft Teams app, which is not my favorite implementation.
If it were up to me, I’d have those chats open up within the Teams Chat flyout on the Taskbar so that I don’t have to mouse around my entire display to find the chat window that just opened up. The good news is that this new Microsoft Teams client is much lighter than the Microsoft Teams client you use for work. The bad news is that this only works with Microsoft Teams for consumer, meaning you cannot use it for your Teams work chat.
The chatting and audio call functionality is simple enough. It works as expected, and is cross-platform compatible with Windows, iOS, Android, and Mac, assuming you have the Teams app installed and logged in with a consumer account. That said, this Teams Chat integration as a whole feels like a waste of time; why isn’t this just Skype?
Skype just announced that it’s getting a whole bunch of new features and is fully cementing itself as Microsoft’s flagship consumer chat and video calling service. So, why is Microsoft Teams for consumers even a thing? I would much prefer if this Chat integration on Windows 11 was for Skype instead. Hopefully they give us the option down the line to change it.
As an aside, I also did not appreciate how Windows automatically set Teams to auto-start in the background without asking me first. Just clicking on the Teams Chat icon will boot up the full client and then place it into your auto-start list. No thank you.
Windows 11: Touch and Pen
Microsoft has made several key improvements, and one notable regression, to the touch-first experience on Windows 11. Overall, I’d say Windows 11 is a much better experience when used on tablets and with a pen, but it comes at the cost of a dedicated “tablet mode” that automatically opens apps full screen like you’d expect on an 11-inch tablet.
Windows 10’s tablet mode is gone, and in its place are a number of improvements to the desktop UX designed to make using Windows with touch a more pleasant experience. I still wouldn’t recommend a Windows tablet, but Windows on a 2-in-1 is in a much better position today. For example, Microsoft has added new gestures that can be initiated with either three or four finger swipes.
Three or four finger swipe down to minimize an app
Three or four finger swipe left or right to switch apps
Three or four finger swipe up to access Task View
Four finger tap, hold, and swipe left or right to switch virtual desktops
There are also improvements to window management, with new subtle animations in place that make it easier to determine when you’ve successfully grabbed an app window with your finger to manipulate it. Microsoft has also increased the size of hitboxes around app windows so that they are easier to resize with touch as well. Windows will also automatically increase the spacing of touch targets on the Taskbar and place a button for the touch keyboard in the System Tray too.
On that subject, a new touch keyboard experience is present on Windows 11, and I think it’s the star of the show for tablet users. It’s a fantastic touch keyboard, complete with satisfying sounds, subtle animations, and accurate spelling correction thanks to SwiftKey being what powers it behind the scenes.
There’s a number of different sizes for it, including split view, a one-handed mode, a simplified full width layout, and a more advanced full width layout for devices with larger display sizes. You can also swipe type, and there’s a new emoji panel along the top that you can access for quick entering of your favorite emojis, gifs, and other media content.
For pen users, there’s much to enjoy as well. Microsoft has finally updated the Windows Ink Workspace, now called the “Pen menu” that gives you quick access to pinned apps that are designed with inking in mind. What’s great is that it’s finally customizable, so you can put any app of your choice in there. I’ve got OneNote, Paint, and Adobe Photoshop in mine. It’s accessible via a button shortcut on a physical pen, or via the System Tray as a shortcut for it pops up when you begin interacting with your device with a pen.
You can now ink directly into text boxes, another great feature if you primarily use your device with a pen. No longer do you have to switch between inking and tapping on the screen to insert some text into a search field, as Windows will now automatically pop up a handwriting panel for you to use when tapping on that text field with a pen.
Much of these improvements are really nice and put the Windows touch UX more in line with other modern touch-first OSes, but it’s still not perfect. Not being able to have apps automatically open full screen is killer for a tablet UX, especially on smaller displays like the Surface Go. It’s annoying having to manually full screen every app you open for the first time.
Windows 11: Microsoft Store
I think it’s very fair to say that the Microsoft Store on Windows 10 has been a disappointment at best, given that it’s missing many apps that people actually use on their PCs. That was because Microsoft had strict rules around the kind of apps that could be submitted to the Store by developers, which essentially ruled out many of the most popular apps on the Windows platform.
With Windows 11, that all changes. Microsoft is opening the floodgates and allowing developers to submit most Windows apps to the storefront now. Microsoft wants the Microsoft Store to be a place to discover the best Windows apps, no matter the type. That includes apps like Visual Studio 2019, Adobe Creative Cloud, and much more.
Essentially, Microsoft has made it so that if an app you use isn’t in the Microsoft Store, it’s because the developer is just too lazy to submit it for listing. They no longer have to do any work on the development side to make their app “store-compliant,” as pretty much all Windows apps can now be listed.
It’s still early days for the new Store, so not all the apps you’d expect to see are in there. But Microsoft is confident that many more app developers will be in the Store very soon, and that’s a great thing. Being able to find all of your apps from one place is convenient, and being able to discover new apps you’d have never throught about using is even better.
Windows 11: File Explorer
The Windows File Explorer hasn’t had a major UI update since the launch of Windows 8, so it’s refreshing to see that Microsoft finally decided to update it for Windows 11. Microsoft has given the File Explorer a modern and simplistic navigation header while maintaining all the legacy File Explorer features you’d expect to find on Windows.
Instead of a bunch of convoluted buttons, the top of the UI now features clean and spaced-out selection of File Explorer’s most common tasks. This includes things like creating a new file or folder, as well as buttons for copying, pasting, renaming, sharing, and deleting files.
It’s fair to say that Microsoft took the whole “making Windows simpler” to heart when it comes to the File Explorer. That said, all the legacy File Explorer functions are still there if you need them. Microsoft hasn’t removed any functionality in that regard. It’s simply cleaned up the top-level UI so that it’s easier to use for average users.
There’s even a new, simplified context menu design which buries all the older legacy context menu options into a secondary menu for those who may still need access to it. This can actually become quite annoying if you’re using apps that put their options into that secondary menu, such as 7-Zip.
Developers can update their apps to put their options into the new modern context menu, but I’ve not come across any third-party app that has updated to do this yet. Hopefully we’ll see that show up over time. For now, it’s a minor inconvenience having to click through to a secondary menu.
The new context menus looks great, but it can take some getting used to. Microsoft has opted to use both X and Y axes for different options. The most common tasks such as copy, paste, cut, and delete, are represented as icons that flow horizontally along the top of the menu. Then, all the other options are presented as a vertical list. This is really confusing at first, and is the one thing that I’ve really struggled to get used to.
