How to Get Windows 11 Features Without Upgrading

How to Get Windows 11 Features Without Upgrading
That is a centered taskbar, and you don't need Windows 11 to get it. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

There are plenty of reasons why you might wait to upgrade to Windows 11. In many cases, your machine might not be ready for the update, but upgrading to a new operating system can be a significant disruption to your daily life. The last thing some of us can take right now is the loss of routine.

You don’t need to rush to install Windows 11 to get access to some of its marquee features. While you won’t get the whole vibe of Windows 11’s softer, rounded aesthetic without a complete upgrade, you can download a few apps or fiddle around with the current Windows 10 settings to get access to things like Android apps on Windows and a centered taskbar. Even if you decide to upgrade eventually, you might find these apps and abilities offer a better Windows experience than what’s to come.

Centre the Taskbar

You can centre the Taskbar on Windows 10 with the help of an app called StartIsBack. (Screenshot: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) You can centre the Taskbar on Windows 10 with the help of an app called StartIsBack. (Screenshot: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

Windows 11 will ship with app icons centered in the taskbar. This is a big deal because Windows has traditionally always defaulted to placing icons on the left-hand side. But since Chrome OS and macOS have already adopted the practice of centering the icons in their respective application docks, there are plenty of apps floating around that let you do the same on Windows 10.

The app I use is called StartIsBack, which comes with a ton of features. The app is primarily for compacting the Start menu, but there is also an option to centre the icons in your taskbar. StartIsBack comes with a free trial, and then it’s $US5 ($7) for the full licence, which isn’t too much to pay for a little more customisation than what Windows 10 currently offers.

For those wanting to go the free route, there’s an app called CenterTaskbar that moves your apps to the middle. I’ve never used this app, though Wired suggests it as an option if all you want is that one ability from Windows 11.

Snap Layouts — In Half

Snap Layouts are way more sophisticated in Windows 11 than their predecessor, allowing you to easily partition each part of the screen as you need into thirds and even fifths. Windows 11 lets you place windows in all corners of the “snap zones,” and the hover controls offer more options for placement. You can even set up Snap groups so that the same apps launch together each time.

Technically, there are already Snap windows available on Windows 10, though they’re limited to each half of the screen. You can find the option under Snap settings in your system settings. The feature allows you to drag a window to the edge, and it will automatically size itself to fill the space. It’s helpful as you’re working between different applications and need all the information visible on the desktop.

If you want the dynamic snapping ability, you can also check out an app called Aquasnap, which is free for personal use and lets you set up more than two windows at a time.

Use Android Apps Now

This is how Bluestacks emulates this very particular Android app, called Memobird, within Windows 10. (Screenshot: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) This is how Bluestacks emulates this very particular Android app, called Memobird, within Windows 10. (Screenshot: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

I’ll admit that I didn’t quite understand the fanfare of Windows 11 getting Android apps, considering I’ve been using them on Windows 10 for a while now. I use an app called Bluestacks, which is mainly aimed at Android gaming using a Windows machine. I use it for more straightforward tasks, like posting screenshots and text snippets to Instagram without picking up my phone. I also use it to access my thermal printer since I prefer the Android app over the Windows one. I like having the choice to move between platforms without having to switch devices.

Bluestacks is free and easy to install. Rather than having to hunt and fetch individual APK files, you can log in with your Google account and start downloading apps linked to your account directly from the Play Store as if you were on a regular Android device. The only caveat is that not all Android apps are compatible because Bluestacks emulates on the 4-year-old Android Nougat. But if you’re looking to get quick use out of a few particular Android apps, this is the fastest way to get going on Windows.

Get Yourself Simple Widgets

Widgets are having a moment, even though they haven’t evolved all that much in the last decade. Windows 11’s widgets aren’t particularly revolutionary, so you shouldn’t feel like you have to rush out and upgrade to get them. And anyway, there are other apps available for getting similar information pinned to the desktop.

Widget Launcher lets you launch widgets atop Windows 10. That's it.  (Screenshot: Florence Ion / Gizmodo) Widget Launcher lets you launch widgets atop Windows 10. That’s it. (Screenshot: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

I use an app called Widget Launcher. It’s a free widget-maker that lets you theme the widgets to match the rest of how you’ve styled your interface. Widget Launcher includes all the basic widgets, from world clocks to calendars. There’s even a calculator widget for quick maths and an RSS feed widget for keeping your pulse on the headlines. My favourite widget is the CPU monitor because I like to see how much memory my browser eats up in real-time.

There are other more robust widget makers available. Rainmeter is a popular, open-source desktop customisation tool with a passionate community of artists and developers behind it. Or try Desktop Gadgets, which brings back similar-looking widgets from when Microsoft used to call them gadgets.

Windows 11 is officially available as a downloadable upgrade beginning Oct. 5. You might get yourself acquainted with what you’ll lose leaving Windows 10 in case you need a reason to convince yourself to wait.