How do I use Windows 11? A guide to the OS

Is the transition to Microsoft’s new operating system a little too jarring? Read our guide to learn how to use Windows 11.

Windows 11 (option 4)

Windows 11 was launched officially on October 5th, 2021, bringing a big visual overhaul compared to Windows 10. We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of Windows 11, but for many of us, it’s still new. After all, it’s not a mandatory upgrade, and many PCs aren’t supported, so if you haven’t bought a new laptop in the past couple of years, you might not know much about it.

Keep in mind that Windows 11 is always evolving, so some things may change over time. Since its debut, we’ve already received a big update with version 22H2, numerous Moment updates, and we have version 23H2 on the horizon right now. These all bring changes to the table, so it’s good to stay up-to-date with what’s new.


Screenshot of a Windows 11 desktop with the taskbar

If you’ve used Windows 10 or other versions, some changes will be apparent as soon as you boot into the desktop. Out of the box, the taskbar icons will be centered instead of on the left side. And, if you’re used to having the taskbar on the side or the top of the screen, that’s no longer possible with Windows 11. Thankfully, you can move the taskbar icons back to the left side:

  1. Right-click an empty area of the taskbar and choose Taskbar settings.
  2. Scroll down to Taskbar behaviors and expand the section if you haven’t already.
  3. Click the dropdown list next to Taskbar alignment to change it to Left.
    Screenshot of the Taskbar settings in Windows 11 with taskbar alignment set to left, with the taskbar visible below it.

You’ll also see a few icons on the taskbar that you may not be familiar with if you’re coming from Windows 10, though most of them are equivalent to features on that version. First, you’ll see the new Start icon with four identical squares, and next to it is a search bar, which can be used to search your computer and the internet (using Bing). Then, there’s the Task view button and the Chat button powered by Microsoft Teams. This one is actually set to be replaced by a Copilot button with Windows 11 version 23H2.

Screenshot of the Windows 11 Taskbar with the Widgets, Task View, and Chat icons highlighted, along with the Search bar

In the far left corner, you’ll also see a weather icon, which is where you access the Widgets panel. If you set your taskbar alignment to the left, this icon will be mixed with the icons we mentioned above. The search bar, Task View, Chat (soon to be Copilot), and Widgets icons can all be hidden by right-clicking the taskbar and going into Taskbar settings.

Windows 11 Taskbar (6)-1Screenshot of the Windows 11 Taskbar settings with the Search bar and Task view icons hidden. The taskbar is visible below with those elements removed.

Over in the right corner of the taskbar, you’ll find a few things, including the time and date, notifications, system icons for battery, internet, and volume, and potentially the OneDrive (cloud) icon along with other icons for apps you may have installed. Most of this should feel fairly familiar if you’ve used Windows 10 before.

Screenshot of the system tray and notification area in the taskbar of Windows 11

At the very far right corner, there’s a small empty area you can click to show your desktop at a moment’s notice. A small line appears when you hover over it so you know you can click it.


Right next to that button is your notification counter along with the time and date. If you click this area, you’ll see a calendar showing the events you’ve added to your Outlook calendar. The calendar shows a full month, though you can collapse using the arrow at the top so you only see the current date. At the bottom of this area is a button labeled Focus next to a timer. You can use this timer and button to start a focus session, powered by the Clock app. This stops incoming notifications and can even play music to help you stay focused. You can learn more about focus sessions here.

Screenshot of the Windows 11 Calendar and Notifications panel

Above the Calendar are your notifications, whether that’s from apps or Windows itself. Notifications will stack until they fill the area, and then you can scroll them. They’re also grouped by app, and you can expand or collapse notifications from the same app if you want to see more. At the top, there are two buttons, one to Clear all your notifications, and the bell icon that turns on Do not disturb.

You can also change notification settings for an app by clicking the ellipsis icon next to an incoming notification and choosing Go to notification settings. You can learn more about notifications settings if you’re interested in further tweaks.