I also wanted to briefly mention that Windows 11 does nothing to really fix the unfinished dark mode theme that Windows has had for a number of years, and it’s most notable inside the File Explorer. Thing like the copy, run, and file property windows are still glaringly white, which really stand out and make the whole UX feel incomplete when dark mode is enabled. If you use light mode, this is a non-issue, and everything feels much more coherent.
Windows 11: Apps
Many of the in-box apps on Windows 11 have been updated with new designs, and in some cases, new features too. Apps like Photos and Microsoft Paint have been updated with designs that keep them aligned with the rest of the new Windows 11 design, with additions such as rounded corners around buttons and blur effects in context menus and headers.
The Alarms & Clock app has been updated with a new “focus sessions” feature which integrates with Microsoft To Do and Spotify to provide a one-stop shop for setting up a workflow and completing tasks. You can set a timer of 30 minutes, select a playlist, and sync with Microsoft To do and tick off all of your tasks as you go. It’s a neat idea, though it’s not something I’ve personally found use for.
Microsoft Edge is also getting an update that supports the new Windows 11 design, though this will arrive in an update shortly after launch. The new design buts the same blur effect in the header, as well as modernizes the context menus with the same design language found in File Explorer.
Microsoft Office is getting updated with a new design too, again to better align itself with Windows 11, though to a much lesser extent than other apps. Office still has its own distinct design language, but it’s nice to see the new Office app adhering to Windows 11’s rounded corners.
It’s really nice to see all of Microsoft’s product teams coming together to ship updates that align their apps with the new Windows 11 look and feel. This is one problem Windows 10 had, where different teams at Microsoft would just do their own thing, regardless of whether it fit in on Windows. That appears to no longer be the case with Windows 11.
More of Microsoft’s in-box apps are expected to be updated with new designs and features over time, and will ship on Windows 11 as updates through the Microsoft Store when ready.
Windows 11: Settings
There are a whole bunch of new settings and options to rummage through on Windows 11, and it starts with a brand new Settings app itself. Gone is the old, somewhat confusing Settings app from Windows 10, and in its place is a much prettier and better organized Settings app that does a greater job at categorizing the most common settings that people actually go into the Settings app for.
Highlighting some of the new settings, Microsoft has finally added detailed battery statistics into the Settings app for you break down. You get an insightful graph that displays power usage over 24 hours or 7 days, and can see which apps are using the most power at any given time of the day. It’s a great little feature that Windows has been missing for many years.
The Personalization category now places your themes are the very top for easy switching between, and top-level user interfaces are now accessible via their own areas, such as Taskbar, Start menu, and Lock screen.
The Bluetooth and devices area has also been redone, now showing connected devices at the very top of the page, with easy access to device info, settings, pairing a new device, and much more. You’ve also got your access to things like Touchpad controls, Pen settings, and even Your Phone set up.
Interestingly, Microsoft has also added a feature that allows you to fully customize the gestures you can perform on the your Touchpad, which I’ve absolutely loved. You can set your Trackpad to do things like a three finger swipe up to maximize an app window, or a four finger swipe to the left to snap an app in snap assist. It’s really cool, and all the different options gives it the flexibility to fit almost anyone’s workflow.
The new Settings app isn’t all great, however. Microsoft has made it unnecessarily hard to set your own browser defaults, with it now requiring you to manually set each web-related file type with the browser of your choice. It’s no longer able to be done with one click, unless of course you’re trying to switch it to Edge, which feels really anti-competitive.
Microsoft tries to disguise this change as being “consumer friendly” as technically it gives the user unlimited options in how your browser of choice responds to defaults, but that’s a really weak excuse. The old way of setting browser defaults was more convenient for almost everybody.
Windows 11: Miscellaneous
There’s a few things new to Windows 11 that I’ve not been able to dive into for this review, though I did want to give them a mention. First up, Windows 11 brings improvements to Windows on ARM-powered PCs, including the ability to finally run 64-bit Intel apps. This opens the floodgates to most apps now being usable on Windows on ARM, though performance will depend on what ARM chip you’re using.
Microsoft has also introduced ARM64EC, a new application binary interface that increases the performance of apps to native speed while being interoperable with x64 apps. Essentially, this allows developers to compile bits of their app for ARM, increasing performance while still emulating the rest of it. This is good for developers who can’t completely recompile their app for ARM natively.
Another new feature on Windows 11 is support for graphical interfaces powered by the Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL2) which will be a great tool for developers who move between Windows and Linux apps on a regular basis.
There’s also lots of security and performance improvements, and there’s even new features for gamers including support for DirectStorage, DirectX12 Ultimate, and more.
Windows 11: Should you wait?
Windows 11 is what you’d call a “version 1.0” product, which means it’s just getting started, and while there’s lots of great things here, there’s also a lot missing (especially around the Taskbar) that long-time Windows users may struggle with. Microsoft has achieved its goal of trying to simplify the top-level Windows UX, but at the cost of functionality which many consider essential to their workflows.
If you’ve read this review and not considered any of the problems mentioned to be a deal-breaker, I think Windows 11 is going to be great for you. It’s not slow, unstable, or buggy in my usage. It feels ready for production use, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of using this OS. I’m never going back to Windows 10.
However, if you usually have your Taskbar at the top of your display, or don’t like the sound of having to click a few extra times to access a function that was previously available in a single click, then Windows 11 is not going to be for you at this moment. Windows 11 prioritizes simplicity, sometimes at the cost of burying functionality behind menus or inside the Settings app.
Windows 11: The bottom line
I really like Windows 11. It’s a breath of fresh air for Windows that attempts to throw out much of the old UX in favor of a more modern, fluid, and simplistic interface. I think it does a good job at achieving this goal, though it’s not perfect. Power users and long-time Windows users will need to relearn some habits and get used to missing functionality in some areas.
I’m sure Microsoft will add back some of the missing features and behaviors in future releases, but I don’t think it’ll add back everything. I have a feeling that the vision for Windows 11 going forward is simplicity and ease of use, catering more to the average user who is more familiar with how things are done on their phone, and less to the die-hard Windows power users who want everything to be accessible in a single-click.
If you are okay with that, Windows 11 is great. If you aren’t, then hanging onto Windows 10 for another year is going to be your best bet. Windows 10 is supported until 2025, so there’s no immediate rush to upgrade. In a year, or even two years, Windows 11 will be in a much more “complete” state, and that’s when it might be worth giving another try.
Windows 11 has the potential to be the best version of Windows yet, but some of the choices Microsoft has made around Teams Chat, Widgets, setting browser defaults, the incomplete dark mode, and functionality of the taskbar really hold it back from being that. Hopefully the next release of Windows 11 fixes these issues.
