Windows 11 has completely redesigned the desktop. Opinions are divided in the community. Is Linux doing better here?
This is not Windows, but Kubuntu 21.10 with KDE Plasma 5.23: It almost seems as if Microsoft was involved in KDE.
The announcement of Windows 11 came as a bit of a surprise. After all, Windows 10 should be the last and only Microsoft operating system for the desktop. But maybe that was a misunderstanding. An upgrade for the world’s most frequently used operating system will definitely attract attention – especially if it cannot be installed on many older PCs.
The technical innovations in the Windows substructure are manageable. Not much has changed compared to Windows 10. Instead, the start menu and the taskbar are now in the middle at the bottom of the screen, windows have rounded corners, and the “Settings” have become a bit clearer. Linux users will find some things familiar with Windows 11 – there are no denying similarities with KDE Plasma. With Windows 11, however, there is a lack of customization options in many areas that Linux users have been used to for a long time.
Graphic interface concepts
Graphical user interfaces for computers have been around since the 1970s. Little has changed in the basic concept since then: icons that can be clicked with the mouse, applications in scalable windows. However, there is still enough space for innovations. Elements such as Finder and Dock in Mac OS or the Start menu in Windows 95 have influenced the design of graphical interfaces for years. In 2007 the iPhone gave new impetus to development: full screen instead of window and fingers instead of mouse. There is also the display of messages on the lock screen and voice control. Microsoft has induced this to force desktop users with Windows 8 to use a similar user interface – a flop, as we now know. With Windows 10, it went back more in the direction of classic operation and in Windows 11 Microsoft again slightly renovated the desktop.
Even if Microsoft has often been wrong when it comes to design decisions, the reasons for this can be partly understood. Compared to Linux desktops, however, there is hardly anything new to be found in Windows 11. The crucial difference: Linux users have the choice between different desktop environments, which can usually be adapted almost at will.
Linux & Co:
Outlook for 2022
The start menu and the taskbar in the middle of the lower edge of the screen can be understood as a nice suggestion from Microsoft. It may be possible to shorten the mouse travel because most users tend to work in the center of the screen. It remains to be seen whether this will save a particularly large amount of time in practice. In addition, the advantage is reduced if numerous icons are pinned to the taskbar or many programs are started. The start menu button then moves further and further to the left. If you want, you can arrange the taskbar on the left using the settings. Other positions are not possible.
Microsoft has clearly cleaned up the start menu. It shows some pinned programs, the position can be changed by drag & drop. Windows 10’s live tiles are missing. Clicking on “All Apps” brings up an alphabetically sorted list of all programs.
Windows 11 groups the icons in the taskbar when several windows of an application are open. To get to the desired window, move the mouse pointer over the icon and click on the window preview. This is also the case with Windows 10. The grouping can be switched off here or only activated when the taskbar is full.
Linux: Starters and Bars
Edit control bar: KDE can arrange the elements in the bar in any way you want. The menu can also be placed in the middle with a spacer.
How the application launcher and the taskbar look depends on the distribution or desktop environment. Ubuntu, for example, takes a greatly reduced approach. There is only one common bar for the starter and the icons of the running applications. If you want more settings, you will find it at Linux Mint Cinnamon or Kubuntu (KDE). The systems show freely configurable strips, the position and components of which can be adjusted as desired. Widgets of different design are available for menus, program starters or window lists. The restrictions mentioned for Windows 11 are largely unknown to Kubuntu, Lubuntu, Xubuntu or Linux Mint.
The functionality of the desktop
Not much has changed in terms of the desktop workspace in Windows 11. Folders, files or shortcuts can be stored here, also by dragging and dropping from Windows Explorer. If you use the right mouse button, a menu opens and asks for the desired action.
Ubuntu (with Gnome) also pursues its own, very reduced strategy for the desktop. You can create folders on the desktop, but not files or shortcuts. The Cinnamon or KDE desktop, on the other hand, is fully functional and offers the same options as Windows 11.
Configuration and settings
KDE system settings: Kubuntu scores with the settings. They are just as well organized as with Windows 11 and the desktop can be easily customized.
Microsoft has been working on rebuilding the system settings since Windows 8. With each upgrade, more functions move from the old control panel to the new “Settings”. This makes orientation more difficult for the user, because an option can often no longer be found in the usual place. The “Settings” in Windows 11 are, however, well done. Main categories such as “System” or “Personalization” are always visible as navigation on the left side of the window. The sub-categories can be seen in the right part of the window, from where you can access further sub-items. The current path is displayed at the top of the window. You can see where you are at any time and you can go back to the previous point by clicking on part of the path.
The “Settings” in Ubuntu (Gnome Desktop) do not have to shy away from comparison with Windows 11. Navigation and structure are similar. However, there are significantly fewer options, which increases the clarity, but reduces the customization options. The KDE control center (Kubuntu) has a similar structure, but offers more settings and subcategories. You have to scroll more often. There is a maximum of only one sub-level, so that you can return to the main categories with one click of the mouse. Linux Mint with Cinnamon is worse off. The individual options can be reached rather laboriously via the “Settings” menu. You can get a complete overview in the not very clear “system settings”.