Screenshot of a Windows 11 notification with the option to go to notification settings

Quick Actions

Next, there’s a set of three icons — Network, sound, and battery. Clicking this will give you access to the Quick Actions panel. Here, you’ll see sliders for your system volume level and the display brightness, along with a number of quick actions. The quick actions you see here will depend on the device you have, but for a standard laptop, the defaults will be:

  1. Wi-Fi: Lets you turn Wi-Fi connections on or off. Clicking the arrow lets you see the available networks around you.
  2. Bluetooth: Lets you turn Bluetooth on or off so you can connect devices like Bluetooth headsets or other peripherals.
  3. Airplane mode: Disables all wireless connectivity to avoid interfering with airplane communications.
  4. Battery saver: Lets you enable or disable battery saver mode if you have a laptop. This helps your battery last longer, but certain background tasks are paused and notifications may be slower to arrive. This setting can’t be changed when your laptop is plugged into an outlet.
  5. Night light: Lets you toggle Windows 11’s blue light reduction feature, which can help prevent eye strain during long periods of use.
  6. Accessibility: This gives you quick access to various accessibility tools in Windows 11. These are Magnifier, Color filters, Narrator, Mono audio, Live Captions, and Sticky keys.
Screenshot of the Windows 11 Quick Actions panel

You can also customize these Quick Actions using the gear icon at the bottom of the panel to add and remove items to your liking. Also, if you’re playing any media on your PC, you’re going to see playback controls above the Quick Settings panel.

System tray apps

Screenshot of app icons in the Windows 11 system tray

Finally, there’s the overflow menu. You’ll notice it by the OneDrive (cloud) icon that should show up by default, along with the arrow to expand the list. These are icons for certain apps and they serve as quick shortcuts to those apps. What you see here is dependent on the apps you install. In the case of OneDrive, that’s preinstalled with Windows 11, and the icon lets you see quick information about your sync status.

Screenshot of the Windows 11 Start menu

The Start menu is at the launchpad for almost everything you do on Windows, and Windows 11 shakes things up significantly. In addition to the new Start button, there’s a completely new design for the Start menu itself.

As you can see, lots of things are different. Live Tiles are gone, and instead, you get a grid of pinned apps at the top. You can click the All apps button to see a list of all your installed apps. You can right-click an app to pin it or unpin it from the Start menu. If you want to re-arrange your pinned apps, you can simply click (or touch) the app and drag it around. Starting with Windows 11 version 22H2, you can also create folders on the Start menu by dragging one app over the other. We have an extensive guide on how to use Start menu folders in Windows 11, if you’re interested.

At the bottom, a Recommended section shows you your recent files and recently installed apps. You can click the More button to see all recommended items. If you don’t want a particular item to be listed, you can right-click it and choose Remove from list.

The bottom bar of the Start menu contains the user and power menus. Clicking your user name lets you change accounts settings, while the power button lets you shut down or restart your PC. You can also customize certain shortcuts to show up in this bar. To do that, go to the Settings app and head to Personalization> Start.

Screenshots of the Windows 11 widgets panel

Another thing that’s brand new in Windows 11 is the new widgets panel. As we mentioned above, you can open it by clicking the icon on the taskbar, and what it does is show you quick glanceable information from apps and services, as well as news from various sources.

The Widgets panel has actually changed a lot since the debut of Windows 11, both in terms of design and capabilities. At first, it only supported web-based widgets, but you can actually use app widgets now. In the latest iteration, you’ll see a column of widgets on the left side of the Widgets panel, and two columns of news articles on the right.

Add or remove widgets

You can click the ellipsis icon near the corner of each card to resize or remove it. Some widgets can also be customized to show different information. If you’d like to add more widgets, simply click the + (plus) icon above the widgets area.

Customize news and interests

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can to remove the news section of this panel, but you can customize it to some extent. Clicking the ellipsis button next to an article lets you follow or block a specific publication, or you can use the Manage interests button to further customize the news you want to see in this section.

Screenshot of a news article in the Windows 11 Widgets panel and the context menu to follow or block a publication, as well as manage interests

Microsoft Edge, the web browser

Edge is Microsoft’s web browser for Windows 10 and Windows 11. It’s been around since 2015, but if you haven’t used it in a while, it’s significantly different and much better now. It’s based on the same foundation as Google Chrome, so it should work identically across the web.

Screenshot of Microsoft Edge on Windows 11

The big difference is it will sync your data using your Microsoft account instead of a Google account. Edge is also available on phones, so you can more easily sync your data across different devices.

You shouldn’t have a hard time figuring out the basics if you’ve used any modern browser. The address bar is at the top, along with the usual navigation buttons. You can find everything else you need using the menu near the top right corner.

