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The Windows 11 insider build is surprisingly unpolished and unfinished

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Enlarge / Setting Windows 11 to one of its dark themes also darkens the background of the Settings app—but not the background of most traditional apps, like Resource Monitor.

Jim Salter

Microsoft made early Windows 11 builds available via its Windows Insider program the week after its first major announcement, and we’ve spent quite a few hours kicking the tires. When Windows 11 publicly releases, it’s likely to be a fine operating system—but right now, it’s an unpolished, unfinished mess.

Of course, this isn’t a complete surprise—Windows 11 is still only available in the Dev channel of the Insider program. The three Insider channels are Release Preview, Beta, and Dev; Dev roughly corresponds to a software alpha, and Microsoft itself describes it as “the newest code,” with “rough edges and some instability.”

Windows 11 is upgrade only (for now)

The first disappointment we encountered with Windows 11 is a puzzling one—it can’t (yet) be cleanly installed as a new operating system. To install Windows 11 Build 22000.51, you must begin with a fully patched and up-to-date Windows 10 installation, then flight it into the Dev channel, then upgrade it to Windows 11 via Windows Update. (If you’re not already on Windows 10 20H2 or newer, you’ll need to get through that upgrade first.)

We had no real problems updating either a well-used Windows 10 VM or a brand-new one—but we strongly advise against upgrading to Windows 11 on a machine or VM that matters to you, unless you have a guaranteed method of recovery you both trust and are prepared to use. Although one of our test VMs is a “daily driver” we rely on, it’s sitting on top of a ZFS dataset—and we took a manual snapshot prior to the upgrade, for easy rollback.

Ironically, the first look anyone gets at Windows 11 itself right now is the dreaded BSOU (Blue Screen Of Updates)—after flighting our Windows 10 VM into the Dev channel and one very quick download, it rebooted. During the reboot, we get the usual “don’t turn off your computer” message—but it’s in a new font and possibly on a slightly different shade of blue background.

Although the initial download in Windows Update is over rather quickly, the “working on updates” phase is not. This phase took about an hour on each of the Windows 10 VMs we upgraded—one reasonably well-used, and one brand new.

Alpha means alpha

It took almost no time to find our first and second nasty Windows 11 bugs—the DNS resolver was strangely and inconsistently broken, and the network configuration dialog under Settings was broken as well.

You can see the DNS resolver issues in the first screenshot above. We can ping 8.8.8.8—Google’s anycast DNS provider—without issue, so we know that general connectivity is fine both inside the LAN and outside of it. But attempts to ping google.com fail! The confusion only gets worse when we use nslookup to query our DNS server directly—it answers our queries just fine. Nevertheless, attempting to ping the same hostname directly fails, as do most attempts to browse with Edge or Chrome.

The second bug came while trying to troubleshoot the first—attempting to set IP address configuration directly using Windows 11’s Settings dialog fails miserably, with a cryptic message to “check one or more settings and try again.” There’s nothing actually wrong with the settings—the dialog is just broken. Next question—is Control Panel still there?

Thankfully, Control Panel hasn’t yet been done away with in Windows 11, and its tried-and-true network adapter configuration dialog works just as expected. Unfortunately, that didn’t resolve the original DNS issue—which turns out to be some conflict between Windows 11 and the VirtIO network driver we’re using.

Changing the VM’s network adapter to emulated Intel e1000 resolved the DNS issue—as does, hilariously, leaving the NIC as VirtIO and just using a DNS server on the far side of a WireGuard tunnel. (WireGuard has its own virtual NIC, so we’re technically not using our “real” network card to access the DNS server on the far side of the tunnel.)

Over the week or so we’ve been playing with Windows 11, we’ve also had the entire VM lock up and require a hard reset several times. Did we mention that this is still alpha software, and nobody should be running anything they care about on it yet?

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