Bottom line: After six long years, Microsoft is back with a new version of Windows, featuring an updated design, new features, and a renewed interest in modernizing the desktop UX, at the cost of some classic Windows functionality
Phishing (pronounced: fishing) is an attack that attempts to steal your money, or your identity, by getting you to reveal personal information — such as credit card numbers, bank information, or passwords — on websites that pretend to be legitimate. Cybercriminals typically pretend to be reputable companies, friends, or acquaintances in a fake message, which contains a link to a phishing website.
Learn to spot a phishing message
Phishing is a popular form of cybercrime because of how effective it is. Cybercriminals have been successful using emails, text messages, direct messages on social media or in video games, to get people to respond with their personal information. The best defense is awareness and knowing what to look for.
Here are some ways to recognize a phishing email:
Urgent call to action or threats – Be suspicious of emails that claim you must click, call, or open an attachment immediately. Often they’ll claim you have to act now to claim a reward or avoid a penalty. Creating a false sense of urgency is a common trick of phishing attacks and scams. They do that so that you won’t think about it too much, or consult with a trusted advisor who may warn you away.Tip: Whenever you see a message calling for immediate action take a moment, pause, and look carefully at the message. Are you sure it’s real? Slow down and be safe.
First time or infrequent senders – While it’s not unusual to receive an email from someone for the first time, especially if they are outside your organization, this can be a sign of phishing. When you get an email from somebody you don’t recognize, or that Outlook identifies as a new sender, take a moment to examine it extra carefully before you proceed.
Spelling and bad grammar – Professional companies or organizations usually have an editorial staff to ensure customers get high-quality, professional content. If an email message has obvious spelling or grammatical errors, it might be a scam. These errors are sometimes the result of awkward translation from a foreign language, and sometimes they’re deliberate in an attempt to evade filters that try to block these attacks.
Generic greetings – An organization that works with you should know your name and these days it’s easy to personalize an email. If the email starts with a generic “Dear sir or madam” that’s a warning sign that it might not really be your bank or shopping site.
Suspicious links or unexpected attachments – If you suspect that an email message is a scam, don’t open any links or attachments that you see. Instead, hover your mouse over, but don’t click, the link to see if the address matches the link that was typed in the message. In the following example, resting the mouse on the link reveals the real web address in the box with the yellow background. Note that the string of IP address numbers looks nothing like the company’s web address.
Mismatched email domains – If the email claims to be from a reputable company, like Microsoft or your bank, but the email is being sent from another email domain like Yahoo.com, or microsoftsupport.ru it’s probably a scam. Also be watchful for very subtle misspellings of the legitimate domain name. Like micros0ft.com where the second “o” has been replaced by a 0, or rnicrosoft.com, where the “m” has been replaced by an “r” and a “n”. These are common tricks of scammers.
Cybercriminals can also tempt you to visit fake websites with other methods, such as text messages or phone calls. Sophisticated cybercriminals set up call centers to automatically dial or text numbers for potential targets. These messages will often include prompts to get you to enter a PIN number or some other type of personal information.
Are you an administrator or IT pro?
If you have a Microsoft 365 subscription with Advanced Threat Protection you can enable ATP Anti-phishing to help protect your users. Learn more
If you receive a phishing email
Never click any links or attachments in suspicious emails. If you receive a suspicious message from an organization and worry the message could be legitimate, go to your web browser and open a new tab. Then go to the organization’s website from your own saved favorite, or via a web search. Or call the organization using a phone number listed on the back of a membership card, printed on a bill or statement, or that you find on the organization’s official website.
If the suspicious message appears to come from a person you know, contact that person via some other means such as text message or phone call to confirm it.
Report the message (see below).
How to report a phishing scam
Microsoft Office Outlook – With the suspicious message selected, choose Report message from the ribbon, and then select Phishing. This is the fastest way to report it and remove the message from your Inbox, and it will help us improve our filters so that you see fewer of these messages in the future. For more information see Use the Report Message add-in.
Outlook.com – Select the check box next to the suspicious message in your Outlook.com inbox. Select the arrow next to Junk, and then select Phishing.
Note: If you’re using an email client other than Outlook, start a new email to [email protected] and include the phishing email as an attachment. Please don’t forward the suspicious email; we need to receive it as an attachment so we can examine the headers on the message.
If you’re on a suspicious website:
Microsoft Edge – While you’re on a suspicious site, select the More(…) icon > Help and feedback > Report Unsafe site. Follow the instructions on the webpage that displays to report the website.
Internet Explorer – While you’re on a suspicious site, select the gear icon, point to Safety, and then select Report Unsafe Website. Follow the instructions on the webpage that displays to report the website.
What to do if you think you’ve been successfully phished
If you’re suspicious that you may have inadvertently fallen for a phishing attack there are a few things you should do.
While it’s fresh in your mind write down as many details of the attack as you can recall. In particular try to note any information such as usernames, account numbers, or passwords you may have shared.
Immediately change the passwords on those affected accounts, and anywhere else that you might use the same password. While you’re changing passwords you should create unique passwords for each account, and you might want to see Create and use strong passwords.
If this attack affects your work or school accounts you should notify the IT support folks at your work or school of the possible attack. If you shared information about your credit cards or bank accounts you may want to contact those companies as well to alert them to possible fraud.
If you’ve lost money, or been the victim of identity theft, report it to local law enforcement. The details in step 1 will be very helpful to them.
Windows 10X is a new version of Windows that has been built from the ground up for new PCs, and will begin shipping on hardware in 2021. It’s built on top of a new modern version of Windows called ‘Windows Core OS’ that guts legacy components and features in favor of contemporary user experiences and enhanced security.
This means everything from the Windows Shell to the underlying OS has been rebuilt with modern technologies. As a result, Windows 10X does not support legacy Win32 applications at launch. Windows 10X PCs in 2021 will be able to run Microsoft Edge, UWP, and web apps.
Legacy Win32 application support will arrive at a later date, however. When it does, Win32 applications will run in a secure container by default, meaning those legacy applications cannot affect system performance and battery life when closed. Windows 10X is a much more secure and stable OS as a result of this, as there’s no opportunity for legacy apps to cause bitrot.
A new user experience
Windows 10X features a new shell — the user interface — that has been built with modern technologies. It’s an adaptive user experience that can adjust depending on the “posture” of your device. For example, with a foldable PC, the user might want to use it in several different ways; as a laptop, or tablet, or in tent mode for movies. Because of this, the user interface must adapt to provide the best experience no matter which way your device is being used.
This also means that legacy shell elements, such as the Control Panel, File Explorer, and error dialogs and icons are gone on Windows 10X. As Microsoft has rebuilt the entire shell, it doesn’t include any of the legacy things that makes Windows 10 so inconsistent when it comes to UI. The Windows Shell on Windows 10X should be much more consistent.
