Although it was leaked before the official announcement, we now know all the key details about Windows 11. In an emotional livestream, Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer Panos Panay explained many of the new features, whilst claiming that Windows 11 still feels like home.
Clearly wanting to avoid upsetting millions by making radical changes (as it ultimately did with Windows 8) has kept the same basic layout, albeit with a significant redesign. You’ll also find rounded corners everywhere you look and a new centrally positioned Start Menu, although you can return the latter to the side if you’d prefer.
There’s a new widgets panel which can show the weather, stocks, news and other things – seemingly replacing the old Start Menu’s live tiles – and improved grouping and snapping of open Windows so you can focus more easily on what you’re trying to do.
Windows 11 on tablets is much improved thanks to the introduction of gestures and a new on-screen keyboard that much more similar to the one on your phone. You can even install and use Android apps, via the Amazon Appstore.
But while there are lots of visual changes, Windows 11 should be an easy transition from Windows 10 for most people.
When is Windows 11 coming out?
- Initial release date late 2021
- Free upgrade for Windows 10 PCs from early 2022
- Early build available now to Windows Insiders
At the launch event, Microsoft confirmed that Windows 11 would begin rolling out “this holiday”. The US holiday season typically refers to the period between Thanksgiving in late November and the New Year, but in tech spheres October is usually included too.
Indeed, there were a few signs during the 24 June event that an October 2021 launch was likely, and now it looks like Intel has inadvertently confirmed the same month. In release notes for a GPU driver, the company refers to Windows 11 as the ‘October 2021 update (21H2)’.
Of course, there’s a chance this was just a typo, given Microsoft announced Windows 10’s 21H2 feature update in July 2021 and it’s not mentioned.
Either way, there’s still a growing feeling that we’ll see a final version of Windows 11 before October is out. Unfortunately, it looks like that’ll only be the date that OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) can begin to release Windows 11 hardware.
In an official post, the Windows Twitter account appeared to confirm that we’ll be waiting until 2022 for the free upgrade:
Windows 11 is due out later in 2021 and will be delivered over several months. The rollout of the upgrade to Windows 10 devices already in use today will begin in 2022 through the first half of that year.
— Windows (@Windows)
June 25, 2021
If you don’t want to wait that long, Microsoft has already released an early build via its Windows Insider Program. Anyone with a Windows 10 sign up to the Dev Channel and ge
can install a Preview build right now – check out how to get the Windows 11 beta now.
However, remember that early builds usually have more bugs, and most people shouldn’t install them on their main PC.
Microsoft says it is working with its partners so that PCs (and laptops and tablets) you buy today will run Windows 11. In fact, at the end of the launch Panay encouraged viewers to go out and buy a Windows 11-ready PC.
How much will Windows 11 cost?
- Free for eligible PCs
- New hardware pricing dependent on manufacturer
This is of course one of the biggest questions, and we now have an answer. It will be free for eligible PCs. However, Microsoft has updated the hardware requirements, so it’s not as simple as all Windows 10 devices getting Windows 11.
Naturally, upgrading from Windows 10 won’t be the only way to get Windows 11. Once it launches, new laptops and PCs will be running the operating system out of the box, negating the need to buy a license separately. It’s impossible to say how each company will price their hardware, but expect it to be similar to the equivalent Windows 10 devices.
Wasn’t Windows 10 the ‘last ever’ version of Windows?
That’s what Microsoft said when it announced Windows 10, yes. But apparently it changed its mind about that. The company could have rolled out these changes in a Windows 10 update, but it chose not to refer back to this statement during the launch event and might be hoping its customers have short memories.
Indeed, based on what we’ve seen so far, Windows 11 feels too much like a Windows 10 feature update.
Will my current PC / laptop run Windows 11?
Microsoft has published a list of minimum hardware requirements:
- 1GHz dual-core processor
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB of storage
- UEFI, Secure Boot capable
- Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0
- Graphics card compatible with DirectX 12
- Bigger than 9in display with 720p resolution
- Microsoft account + internet connection
For more information, check out our separate guide: Will my PC run Windows 11?
However, it’s not quite as simple as that. Microsoft isn’t enforcing these hardware requirements during the testing phase, and there’ll still be a way to install the final version of Windows 11 on unsupported PCs.
What new features does Windows 11 have?
There are too many to go into lots of detail here, but here are some of the main ones. The official trailer below explains a lot in under three minutes.
First, there’s a significant visual overhaul. Windows 10 has maintained a similar look and feel throughout its lifespan, but that’s about to change with Windows 11.
A new taskbar moves icons to the centre, although this can easily be reverted to a more traditional layout. It’s where you’ll find a brand new Start Menu, sporting a very similar design to the recently-cancelled Windows 10X.
Here’s the dark-mode version:
It features a grid of customisable ‘Pinned’ icons, with separate ‘All apps’ section for everything else you have installed. The ‘Recommended’ heading below displays recently used files, apps and folders – including from cloud services such as OneDrive and Microsoft 365 – enabling you to quickly pick up where you left off, even if you last used a different device.
Multitasking is much more fluid, thanks to new snap layouts Hovering over the maximise button allows you to choose the arrangement of apps on the screen, as you can see below.
Image: Mark Hachman/IDG
Widgets haven’t been a major feature of recent versions of Windows, but that’s set to change. The panel slides in from the left, but can be customised to fill the whole screen if you want. It’s designed for quick glances at important information without distracting you from what you were doing before you opened it.
Teams and chat are integrated into Windows 11:
Many stock apps have been redesigned, including File Explorer and the Microsoft Store (in anticipation of Android app support via the Amazon Appstore).
Windows 11 also has a brand-new Action Center, splitting Quick Settings, Notifications and a music controller into separate sections. Its design is inspired by Windows 10X, making it easy to navigate using touchpad, mouse, pen or finger.
Windows 11 also has a brand new startup sound. Check out the five-second clip below:
There are also a range of stunning new wallpapers to choose from, and you can choose from a variety of preset themes or choose your own.
Windows updates are now 40% smaller and are applied in the background, so shouldn’t interrupt your work – or play. Windows 11 is also more efficient, which means it uses less power which means your laptop should last longer.
For a visual look at the beta, Mark Hachman has been testing it out on our sister site PCWorld.
Tech Advisor’s guide to Windows 11
We already have plenty of Windows 11 coverage on the site so far, answering all the key questions about Microsoft’s new operating system:
There’s plenty more where all that came from. Keep it locked to Tech Advisor for plenty more Windows 11 content as we approach its expected release date.