Tech

When will Windows 11 stop screwing up the little things?

Windows 11 PCImage: Microsoft

I know people who love Windows 11. I am not one of them. 

Before anyone tells me why I’m wrong—or that it’s ludicrous for a tech journalist to be against new technology—let me draw your attention to the exact problem first. I want you to right-click on the desktop in Windows 11 and tell me what you see.

Does the menu have the Refresh option? Or are you forced to choose Show more options to get to a secondary right-click menu with the desired feature?

If you have it, congrats. It means you keep your system up to date. (If you don’t, I suggest you finally run Windows Update.)

But now repeat these same steps within a File Explorer window—arguably, the more common place you’d want to refresh the view. (For example, you’ve copied over or deleted files and aren’t seeing the changes reflected onscreen.) Can’t find a Refresh option in the right-click menu? It’s not your eyes playing tricks on you. You have to go into Show more options to see it done. Oh, and pressing F5 on a keyboard doesn’t work, either.

For decades(!), you only had to only make two clicks of a mouse to perform this task. Now that goes up to three, and it’s not even consistent within the OS. The desktop got a fix that put things back to the way they were, but not File Explorer? What?

(Update, 4/6/22 7:00pm: Reader @CarrieLeighC on Twitter points out that I’ve ignored mention of the refresh button in the address bar, which is only one click. That’s a valid point, but it overlooks the core issue—that Microsoft made a perfectly servicible feature worse.)

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This “one gigantic step backward, tiny half-step forward” approach isn’t efficient and makes trusting this operating system difficult. You know the reason why businesses still cling to Windows XP and Windows 7? Because to work efficiently, you develop a process that relies on certain key functions and features, and optimize accordingly. Change means that you disrupt all that and slow yourself down.

Now, change can be worthwhile when the new system offers tangible benefits. It improves your workflow’s efficiency overall, or at least smooths over the rough patches that make your soul wither whenever you have to deal with them.

But switching to a less-reliable, less-efficient system isn’t progress. And though reader @CarrieLeighC is right that I could retrain myself to use the refresh button, my counter to that is: Why am I being forced to? I might not be a corporation with shareholders and multimillion-dollar profits, but my time is still valuable. Why a user interface team would overlook that and instead purposely bury things in sub-menus is beyond me. The whole point of a right-click menu is to have immediate access to commands you’d want to execute on the spot. The menu wasn’t even cluttered to begin with—why remove elements from it?

And this philosophy is littered throughout Windows 11. Don’t believe me? Start by taking a stroll through the Settings app. Or have a look at your sound controls in the taskbar. With one click, tell me what your active audio device is. Can’t do it, can you? In Windows 10, you just have to click on the volume icon to see that info. Not Windows 11. You have to click twice. First on the volume icon, then on the arrow to the right of the volume slider. Who thought that would be more efficient? Does the interface really become that much more beautiful with the omission of that useful information?

(And don’t tell me few people use multiple audio devices with a PC. Even laptops owners pair their system with headsets, earbuds, and external speakers.)

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A line exists between a lack of clutter in an interface and design decisions that impede user ability to do things efficiently. It’s not even a fine line. And yet, Windows 11 crosses it without any rhyme or reason. Don’t even get me started on the taskbar.

At this point, using Windows 11 feels like signing up for death by a thousand paper cuts. I like to get through my to-do list without added headache. I have no reason to leave Windows 10, which works extremely well. Our official Windows 11 six-month report card reached a similar conclusion. In fact, I feel sorry for new PC owners saddled with what feels like a half-baked operating system. (Incidentally, if you want an escape, we have a guide that explains how to downgrade to Windows 10.)

Microsoft is continually pushing updates to Windows 11, but we can’t predict when useful changes will arrive. And unlike with Apple products, most of us have no real loyalty to the idea of the brand or its vision, where the sense of community outweighs the downsides of being a glorified beta tester. I’m a working adult with responsibilities and often a full schedule, and I need my gear to serve me, not the other way around. I upgrade to newer products when they reduce hassle and improve my life. So I’m not against change. I’m against dumb stuff that progresses backward and wastes my time.

Alaina Yee is PCWorld’s resident bargain hunter—when she’s not covering software, PC building, and more, she’s scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.

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