At launch, Windows 10X will only be available on traditional clamshell PCs aimed primarily at the education and enterprise markets. The platform will eventually ship on new device form factors such as foldable PCs, but that won’t be happening in 2021.
A new Start menu
Source: Windows Central
Microsoft is redesigning the Start menu experience on Windows 10X with a focus on productivity. It features a system-wide search bar along the top that can also search the web, and a grid of installed apps below that in place of live tiles.
It also has a “recent activities” area that dynamically updates with things the user might want to jump straight into, such as recent Office documents and visited websites. The apps list can be customized, with the ability for users to rearrange which apps show up in the first few rows.
A new Taskbar
Source: Windows Central
Windows 10X also has a new adaptive Taskbar that features a centered design. The Start and Task View buttons appear in the center, with running and pinned apps appearing between the two. When you open an app, the Start and Task View buttons gently spread apart, giving the Taskbar a much more fluid appearance.
There are some new animations; the Start and Task View buttons have their own animations when clicked on, and there’s a subtle bounce to app icons when you minimize running apps to the Taskbar. In addition to the new design, there’s also up to three different Taskbar sizes: Small, medium and large. Large is great for tablets, while medium and small mimic the usual sizes we already have today on Windows 10.
On tablets, users can now swipe up anywhere on the Taskbar to access the Start menu, making it easier for touch users to access their apps list. You no longer have to hit the specific Start button to access your Start menu.
A new Action Center
Source: Windows Central
In addition to the new Start and Taskbar experiences, there’s also a new Action Center to compliment them. This new Action Center puts more emphasis on quick actions, with the ability to jump into specific quick actions for further control without leaving the Action Center at all.
It’s also designed in such a way that mimics a control center, with notifications housed above it in a separate box. This new Action Center includes things like volume controls, power options, and battery percentage. There’s also a new music control UI that appears in the Action Center when music is playing from a supported app.
A new set up experience
Source: Windows Central
Since every part of Windows 10X has been redesigned, the out of box experience has too been updated with a modern look and feel. It still walks you through the Windows setup process, selecting your language, signing-in with a Microsoft Account, and agreeing to terms and conditions, but Cortana is no longer present throughout the set up process. It’s a more traditional setup experience, that’s been beautified on 10X.
The new File Explorer
Source: Windows Central
Since Windows 10X has a modern core, legacy components such as the classic File Explorer are no longer present. This means Microsoft has built a new File Explorer specific to Windows 10X, and it’s built around OneDrive. Windows 10X is a web-first OS, and that includes how you store and manage files on your Windows 10X PC. By default, all your files are synced with your OneDrive account in the cloud while also being available locally on the device.
Improved Windows Update
Source: Windows Central
Microsoft is also improving Windows Update in a way that makes it much faster on Windows 10X. Feature updates will not take as long to install as they do on Windows 10 as those feature updates are now installed in the background without requiring a reboot until the update is done. So, just like on Android and Chrome OS, when the update is ready to restart your PC, it’ll just restart like normal, and won’t take 15 minutes to finish installing before you’re back up and running.
This should result in updates that take less than 90 seconds to reboot. Internal testing suggests it’s even faster than that. This is a huge improvement over how Windows 10 does updates today, which can take anywhere between 5 minutes and 20 minutes to reboot, depending on the device.
Secure by default
Source: Windows Central
Unlike Windows 10, Windows 10X features something called “state separation” which is how the OS lays itself out on a drive. Windows 10 today installs everything into a single partition, which means the user can access system files, as can apps and potential attackers. On Windows 10X, everything goes into its own read-only partition. So OS files are locked away, as are app files, as are drivers, and the registry. The only thing the user and applications can access are the user partition.
This means that malware or viruses can’t get in and affect the system, because those programs are only able to operate in a single partition, and that assumes they’re able to get outside of the app container system Microsoft has built. All apps on Windows 10X run in a container, and need explicit permissions to access things that are outside that container. This is already how UWP apps work on Windows 10, and Microsoft will be extending that to Win32 apps on Windows 10X when support for Win32 apps arrives.
Source: Windows Central
I understand that Windows 10X features dynamic wallpapers that change content depending on different factors. For example, internal Windows 10X builds feature a mountain-view wallpaper that has morning, afternoon, evening, and night variants that appear based on your device’s actual time. This wallpaper also seemingly has dynamic clouds and birds that appear every so often.
I don’t know how many of these dynamic wallpapers will be present on Windows 10X, and I don’t know how complex they can be either. It’s nice to see more customization options for users, however.
Coming Spring 2021
Windows 10X will launch this spring first for commercial markets. Commercial markets include education and enterprise industries looking for sub-$600 PCs for students in the classroom or first line workers. Windows 10X won’t be launching on consumer PCs in 2021, meaning you won’t find it on a flagship Dell or HP device. It’s also only for clamshell PCs, with foldables, tablets, and other form factor support coming in 2022 and beyond.
Windows 10X will launch without an in-box Mail and Calendar app. It’s been removed from the first version of Windows 10X because the platform is aimed at commercial markets who will likely use Outlook Web or stream Outlook via Windows Virtual Desktop. Users can opt to reinstall the Mail and Calendar apps from the Microsoft Store if they wish.
Windows 10X for mainstream markets won’t happen until 2022, when Win32 app support among other features come to the OS as part of the Windows 10 “Nickel” release scheduled for the first half of 2022.
Because Windows 10X is a new operating system, it will not be released as an update for existing Windows 10 PCs. Users won’t be able to install Windows 10X on a device that didn’t come with Windows 10X to begin with. There won’t be any official ISO media and you won’t be able to buy Windows 10X on its own to install on your existing device. It’s for new PCs only.
Check back later
We’ll continue to update this post with new information as it becomes available. In the meantime, what are you most looking forward to with Windows 10X? Let us know in the comments.
Hackers, never at a loss for creative deception, have engineered new tactics for exploiting the weakest links in the cybersecurity chain: ourselves! Social engineering and business email compromise (BEC) are two related cyberattack vectors that rely on human error to bypass the technology defenses businesses deploy to deter malware.
Social Engineering is when hackers impersonate trusted associates or acquaintances to manipulate people into giving up their passwords, banking information, date of birth or anything else that could be used for identity theft. As it turns out, it’s easier to hack our trust than our computers. Social engineering covers a range of tactics:
Email from a friend or family member – A hacker gets access to the email password of someone you know. From there, they can send you a malicious link in an email that you’re more likely to click on because it came from someone you trust.
Compelling story (pretexting) – This includes urgently asking for help. This can read like, “Your friend is in danger and they need your help immediately – please send me money right away so they can get treatment!”
Standard phishing tactics – Phishing techniques include website spoofing emails appearing to come from an official source asking you to reset your password or confirm personal data. After clicking the link and entering the info, your security is compromised.
