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Most common Windows 11 problems and how to fix them

A handful of the most common problems plaguing Microsoft's latest operating system

Nearly a year into its launch and the world of IT has yet to truly embrace Microsoft’s latest Windows 11 operating system (OS) but the updates for it are plentiful, which means known issues rarely persist for any great length of time.

According to figures from Statcounter, Windows 11 has only very recently overtaken Windows 7 in terms of the proportion of Windows users having it installed, despite Microsoft offering most Windows 10 users a free upgrade. 

Regardless, the latest version is Microsoft’s priority and the only one to not have gone end of life (EOL) - the time at which an OS is no longer supported with updates - or have an EOL date set. 

Users have been known to encounter compatibility issues with certain software when upgrading to the latest version of Windows at the time of launch, but 11 months into its lifecycle, the majority of these problems have now been ironed out.

That said, there are still issues that affect Windows 11 users on a daily basis but thankfully, most have quick and easy fixes available to remediate them and get back to full, working order.

Can’t upgrade to Windows 11

Users are often split between wanting to upgrade to the new OS as soon as it’s launched, and those who want to avoid the lengthy hassle of upgrading and learning the new user interface. Those who want to upgrade sometimes can’t for various different reasons but perhaps the most common reason why a given user isn’t offered the free upgrade is because of the hardware they are running.

Microsoft imposed a strict set of hardware requirements in order to be eligible for the Windows 11 upgrade. One of the most important ones is the need to have a modern processor - roughly post-2018 - and with a TPM 2.0 chip. This means even if you have a high-power processor that was bought as little as five years ago - one that drives power-hungry workloads daily with no issues - it may still be the reason you’re unable to upgrade to Windows 11.

Screenshot showing available options for installing Windows 11

In the early months after its October 2021 release, Windows 11 was also unavailable to some users simply because the free upgrade was rolled out in a staggered way, meaning even those with new, compatible hardware wouldn’t have the option to upgrade. Now nearly a year into the rollout, most eligible users should now have the option available to them in the Windows update panel, but a forced update is also available for those still being made to wait. Make sure to complete a robust backup for everything on Windows 10 before attempting a Windows 11 upgrade.

Windows 11 is very slow or freezes

Screenshot of a PC utility app scanning for software issues on Windows 11

It’s a shiny new operating system, but that doesn’t always equate to the performance of a brand-new PC – especially if you’ve upgraded in place from Windows 10.

If Windows 11 is running slowly or even freezes your PC, there are a few things to try. First, perform driver updates to make sure that key components such as graphics cards have the latest software and not the old Windows 10 drivers. Most of the major PC manufacturers now ship with a utility with their PCs, such as Lenovo Vantage or Dell Update, that will check for new component drivers. Fire that up and apply any updates.

Alternatively, open the Windows 11 Settings menu, select Windows Update, Advanced Options and check for Optional Updates there. This is another way of bringing troublesome drivers up to date.

If you’ve upgraded from Windows 10, it might be a piece of old software that’s snagging your system. In that same Advanced Options menu, you’ll see an option to Reset your PC under the Recovery menu. This will let you wipe the system, as if it were a fresh Windows 11 install, but let you keep all of your files intact. The downside is you’ll have to reinstall any Windows applications, but we’ve seen a Reset breathe new life into many a clogged-up PC.

Make sure to perform a full backup first, just in case something goes wrong.

Windows 11 can’t find a printer

Screenshot showing a list of available printers on Windows 11

There are a number of known problems with Windows 11 accessing printers at the moment, especially in business environments.

One of the known issues is installation of printers failing when you’re attempting to connect to a printer on a shared network. Normally drivers are downloaded automatically for such printers, but there is a known bug that is preventing drivers downloading correctly.

In a business environment, your IT department should be able to install the relevant drivers on your machine for you. For everyone else, you’ll need to visit the printer manufacturer’s website support section and look for an option to download drivers for your device.