Click the ellipsis icon to get access to all the major options you might need. Your history, downloads, and favorites (bookmarks) are all there. You can also right-click any of them and click Show in toolbar if you want the buttons to show up next to the address bar without using the menu.

Screenshot of the main menu inn Microsoft Edge

As Edge is based on Chrome, that also means it can install extensions made for Chrome, including themes. Find any extension you want on the Chrome Web Store and you should be able to install it normally. Of course, you can still install any browser you prefer, including Google Chrome. But you might not have as much of a reason to switch now.

Bing in Edge

One big thing that’s been added to Microsoft Edge recently is Bing integration, which Microsoft refers to as “your copilot for the web”. Bing Chat is available as a website, but in Edge, you can quickly access it using the button in the top-right corner, next to the ellipsis menu.

There are a few aspects to the Bing integration in Edge. First, there’s Chat, which is just like visiting the Bing website, except it’s always available next to whatever page you’re viewing. You can choose the tone of the conversation and ask all kinds of questions, even more complex ones you couldn’t usually put into a normal web search.

The other big component is the Compose tab, which lets you ask Bing to write text for you using specific prompts and instructions, so it can help you write emails, social media posts, and more. It can also match the tone you want.

One last thing to note is the Insights tab, which just shows you information about the website you’re visiting.

Install apps in Windows 11

There are two main ways you can install apps in Windows 11. You can use the Microsoft Store, where apps are verified by Microsoft, or you can download them using a browser. Microsoft introduced a brand-new store in Windows 11, and it has a radically different look.

Most of the space is taken up by the spotlight section, which highlights popular or recent additions to the Store. You’ll find different categories on the side menu for apps, games, and movies. You can also access your library to find apps you’ve installed before.

Screenshot of the Microsoft Store homepage on Windows 11

To get the apps you want, you can use the search bar at the top to search for them, or just browse the store until you find what you’re looking for. The most important changes to the Store aren’t visual, though. You can now find a lot more apps here, because Microsoft made it easier to publish apps on the Microsoft Store, and they don’t even have to be hosted there. You can find apps like Visual Studio or the Vivaldi browser on the Microsoft Store, but they’re actually downloaded from their respective servers, so the Microsoft Store is more of a hub than just its own platform.

The Settings app

Screenshot of the default landing page in the Windows 11 Settings app

If you want to change something about your Windows 11 PC, the Settings app is probably the place to do it. The most important settings you might want to change are here, and in Windows 11, the app has a brand-new design. We have a very in-depth guide for the Settings app already, but here’s a quick breakdown of what you can find in it:

  • System: Change settings related to the display, sound, notifications, power, and recovery, among others.
  • Bluetooth & devices: Manage settings for connected devices, including Bluetooth. You can also change settings for your printer or your webcam here.
  • Network & internet: Configure your network connections (including Wi-Fi and cellular), along with IP and DNS settings, data usage limits, and more.
  • Personalization: Change the look and feel of your PC. This includes themes, backgrounds, colors, the position of your taskbar, and more.
  • Apps: Change settings related to apps and optional features you have installed include setting apps as the default for specific actions.
  • Accounts: Change settings related to accounts you’ve added on your PC. This includes backing up your apps and settings.
  • Time & Language: Settings related to your preferred language, region, and time zones.
  • Gaming: Manage settings for Xbox Game Bar, including video recording settings, plus enable or disable game mode.
  • Accessibility: Tools for users with special accessibility needs. You can change text size, visual effects, use color filters, captions, and so on.
  • Privacy & security: See which apps can access specific information about the user and how data is used. Settings related to security are also here.
  • Windows Update: Check for updates for your PC or sign up for the Windows Insider program.