“You’re a winner” notifications – Whether a lottery prize or a free trip to Cancun, this tactic catches many off guard. It’s known as “greed phishing” and it takes advantage our fondness for pleasure or weakness for the word “free.”
Business Email Compromise
Business email compromise is a targeted attack against corporate personnel, usually someone with the authority to request or fulfill a financial transaction. Victims execute seemingly routine wire transfers to criminals impersonating legitimate business associates or vendors.
This form of fraud relies on a contrived pretext to request a payment or purchase be made on the attacker’s behalf. According to the FBI, BEC attacks resulted in more than $26 billion (you read that right) between June 2016 and July 2019. Here are a few tips for protecting users and businesses from BEC attacks:
Slow down – BEC attacks combine context and familiarity (an email from your boss) with a sense of urgency (I need this done now!). This causes victims to lose their critical thinking capabilities.
Don’t trust, verify – Never use the same channel, in this case email, to verify the identity of the requester. Pick up the phone and call, or use video chat.
Prepare for the inevitable – Use all the technology at your disposal to ensure a BEC attack doesn’t succeed. Machine learning-enabled endpoint security solutions can help identify malicious sites.
Address the weakest link – Train users to spot BEC attacks. Webroot testing shows that phishing simulations can improve users’ abilities to spot attacks.
Perfecting Your Posture
Webroot Security Intelligence Director, Grayson Milbourne, offers several suggestions that companies can do to increase their security posture. First, he says, “Whenever money is going to be sent somewhere, you should have a two-factor verification process to ensure you’re sending the money to the right person and the right accounts.”
Milbourne is also a big advocate of security awareness training. “You can really understand the security topology of your business with respect to your users’ risk factors,” he says. “So, the engineering team might score one way and the IT department might score another way. This gives you better visibility into which groups within your company are more susceptible to clicking on links in emails that they shouldn’t be clicking.”
With the increase in scams related to the global COVID-19 pandemic, timely and relevant user education is especially critical. “COVID obviously has been a hot topic so far this year, and in the last quarter we added close to 20 new templates from different COVID-related scams we see out in the wild,” Milbourne says.
“When we look at first-time deployment of security awareness training, north of 40% of people are clicking on links,” Milbourne says. “Then, after going through security awareness training a couple of times, we see that number dip below 10%.”
Note: We’re in the process of deploying this feature starting with today’s release of Beta 88, so it might be a little while before you see it in your channel and build. New to sleeping tabs? Read more in our previous blog post.
The Microsoft Edge team is on a mission to create a browser that keeps up with you and never slows you down. To us, delivering world-class performance means better speed and responsiveness, all while using fewer system resources. To improve the memory and CPU usage of the browser, we’ve launched ‘sleeping tabs’. Just like a good night’s sleep allows you to stay focused and productive the next day, sleeping tabs helps optimize your browser’s performance by freeing up resources for the tabs you’re really using.
Using sleeping tabs on Microsoft Edge typically reduces memory usage by 32% on average. It also increases your battery life as a sleeping tab uses 37% less CPUon average than a non-sleeping tab. Although individual device performance varies depending on configuration and usage, we’ve heard from users that this decrease in resource and battery usage has improved their browsing experience. Thank you to all the Insiders who’ve sent us feedback and shared their experiences with sleeping tabs!
Thanks to your feedback, we’ve updated the feature, and we’re now ready to release to the Beta Channel. Recent updates include:
Added an option to put tabs to sleep after 5 minutes of inactivity
Group policies to manage sleeping tabs (for IT admins)
Improved visual treatment to clearly show which tabs are sleeping without distracting from the task at hand
When using sleeping tabs, it’s possible that some sites might not work as expected after they go to sleep. To keep you in your flow, we’ve built heuristics to detect these scenarios and prevent those tabs from going to sleep. We’re eager to get your feedback on sleeping tabs. If a tab doesn’t wake up like you expected, please refresh the page and let us know through Microsoft Edge by pressing Alt+Shift +I on Windows or by going to Settings and more … > Help and feedback > Send feedback.
You can try sleeping tabs starting in Microsoft Edge Beta 88. If you see the sleeping tabs feature while browsing, please join us on the Microsoft Edge Insider forums or Twitter to discuss your experience, or send us your feedback through the browser. If you have any questions, see our FAQ or reach out to us. We hope you enjoy this exciting new feature and look forward to hearing from you!
– Eleanor Huynh, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Edge
With much of your to-do list now online, you expect your browser to be fast and reliable every day. Your browser is the tool you rely on to get things done. Online productivity now depends on how fast your browser is, so that to-do list can disappear. So, don’t you hate it when your browser slows down and you don’t know why? Suddenly, pages are slow to load, scrolling isn’t smooth and typing takes forever. What you’re seeing is your browser accommodating your tasks, while taking steps to optimize your memory.
For Microsoft Edge, performance is about delivering better speed and responsiveness while reducing the amount of memory your browser uses. This is one of our top priorities – solving this means increasing your productivity so you have more time for the things you enjoy. This paper will walk through how your computer manages memory and what Microsoft Edge is doing to make it better.
How your computer manages memory
Computers have many different types of storage, today we are going to focus on are Random Access Memory, aka RAM, and your hard drive.
RAM is essentially your computer’s short-term memory storage. It temporarily stores data that it’s likely to need again soon. For web browsers, that could be web pages or other resources used by extensions. The main usage of RAM by the browser is to make web pages load faster and to create a smoother browsing experience.
Hard drive is your computer’s long-term memory storage. It can store data permanently. When you power off your device, data stored in your hard drive remains while data in your RAM is erased.
Short term memory storage
Long term memory storage
Stores data temporarily
Stores data permanently
Data will erase when device is powered off
Data will remain when device is powered off
So how do RAM and hard drives’ memory stores get used while you’re browsing the internet?
Let’s say you’ve restarted your computer and the first thing you do is open a shopping site in Microsoft Edge. The data for that site will initially be stored in RAM. If at some point you were to switch tabs and come back to that site or you were to switch applications and come back to the browser, the data on the shopping site can swiftly be recalled from RAM, and the page will load quicker.
Every web page, web app, and extension uses memory and the more complex the web page, web app, or extension, the more memory it will use. That means that with every tab that you open, or extension that you enable, the closer you get to reaching your computer’s max capacity of RAM. When your computer is low in RAM, your computer will move data that you aren’t using from RAM to your hard drive to make space on RAM. Depending on your computer, your hard drive may be an SSD (Solid State Drive) or an HDD (Hard Disk Drive). Retrieving data from either hard drive is often much slower than retrieving data from RAM. However, if we were to compare the two hard drives, retrieving data from an SSD may be tens or hundreds of times faster than an HDD, as an SSD has no moving parts.