Snipping Tool isn’t working

Windows 10 had a pretty decent screenshot app that has carried over to Windows 11, allowing you to manually capture screenshots using marquee tools and save them to specific folders.

Unfortunately, the app is currently broken on Windows 11, as well as a bunch of other tools, thanks to an expired certificate, and attempts to use the tool will result in an error message.

An error message users will see when trying to use the Snipping Tool

Microsoft has released a patch to fix this issue on most of the broken widgets and apps, but the Snipping Tool still appears to be a problem for users. The company has said for the time being users should fall back on the old way of using their keyboard's Print Screen button and pasting the image into Paint or a similar app.

There are some guides online that suggest a few workarounds to address the problem - although most of the ones we tested failed to fix the issue. This includes finding the version of Snipping Tool in your old Windows files and copying it over to your new Windows installation, as well as forcibly uninstalling the app using PowerShell and reinstalling it from the Microsoft Store. Now we know that it’s a certificate issue, it’s unsurprising that these methods don’t work.

For now, it’s best to just wait for an official patch.

Windows 11 PC is short on disk space

If you’ve performed an in-place upgrade from Windows 10, you might find you now have less free disk space than what you had prior to the upgrade. This is because Windows keeps the old Windows 10 files for a while, just in case you decide you want to revert to the older operating system.

The good news on this front is that Microsoft now only gives you ten days to change your mind, after which the old Windows 10 files will be automatically removed from your Windows 11 PC, freeing up the space in the process.

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However, if the upgrade has left you with barely any space, and you’re happy to stick with Windows 11, you can manually eject the old Windows 10 files. In the Windows 11 search menu, type “disk” and you should be offered the Disk Clean-Up tool. Run it on your main hard disk (normally C:) and scan the list of files to delete for “Previous Windows installation(s)”. If it’s there, you should be able to reclaim a few gigabytes.

If you still need more disk space, open Windows settings, choose Apps, then Apps & Features, and sort the list of installed apps by size to show you which programs are hogging the most disk space. Remove any you no longer need.

Other quick ways to clear space include emptying the ‘Downloads’ folder and the ‘Recycle Bin’.

Windows 11 search isn’t finding my files

Screenshot showing Windows 11's Indexing Options menu

The new search menu – available by clicking on the magnifying glass or Windows key + S – should search for almost anything on your computer, including apps, files and photos.

If you find it’s not picking up files that you know are on your computer, you can force Windows 11 to rescan the PC, which should solve the problem.

The first thing to note here is that it takes a while for Windows 11 to build a search index, particularly if you’ve got hard disks full of files. If you’ve only just completed the Windows 11 upgrade, give the index a few hours to complete, as the process runs in the background.

If you’ve had Windows 11 for a couple of days and it’s still not finding your files, open Windows search and type ‘index’. Now click on Indexing Options and select Advanced from the window that appears.

Now click the button to Rebuild the search index. After a few seconds, you’ll see a screen showing the progress of the rebuild. You can carry on working while it does its thing in the background.

Distracting notifications

Screenshot showing Windows 11's Focus Assist menu and options

With many people still working from home, distractions are already an occupational hazard. You probably don’t need Windows 11 notifying you of Slack chats or emails about forthcoming Amazon deliveries when you’ve got a report due the next day.

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Microsoft has upped its notifications game in Windows 11 to make them less distracting than previously, thanks to a new mode called Focus Assist. If you click on the icons in the bottom-right corner of the screen containing the battery/Wi-Fi/volume indicators, a pop-up panel will appear allowing you to switch on Focus Assist. There are two modes to choose from here: Priority Only or Alarms Only.

Alarms Only, as the name suggests, only allows pre-set alarms to interfere with your work. Priority Only brings more nuance, allowing messages from certain apps or people to get through - although the people filters are less than perfect.

So, if the boss often calls from Microsoft Teams, for example, add that application to the Focus Assist Priority list by clicking on the Notifications icon in the bottom-right corner (it will turn to a moon icon if Focus Assist is on) and selecting Focus Assist settings.

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