Included apps in Windows 11

Windows 11 comes with a bunch of apps that help you get things done out of the box. These apps include all the basic functionality you’d expect from a PC. These are all the apps that come pre-installed:

  • Calculator: Includes standard, scientific, and graphing calculator modes, plus it also lets you calculate the difference between two dates. It also includes unit conversion for things like volume, length, weight, temperature, energy, and currency.
  • Calendar: See a calendar along with events synced using your Microsoft account. You can also add other accounts, like Google, to sync those events. It’s part of the Mail & Calendar app. This app will soon be replaced by the new Outlook web-based app.
  • Camera: Take pictures and record video using the camera on your device.
  • Clipchamp: Microsoft’s recently-acquired video editing software is far more advanced than what the company offers with the Photos app (see below). It allows for multiple audio and video tracks and exports in up to Full HD. Paid plans offer more features.
  • Clock (previously Alarms & Clock): See clocks for different regions, create alarms and timers, and use a stopwatch.
  • Cortana: Microsoft’s digital voice assistant. It can handle basic requests like searching the web and finding files on your PC. For business users, it has some additional capabilities. As of August 2023, this app has been discontinued and it could be removed in an upcoming update.
  • Feedback Hub: An app where users can send feedback to Microsoft about Windows.
  • Family: Manage your Microsoft family settings, such as seeing screen time for you and your children, tweaking parental controls, and locating family members.
    Screenshot of the Microsoft Family home page
  • File Explorer: Navigate the files on your local drive or OneDrive.
  • Get Help: Find help with common issues in Windows 11
  • Get Started: Set up OneDrive backups, change your default browser to Edge, and link your Android phone.
  • Journal: A journaling app that lets you create multiple journals with notebook-style pages, with options for inking, adding images, and more.
  • Mail: Lets you send and receive emails from your Microsoft account and other accounts you want to add to the app. It’s part of the Mail & Calendar app, and accounts you add here will also be added to the Calendar. Just like the Calendar app, this will soon be replaced by the web-based Outlook app.
  • Maps: Standard mapping app, including the ability to get directions, turn-by-turn navigation, and a satellite view of the world. Some cities may also have 3D aerial views.
  • Media Player: This modern media player replaces the old Groove Music app, as well as the Movies & TV app for playing locally-stored videos if you want it to.
  • Microsoft 365 (Office): Shortcuts to web versions of the major Microsoft 365 apps, including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. Files are stored on OneDrive and easily accessible from the home page, too.
  • Microsoft Edge: Microsoft’s new web browser. It’s based on the same foundation as Google Chrome, so it shares the same basic capabilities, including support for Chrome extensions.
  • Microsoft News: Gets news on topics you’re interested in and sources you select.
  • Microsoft Solitaire Collection: A collection of card games you can play by yourself.
  • Microsoft Store: You can go here to download and install new apps like TikTok. It also has sections for games and movies.
  • Microsoft To Do: Create to-do lists, which can be shared with other users. Lists are synced with your Microsoft account and can be accessed on other devices with the app installed.
  • Microsoft Whiteboard: A collaboration app where you can work by yourself or with others to create large boards with whatever content you want, including sticky notes, images, to-do lists, and more.
  • Mixed Reality Portal: Made for users with mixed reality headsets, this app lets you navigate a virtual environment and interact with your apps.
  • Movies & TV: A basic video player that lets you watch videos on your PC, as well as movies and shows purchased from the Microsoft Store.
  • Notepad: A basic text editor for taking quick notes
  • OneDrive: Lets you manage your files on OneDrive and sync them to your PC. You can sync your entire OneDrive or only download files as you need them.
  • OneNote: A note-taking app allowing you to create various notebooks and sort them into sections to organize all your notes.
  • Paint: A basic app for drawing and image editing.
  • Photos: A photo and video viewer with basic editing capabilities. You can crop, rotate, and adjust photos, as well as add effects to them.
  • Phone Link: Connect to an Android phone to see notifications, messages, and photos from it. You can also make calls using the app, and with some phones, you can even project your screen to your PC. This requires the Your Phone Companion/Link to Windows app on your phone
  • Settings: Change settings on your PC, including display, sound, power, Bluetooth, and more.
  • Snipping Tool: Take screenshots of your screen, a single window, or a specific area of your screen, and edit them as needed. The screenshot too can be launched with the Windows key + Shift + S. The app can also record videos of your screen.
    Screenshot of the screen recording UI in the Windows 11 Snipping Tool
  • Sound Recorder: Record voice clips using your microphone
  • Sticky Notes: Take notes on your desktop and keep them visible when you need them. Sticky notes can have different colors, and they sync across devices, too. You can see them on your phone with the OneNote app or Microsoft Launcher.
  • Tips: Includes tips for using different parts of Windows 11.
  • Weather: Access detailed weather information for your current location or other cities.
  • Windows Security: Security tools like Windows Firewall and other protection settings. Includes virus protection with Microsoft Defender.
  • Windows Terminal: A command-line tool that brings together things like Command prompt and Windows PowerShell in the same app.
  • Windows Tools: A set of tools for advanced users to manage their device. It also includes things like the Character Map, Power Automate, and older Windows apps.
  • Xbox: Buy games and manage your game library, including Xbox Game Pass.
  • Xbox game bar: An overlay that can be used in most games to start screen recordings, access Xbox chat, and more. It includes widgets for performance insights and even Spotify integration to listen to music.