Constantly swapping data to and from the hard drive can have a considerable performance impact on the browser and other programs you have open on your device. So, if your system uses your RAM instead – even at nearly 100% usage – this is not a bad thing. This means that you are utilizing nearly all your available RAM to make for a smoother and faster browsing experience.
Looking at memory management through an evening of dinner preparation
It’s a tricky topic, so let’s look at this concept through another lens.
Let’s say, it’s evening and you’re preparing dinner. Tonight, salad is on the menu. Each time you need an ingredient, you open your fridge, grab an ingredient, and add it to your bowl. Adding the ingredient to your salad is easy and can be done quickly because your fridge is easily accessible. This is like data being stored in RAM. When data is stored in RAM, if you return to a webpage, the page can swiftly be recalled, and the page will load quicker.
Let’s say you’re preparing multiple dishes for dinner. After returning from the grocery store, you realize everything doesn’t fit into your fridge. To solve this problem, you decide to move unneeded items from your fridge to your friend’s fridge across town. As you prepare the dishes, you realize that you need an item stored in your friend’s fridge. To make room in your fridge, you grab an item you aren’t using, drive across town to your friend’s, and grab the item you need from their fridge while leaving the item you brought. You then return home and put the retrieved item in your own fridge to use. You continue cooking but later realize you need another item that is at your friend’s house. Once again, you drive over with another item from your fridge to swap. As you can see, it takes longer for the items that are not in your fridge to be retrieved and used. Running out of fridge space is like running out of RAM. When you run out of RAM, data that’s not being used gets stored in your hard drive and retrieving data from the hard drive is often much slower.
Finally, let’s revisit the previous example but this time your fridge is double the size. Double the size, means that you can store all the ingredients in your fridge (and not rely on your friend’s fridge). Similar, to the first example, in this scenario all the ingredients are easily accessible and can be quickly added to the dish. This is comparable to you having double the RAM. All the data can be stored in RAM and accessed quickly when necessary.
Using RAM is a good thing because it creates a fast and smooth browsing experience. However, when your RAM reaches capacity and you start reading data from your hard drive, that’s when your browsing experience is likely to change. We are aware that this can lead to a negative browsing experience, so Microsoft Edge tries to keep you from reaching that max capacity.
To start, Microsoft Edge is actively taking steps to reduce the browser’s overall resource usage. To keep your system using RAM when it is running low, and before things are moved to disk, Microsoft Edge will discard tabs that haven’t been used in a while. Discarding a tab’s resources frees up RAM on your computer for other things, like the tab you’re currently using and other applications or processes running on your device. You can still see discarded tabs in the tab strip even though all resources are released and processes killed. When you return to the tab, the processes will be recreated, the tab will reload, and page elements such as scroll position and form content will be restored but the overall experience may be slower than normal. Tab discard is implemented because it is sometimes faster for a discarded tab to be reloaded than trying to fetch individual pieces of data from the hard drive, similar to how it would be faster to go to the grocery store nearby for a new ingredient, than to drive across the city to your friend’s house to retrieve the ingredient.
Listening to your feedback
We want browsing the web to be effortless. We continue to look for ways to improve the experience around browser resource usage. You can find more information on the improvements currently available here. We also recently released a new feature to the Canary and Dev channels called sleeping tabs, which puts inactive tabs to sleep after 2 hours of inactivity to free up resources for other areas, such as active tabs, new tabs, and other applications on your device. A sleeping tab resumes automatically when clicked, which is different than discarded tabs, which require the page to fully be reloaded.
If you experience an issue with Microsoft Edge, send us feedback with as much detail as possible. Please include information such as steps to reproduce the issue, the URL of the page you visited, diagnostic data, a screenshot, and your email address, so we can email you for more information. This will help us address your feedback.
Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post where we’ll learn how to investigate Microsoft Edge’s memory usage.
Christmas time is fast approaching and we have some great deals for you. If you run a business why not make use of the Australian Governments up to $150K tax write off for small businesses. This has been extended again to help our economy grow.
For all our Residential and Business clients please download our October – December 2020 Catalogue and see our great specials.
Search engines including Google, but also including search engines on sites such as Amazon, Netflix or YouTube and search on your computer or email software – work to the same principles:
The content you want to search is indexed first
A user enters a search query as words
The search engine returns results from the index that best match the query
The results are ranked with the intention of putting the most relevant results at the top of the results
If you are a WordPress site editor in almost any country of the World, your main interest in search engines – and for reading this article – is ranking on Google. Always remember, though, that other search engines exist, and that Google may not always be the most popular search engine.
By learning how search engine work, you can optimize your site for better ranking and more traffic!
Unique marketing opportunity
Visibility in a search engine can generate traffic, but it is also a unique marketing opportunity: being visible in the very moment that a person is interested in finding you, your product or your content. If you have an Indian restaurant in Seattle, for example, then being visible in Google when people in Seattle search “Indian restaurant” is an amazingly effective way of earning a new client. With most alternative marketing tools – such as handing out flyers on a street-corner – you are pushing messages out to people who have not asked for this information and there is much less chance of converting them to clients. There is even the possibility you may annoy one of them and lose a potential client!
Google does not search the web
From early search solutions used to find files on a computer, it became obvious that opening and reading each file on the computer, one after the other, was not an efficient way to find matching results. As the storage capacity of computers increased searching directly through all the files on a disk was too slow and it also increased the risk of damaging fragile disk-drives.
Did you know? Because search was not an option, early computer users were encouraged to organize files in directories and sub-directories. Applied to the web, this led to the creation of Internet directories such as Yahoo or DMOZ whose purpose was to organize the World’s websites in a directory structure. In the 1990s these sites were much more popular tools than search engines. DMOZ was even integrated into Google as Google Directory from 2000 to 2011.
Search engine software uses data stored in indexes to help it find results more efficiently. An index is part of a database that stores information in a format that makes it quicker to search. For example, rather than searching in multiple files for a word, an index will organize data by word: Listing all the files that contain a specific word in one index.
Google created and maintains its index by crawling the web. When it discovers a new page, it indexes the content of that page. It then regularly goes back to check to see if that page has changed – and if so, it indexes it again. When you search on Google you are searching Google’s index and not on the web itself. It is therefore possible that Google proposes a link to content that is no longer online, or that it omits content that is online but has not yet being indexed.
Pause for a moment and think of how big Google’s index is and how big a job it has keeping it up to date. Google says it crawls and indexes hundreds of billions of web pages (and as reported by Kinsta, WordPress powers 37% of all the websites on the Internet which is a cool thought). The index is well over 100,000,000 gigabytes in size and requires large industrial buildings to house the hardware that store the data. Crawlers, which are computer programs, are regularly re-visiting and re-indexing millions of web pages every day.
