The short answer is “yes”!
The jump from Windows 10 to 11 is the most seamless OS upgrade I’ve encountered in the last decade. It works just like any other Windows 10 update, so your programs and files remain installed and untouched.
Particularly in the age of Apple’s anxiety-inducing “is this M1 compatible??” debacle, the latest Windows upgrade process is a comforting relief, as there is no change to your software’s compatibility. No need to learn what ARM or Rosetta means, the difference between “apple silicon” or M1, Monterey VS Ventura, and no decimal points…
There are of course some visual and design-related changes, all of which I would classify as minor or insignificant, and many of which can be reverted back to Win10 layouts natively.
So, what are the differences then? And why should I bother?
To be honest, there are already countless articles online that can help you out with all the nitty gritty details, so this will be more of a shallow overview based on what I personally find important as a music producer and sample library developer.
Visuals & Design
The first change you’ll notice is that the Start (Home) Menu and icons now default to the center of your screen. I assume this is to be more tablet and mobile friendly, and possibly as an experiment to see if Windows users like a bit of Apple flavor in their OS. For me, I think they got it right when the start menu was in the lower-left corner, so I moved it back there straight away.
Customizing the Taskbar and Start Menu
To do this, right-click your desktop background and choose “Personalize”. Scroll down to “Taskbar behaviors”, and expand that menu. You’ll find the alignment options here, as well as a few other checkboxes I’d suggest you look over. You might like to show your taskbar on all available displays, or hide it on all but your primary display – this is where you make that choice.
I’d recommend spending a couple minutes going over the personalization options to customize to your liking. For the taskbar options, I like to turn off Widgets and Chat/Teams taskbar items (the “Widgets” item is a popup for weather and news thumbnails, which to me just means more distractions!) You can then choose which System Tray icons to have visible at all times, or hidden away in the tray. I tend to hide all icons apart from my audio interface’s control panel, and the Windows Update status, so I can see if an update is waiting to surprise me next time I restart my machine.
The Start menu had one of the more significant design changes out of all, and while you can’t revert it back to the Win10 design without 3rd-party software, you can still customize it to work better for you.
From the main Personalization screen, click on the “Start” option. These are personal choices, but I choose to show “more pins”, as I relied quite heavily on the customizable tiles of Win10, and this is close as we can get to that system.
I turn off “Show most used apps” as I tend to keep my most used apps as shortcuts in the Taskbar. For the “Folders” options, I enable Settings, File Explorer, Downloads, Network, and Personal Folder. These appear next to the Power options and don’t take up much space, so it’s not a big deal if you don’t use them much.
The final Personalization I recommend is from the “Themes” menu. There is a button to open the “Desktop icon settings”, which will allow you to show the “This PC” (aka My Computer) on the desktop – something that should be on by default, in my opinion.
Layout and Workflow
Windows 10 struggled to remember window positions on multi-monitor setups, causing them to jump around or cause a fuss if your screens went to sleep. Thankfully, Windows 11 has fixed that issue.
Microsoft also improved their window snapping and grid layouts feature, letting you tesselate your windows in a variety of grid options to alleviate your Alt+Tab fingers.
Some Windows users have previously relied on 3rd-party utilities to add a tabbed interface to Windows’ File Explorer. Well, Windows 11 supports tabs in File Explorer natively! This is great for those of us who regularly have 2 or more explorer windows open in the background for quick access to the current projects. Now if only I could actually remember to use them…
Explorer now also has an optional Details/Preview pane (much like MacOS).
One potential downside (depending how you look at it), is the right-click menu has been “streamlined”, with all 3rd-party contextual items now requiring an extra click on a “Show More Options” button. This gets tedious rather quickly if you relied on WinRAR or other contextual menu items such as Bulk File Renamer, so you might want to take these steps to bring back the old right-click menu style (requires edits to the Windows registry): Disable show more options windows 11
While you’re making registry edits, I’d recommend turning off Windows’ automatic file type discovery too: https://winaero.com/disable-folder-type-discovery-windows-10/
This fixes the problem where a folder containing audio files would be automatically customized as a “music” folder. Admittedly, this is only really a problem if you use the Details view in explorer, as it changes which columns are displayed – a particular annoyance for sample library developers working with WAVs all day!
As to be expected, Microsoft touts performance improvements as one of the reasons to switch to Windows 11. There are improvements to the way RAM is handled to prioritize active windows/applications, as well as improvements to gaming in windowed mode, but the most significant benefit as a Digital Audio Workstation, is the utilization of the new E-cores VS P-cores architecture of Intel CPUs. Put simply, if you use a 12th generation Intel CPU or higher (such as the i5 12500, i7 12700k, 13900, etc) Windows 11 will almost certainly result in better performance than Windows 10, across all of your computer usage.
Keep in mind, there are still extra steps you can take to improve performance on either operating system, including changes to Windows Defender (as outlined here), turning off any power-saving features in favor of performance features, and BIOS tweaks like disabling virtualization technologies, and in some cases (particularly for Cubase users) disabling Hyperthreading. I’d recommend not making BIOS changes unless you have already identified issues with your system, such as intermittent latency spikes. For more information on optimizing Windows for stability and performance, see our full guide here.
Should you upgrade?
As long as your hardware supports Windows 11, I would say you should absolutely upgrade. Windows 11 appears to only bring benefits to your system, and you can easily roll back to Windows 10 within 10 days of installing Windows 11. Of course, if you backup your system drive first, you can roll back at any time.
Founder of synthestration.com, Jayden has spent the last ten years working as a film & TV composer, mockup producer, composer’s assistant, template builder, sample library developer, and is soon to commence studies in biography writing.