Multitasking in Windows 11

Windows 11 has some great multi-tasking tools, and some of them are new even if you’ve already used Windows 10. There are a few key things that make Windows 11 good for multi-tasking.

Virtual desktops

Windows 10 introduced the concept of virtual desktops in Windows, and now Microsoft just calls them desktops. Desktops let you create separate spaces for different types of apps. For example, you may have a desktop for your games, and one for your work apps. In Windows 11, you can rename the desktops and order them in any way you’d like.

Screenshot of task view in Windows 11 showing two virtual desktops

To access your virtual desktops, you can click the Task View button on the taskbar or press Windows key + Tab. Another thing that’s new in Windows 11 is you can hover your mouse over the Task View icon to quickly see your different desktops or to create a new one. That way, you don’t have to bring up the whole task switcher interface.

Snap layouts and groups

Windows 11 lets you easily snap apps next to each other, too. Like in Windows 10, you can drag windows to the sides of the screen to snap them to a specific position. But now, there’s a new feature called Snap layouts. When you hover your mouse over the maximize/restore down button, you’ll see a grid of possible layouts you can choose to automatically snap apps on your screen. This includes some new layouts like seeing three apps side-by-side. When you snap the first app, Windows will guide you to finish the layout with the apps you want.

Once you’ve set up a Snap layout, you can also get back to it quickly if you happen to open another app over it. Hover your mouse over any of the taskbar icons for the apps in your Snap layout, and you’ll see the full Snap group as an option. Click it, and you’ll be back to the layout you were using.

Screenshot of Snap Group shown when hovering an app on the taskbar

Using dual monitors

Many people like to use two or more monitors to help increase productivity. In the Settings app, you can change how the two displays are laid out relative to each other. Using multiple monitors is nothing new to Windows, but Windows 11 brings some improvements.

Now, when you unplug a monitor, the windows in that monitor are minimized automatically, and when you plug it back in, your windows are restored in the right monitor. It makes multi-tasking much easier.

Using a touchscreen in Windows 11

If you have a tablet with Windows 11, there are some extra things you may want to know about using a touchscreen. The basic things are what you’d expect. Tapping something acts like a left mouse click, while tapping and holding is a right-mouse click. It’s not too far off from using a modern smartphone. However, there are some gestures you might want to know about to make the most of your experience.

For starters, swiping in from the left side of the screen will bring up the Widgets panel, whereas in Windows 10, it opened the Task View. Swiping in from the right still brings up your notifications, but instead of Quick Settings, now you’ll see your calendar. To access your Quick Settings, just tap the group including the Wi-Fi, sound, and battery icons.

Image showing how to swipe right on Notification Center to dismiss it

Then there are the multi-finger touch gestures, which are brand-new in Windows 11. These gestures are like what you might find on laptops with a Precision touchpad. You can swipe left or right with three fingers to switch to your most recently used app, or swipe down to minimize all the windows. Swiping up with three fingers opens Task View, but if you swipe up after swiping down, you’ll just restore the windows you minimized. Finally, you can swipe left or right with four fingers on the screen to switch between virtual desktops.

Touch gestures in Windows 11 version 22H2

In Windows 11 version 22H2, Microsoft also added a few new touch gestures that make using a touchscreen even easier. You can now swipe up from the taskbar to open the Start menu, or swipe up from the notification area to access the Quick Settings panel. Swiping sideways with three fingers now makes it easier to switch between apps, too, and if you want to use Snap Layouts, you can now drag an app to the top of the screen to have various layouts appear to choose from. We have an extensive guide on using touch gestures in Windows 11 if you want to learn more about the latest gestures available.

That should cover most of the basics of how to use Windows 11. Whether you’re a complete newbie to Windows or you’ve used a previous version, there’s a bit of a learning curve. However, once you get the hang of it, it should feel just like Windows 10, and everything should work as expected.