Searches are performed using queries that are expressed in words. You can type these words into the Google search bar or use voice recognition instead of typing.
Different people have different methods for searching Google. For example, a person in Seattle looking for a restaurant may just type “restaurant” into Google (knowing that it will provide only local, relevant results), some may type “Seattle restaurant”, others “restaurants in Seattle” and so on. Someone, somewhere, may type – or say – something like “please can you suggest a nice indian restaurant for me in downtown Seattle please, thank you very much” and they all get quick, relevant results (which proves that it pays to be polite!).
Google is quick at returning the results. We can therefore deduce that it is not searching through all the pages it found on the web to find pages that match the keywords you typed. It is possible that it has indexes for popular searches (this means maintaining a list of URLs that correspond to exact multi-word queries). This is certainly the case for “Restaurants in Seattle”. When a user types this query, Google already has a list of relevant pages that answer that question.
However the query ““please can you suggest a nice indian restaurant for me in downtown Seattle please, thank you very much” has probably never been searched before and it is unlikely that Google has a pre-prepared a list of relevant pages for this query. This is not a rare occurrence, Google indicates that every day, 15% of searches are for queries that have never been searched before.
In this case Google breaks down the query to the most relevant words and expressions to match it to its different indexes. Over the years, Google has got better at interpreting these more complex queries and currently does it better for other search engines in most languages.
Algorithms to rank results
It is believed that for any query, Google first creates a list of only 1000 pages and then ranks these from 1 to 1000, eliminating some results along the way. There is an algorithm for finding the best 1000 pages and another for ranking these 1000 results from 1 to 1000.
SEO expert Jason Barnard has a theory that Google has many algorithms that calculate different ranks for each page based on different signals (topicality, quality, page speed, etc). It then multiplies them together to calculate a bid. The page with the highest bid is ranked highest. He also points out that because scores are multiplied, a very low score for any factor can significantly reduce a bid and the page’s rank.
This is only educated guess-work though. The details of how Google works exactly are a closely guarded secret and Google remind us that they change and improve the algorithm every day.
The main factors, though, are certainly the use of words in individual pages on your site and the links that those pages receive from other pages on the web (whether they may be links from your own site or links from pages on other sites). Minor factors, but potentially with a big impact for some keywords, may be linked to user experience, page speed, social networks, and online reputation.
After ranking the pages, Google may also decide to filter out some results. This could simply be to reduce the number of results from one site, but it could also be filters against spam or adult content.
Usually less than a second after sending your query, you get results back from Google.
Also bear in mind that search results are also personalized to your geographic location and your search history. These factors can make a big difference on search from one computer to another.
SERPs and snippets
For each query, Google returns results as a SERP (Search Engine Results Page). It is very rare that Google finds no results for a query.
As well as results from the web search, Google may add advertising from Google Ads and results from other Google search engines such as Google News, Google My Business, Google Images, …
The results from web search are typically listed as 10 results per page. Each result has a link to as web page and a short description. This result is called a Snippet. The Snippet may also be enriched with the websites’ logo, reviews, images, prices and other useful information.
The information for the snippet can be provided by the website itself using specific tags such as KEYWORD, META DESCRIPTION or Schema.org structured data. The quality of this information may influence Google in ranking your page, but it is also important in influencing the users who are looking at the results to click on your snippet and generate traffic. You may only rank third but have a very eye-catching snippet that means that most searchers will click on your link rather than the first two results.
In 2013, Dr Peter J. Meyers did a mock-up of 24 different SERP features. Although it is a bit old now, it is still a good introduction to the variety of results possible in Google.
What is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. This is the work you do to optimize your website for search engines – so that you can get listed (for free) in Google when there is a relevant search for your site.
From better understanding how search engines work, you can see that the main tasks in SEO are:
Make sure that Google can index your site correctly, can find all your content and links between pages. Providing a sitemap is a good idea here,
Understand what queries your target audience use on search engines and make sure that you have pages or posts that use the keywords of those searches and answer the question the search engine was asking. Most SEO plugins give you tools to analyze pages for keywords,
Ensure that tags important for SEO are correctly completed. Most importantly TITLE and META Description tags. You will need a SEO plugin to do this,
Where relevant, provide Schema.org structured data to describe your site or the content of your pages to obtain rich snippets. Again, using a SEO plugin that allows you to add relevant Schema to your posts and pages to gain rich snippets,
Develop external links from other web sites,
Analyze your ranking in search engines and the traffic you receive from them.
SEO is also used in another definition to mean Search Engine Optimizer, i.e. the person who is going to do the work above. If this person is you, then continue reading our articles to learn more about getting better visibility and more traffic for your WordPress site!
Summer passed and Google did not release a major update of their algorithm as we have learned to expect. Then, in the last week of the Quarter (officially in Fall though) SEOs reported major fluctuations in search results and claimed to have spotted a major update! This turned out to be a bug in Google’s index and is still being corrected as we write this post.
In fact, Google had 3 indexing problems in the last week of September that may have affected your site’s visibility and traffic. We will have a look at these first and then go through the other news from Google from July to September 2020.
Canonical Indexing Bug
Reports of major changes in ranking started around September 23rd with, in parallel, reports of users seeing odd values for canonical URLs in Google Search Console. Canonical URLs are Google’s way of treating duplicate content: when many pages have the same content, Google choses one page as the canon (i.e. original version) and will show that in search results rather than its copies. You can also specify your own canonical URL in the HTML code of pages. See Google’s guide on consolidating duplicate URLs.
The index of canonical URLs got mixed up around September 22nd and it appears that completely random URLs were being used as the canonical versions for pages in the same site for a part of the index. The bug was being slowly corrected by October 6th. It affected ranking for thousands of sites.
It seems rare to have this sort of massive error in Google, but something similar also happened in April 2019.
Google News Indexing Bug
From 6:45pm to 8:45pm ET on September 28th Google News did not index any news stories – although obviously many news sites did publish new stories during these hours. The bug was revealed on the Google Search Liaison account on Twitter @searchliaison.
This is an interesting account to follow for information on Google updates and, now, bug reports.
In parallel to the canonical indexing bug, Google also reported problems with indexing mobile versions of pages. Through the Google Search Liaison twitter account again, they communicated on October 2nd: “The mobile-indexing issue impacted roughly about 0.2% of our index, beginning in early September but really spiking from around the middle of this week through late yesterday. We’ve since restored about 1/4 of those URLs & keep reprocessing more”.
In March, Google announced that it would be moving to mobile-first indexing in September 2020, but this deadline was pushed forward to March 21st.
Ranking on Google Discover: New Guidelines from Google
In July Google published new guidelines on how to feature in their popular Google Discover service used mainly on smartphones through the Google Search application. Any website can be listed on Google Discover, there is no need to be approved for Google News, but it will mainly index fresh posts with a clear publication date, and information about the publisher and author (similar to Google EAT recommendations) and will filter-out click-bait titles. Having high-quality images, at least 1200 px wide is very important, and you should enable the max-image-preview:large setting (this is enabled by default in SEOPress).
Still unable to organize physical events Google’s Aurora Morales & Martin Splitt (pictured below) organized an online unconference for webmasters on August 26th. Unconference, not because it was online, but because it was organized around interactive sessions with webmasters rather than presentations by Google staff as seen in previous Webmaster Conferences. One of the 17 sessions concerned Google’s plugin Site Kit for WordPress, the roundup from Google simply stated that this “showed that users were confused about data discrepancies they see between Analytics and Search console in the plugin”.
The succinct roundup of all 17 sessions can be found here.
Googlebot will work over HTTP/2
In September Google announced that its crawling robot, Googlebot, will use HTTP/2 to connect to websites where this is possible and when it deems it useful to do so. HTTP/2 is useful for Google because it increases the speed at which pages are downloaded. Whereas this may help some sites get indexed quicker and more often, having HTTP/2 is not considered as a ranking factor.
Although HTTP/2 was adopted by most browsers as early as 2015, a lot of webservers still do not use it. You can test if your site “speaks” HTTP/2 by using KeyCNDs HTTP/2 Test.
It is generally advised that you should upgrade to HTTP/2 for SEO because it should improve page speed as experienced by users on Chrome – information that Google does use as a ranking factor. Changing from HTTP/1.1 to HTTP/2 is a change to the server software, done by your hosting provider. No changes are needed to your website.
The news here is more the surprise that Googlebot did not use HTTP/2 before 2020. John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, had already stated in a Webmasters Hangout in November 2015 that he expected it to be ready by the end of that year, or early 2016.
Local Ranking Factors 2020
Whitespark have taken over the mantle from David Mihm and Moz in producing the Local Ranking Factors survey. By asking a series of questions to several Local SEO experts, the survey gives interesting insights into how Google’s local ranking algorithms work – specifically for two types of results: the Local Pack (supplied by Google Maps) and the organic results.
Unfortunately, no question in the survey deals specifically with the question of Schema.org structured data as a ranking factor. But On-page factors are important. In a separate article on How to Optimize for Local Search, Brightlocal do cite “Use Local Business, Organization, Product and Service Schema” as one of the 4 things you need to do on-page to optimize for local search.
Google launch Web Creators and a new WordPress plugin
In September Google launched an interesting initiative that they say is “A community for web creators to grow and get inspired”. A web creator is anyone who creates content for the web and that includes bloggers.
DNS has been around since 1983 and has worked brilliantly at resolving all internet domain requests for both IPv4 and the newer IPv6 address spaces. However, DNS was not built with privacy or security in mind, as it communicates all requests in clear text.
To make DNS more secure for users, the new DNS over HTTPS (DoH) protocol encrypts the requests using the same HTTPS encryption used when connecting to a secure website. All the major web browsers are beginning to support DoH, but this incredible privacy enhancement can also bring some security drawbacks.
What exactly is DNS over HTTPS (DoH)?
DoH is an initiative to prevent eavesdropping and manipulation of DNS request data by third parties, whether for malicious purposes, governmental control, or commercial reasons. DoH adds encryption to these requests, thereby hiding them from prying eyes and ensuring the privacy and security of the overall connection.
Why is DoH a problem for IT security?
Adding privacy can come at a cost. From a security perspective, the rapid adoption and usage of DoH could blindside security administrators and prevent them from extracting useful cybersecurity information by monitoring and analyzing their DNS request traffic logs.
Additionally, some applications can be configured to use DoH directly. As this bypasses the system’s configured DNS server, it presents issues with filtering and accuracy of the DNS requests.
How does Webroot DNS Protection handle DoH?
If all DNS requests are encrypted, then admins can lose considerable visibility and control in terms of web filtering security. When applications are capable of making DNS requests independently, it defeats the value of web filtering by circumventing the in-place protections. To correctly leverage the advantages of DoH, every DNS request on a must be passed via DoH, applications must be prevented from making rogue DNS requests, and filtering and logging must be maintained.
With our latest enhancements, Webroot DNS Protection now combines the privacy benefits of DoH with the security benefits of DNS-layer protection powered by Webroot BrightCloud Web Classification intelligence. Our service leverages the advantages of DoH by encrypting and managing the DNS requests for the entire system, and then securely relaying these requests via DoH to the Webroot resolvers. This way, admins retain control of DNS and are able to filter and log, while the user and business benefit from the additional privacy and security.
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Potentially unwanted applications aren’t considered to be viruses or malware, but these apps might perform actions on endpoints that adversely affect endpoint performance or use. For example, Evasion software actively tries to evade detection by security products. This kind of software can increase the risk of your network being infected with actual malware. PUA can also refer to applications that are considered to have poor reputation.
Protect against PUA with Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Edge (version 80.0.361.50 or later) blocks PUA downloads and associated resource URLs.
You can set up protection by enabling the Block potentially unwanted apps feature in Microsoft Edge.
To enable PUA protection:
Open Settings in the browser.
Select Privacy and services.
In the Services section, check to see that Microsoft Defender SmartScreen is turned on. If not, then turn on Microsoft Defender SmartScreen. The example in the following screenshot shows the browser is managed by the organization and that Microsoft Defender SmartScreen is turned on.
In the Services section, use the toggle shown in the preceding screenshot to turn on Block potentially unwanted apps.
block against PUA-associated URLs
After you turn on PUA protection in Microsoft Edge, Windows Defender SmartScreen will protect you from PUA-associated URLs.
There are several ways admins can configure how Microsoft Edge and Windows Defender SmartScreen work together to protect users from PUA-associated URLs. For more information, see:
There are several ways an admin can see PUA events:
In the Windows Event Viewer, but not in Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager or Intune.
In an email if email notifications for PUA detections is turned on.
In Windows Defender Antivirus event logs, where a PUA event is recorded under event ID 1116 with the message: “The antimalware platform detected malware or other potentially unwanted software.”
Users will see “*.exe has been blocked as a potentially unwanted app by Microsoft Defender SmartScreen”.
Allow-list an app
Like Microsoft Edge, Windows Defender Antivirus provides a way to allow files that are blocked by mistake or needed to complete a task. If this happens you can allow-list a file. For more information, see How to Configure Endpoint Protection in Configuration Manager to learn how to exclude specific files or folders.
PCMadness Recommends the New Microsoft Edge as the choice of browser to use.
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