Windows 11 is coming – Here’s everything we know about the new Windows
After what seemed like ages of waiting, Microsoft has finally announced what it’s calling “the next generation of Windows”. Windows 11 is a major, major change. It’s representative of a big shift in how Microsoft delivers Windows, but it’s also a big UX overhaul as well. On top of that, it’s getting new Android app support, a new Store, and much more. Here’s what we know so far!
When is the Windows 11 release date?
The official Windows 11 release date is this holiday season. The timeline is just very different from a normal Windows feature update.
Normally, new features arrive in the Dev channel of the Windows Insider Program over the course of six months to a year. Insiders test them out, they give feedback, and things evolve. Once the Windows 10 feature update RTMs, it goes to the Beta channel. It sits there for service for a few months, and then it goes to the Release Preview channel shortly before release.
This is different because Microsoft hasn’t been letting people test this as features have been developed. Windows RTMs in June and December every year now, ever since the schedule lined up with Azure. If you’re familiar with that cycle, this might freak you out a little bit. How can Microsoft announce something on June 24 and have it ready in time to ship this fall?
There are a few answers, one of which is that Windows 10 has been ready for a while and Microsoft hasn’t told you. Windows 10 Insider Previews have continued to ship, but the Redmond firm is stripping out the Windows 11 shell. There are a few parts that won’t be ready in time for Windows Insider testing, such as the new Microsoft Store, Android apps on Windows, and Teams integration.
The preview is going to go out to Windows Insiders the week of June 28. It’s scheduled to arrive in the Beta channel later this summer, and that’s also when OEMs are going to start to get it for installing on new laptops and desktops. In October or November, Windows 11 will be available to everyone as a free update. Windows 11 won’t have a specific release date until we get pretty close to it.
But wasn’t Windows 10 the last version of Windows?
Back when Windows 10 was announced, it was going to be the last version of Windows. After that, we’d have Windows on a service, and the plan was to let it evolve over time. In fact, I’m sure Terry Myerson knew that there would have to be a big design overhaul at some point, and he thought that would be a Windows 10 update.
Also, to be clear, a developer evangelist named Jerry Nixon was the only one that actually said that Windows 10 was the last version. Microsoft just sort of didn’t correct it, seemingly confirming Nixon’s remarks. Still, this was absolutely Microsoft’s internal mindset at the time.
Here’s the big issue though. Everyone that said Windows 10 would be the last version of Windows doesn’t work there anymore. Panos Panay is in charge of Windows now, and he’s something of a showman.
A good way to think of this is a rebrand, but a rebrand that’s coming at a time where there’s a big UX overhaul. Under the hood, this is the same Windows 10 that we’ve known for years, and it could have shipped as a Windows 10 update. The new brand is about creating excitement around the idea that this is brand-new.
This is not what Windows 10X would have been, because that was only going to arrive on new PCs. Windows 10X was never going to be sold as retail licenses either. With Windows 11, there won’t be any technical reason that you can’t go ahead and install it on any PC.
Microsoft will continue on with Windows as a service, so this will be a free upgrade. But also, don’t expect this to be confirmed as the last version of Windows or anything. We’ll probably get Windows 12 in a few more years. We actually asked how version numbers will work with Windows 11 since it’s going to be updated once a year now instead of twice a year. There’s no need for H1 and H2 anymore. Microsoft wouldn’t comment.
Is Windows 10X dead?
Windows 10X was supposed to be the real next generation of Windows. Along with a complete visual overhaul, it had a lot of under-the-hood changes like running all apps in containers. Microsoft recently announced that it’s dead, and a lot of its features are being folded into Windows 11.
While it had been rumored long before that as Windows Lite, Windows 10X was actually unveiled alongside Microsoft’s Surface Neo as a dual-screen OS. It eventually abandoned its dual-screen ambitions, promising to deliver it on single-screen devices, like cheap laptops. Panos Panay actually wrote in a blog post that he wanted to meet customers where they’re at, even though you’d have to buy a new PC to get it.
Things pretty much fell apart from there. There were some Windows 10X emulators that came out when Microsoft has big plans, but when the single-screen build leaked, it couldn’t even run Win32 apps anymore. Instead, we’re getting Windows 11, which will have the UX elements from Windows 10X.
Can my PC run Windows 11? Is it a free update?
Windows 11 will be a free update for Windows 10 users this holiday season. Unfortunately, the system requirements are higher for Windows 11. There’s no more 32-bit support, and older single-core CPUs won’t be supported. You also need at least 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. The biggest roadblock for many seems to be the requirement of TPM 2.0.
Here’s the list:
|Processor:||1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with 2 or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC)|
|RAM:||4 gigabyte (GB)|
|Storage:||64 GB or larger storage device
Note: See below under “More information on storage space to keep Windows 11 up-to-date” for more details.
|System firmware:||UEFI, Secure Boot capable|
|TPM:||Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0|
|Graphics card:||Compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver|
|Display:||High definition (720p) display that is greater than 9” diagonally, 8 bits per color channel|
|Internet connection and Microsoft accounts:||Windows 11 Home edition requires internet connectivity and a Microsoft account to complete device setup on first use.
Switching a device out of Windows 11 Home in S mode also requires internet connectivity. Learn more about S mode here.
For all Windows 11 editions, internet access is required to perform updates and to download and take advantage of some features. A Microsoft account is required for some features.
Microsoft also changed the CPU requirements. Seventh-gen and older Intel CPUs are out, as are some older AMD Ryzen chips, but we’ll have to wait and see if that actually restricts people from installing Windows 11.
Is Microsoft going to force me to upgrade to Windows 11?
The short answer is no, Microsoft isn’t going to force anyone to upgrade to Windows 11. Starting with Windows 10 version 1903, the Redmond firm stopped forcing people to install feature updates. This came after a disastrous Windows 10 version 1809 that actually deleted some users’ files.
It uses its newer ‘seeker’ method. When you check for updates in Windows Update, it simply tells you that a feature update is available if you want it, and you can opt into taking it. The only time Microsoft forces a Windows 10 feature update is if the one you’re on is nearing the end of support, but that’s not even going to happen with Windows 11.
Windows 11 is going to be offered as a free update to seekers this holiday season. If you don’t want it, there’s actually going to be a new Windows 10 update as well, called version 21H2. Microsoft wouldn’t commit to whether or not version 21H2 will be the last Windows 10 update, but it’s definitely going to support the OS until 2025, so if you don’t want Windows 11, you’re good to go for a while.
What’s new in Windows 11? Is this the Sun Valley update?
You might have heard the term Sun Valley tossed around for the last few months. That’s the codename for the big UX overhaul that’s coming with Windows 11. It’s not the codename for the OS as a whole though, just the new UX. It’s meant to make the OS more touch-friendly, something that Windows 10 has struggled with.
Here’s everything that we know is coming:
The rumors of Project Latte were true. You’re going to be able to run Android apps in Windows 11. You’ll be able to get them through the Microsoft Store too, but notably, Microsoft has partnered up with Amazon to bring the Amazon Appstore to the Microsoft Store. That means that yes, there will finally be a touch-friendly Kindle app coming to Windows.
The company mentioned that Amazon was the company that it partnered with, but the Appstore isn’t the only place you’ll be able to get Android apps from. In fact, Microsoft said it wants to be able to run all Android apps one day, including those that require Google services. Note that it’s just a goal to support all Android apps, not a commitment.
A big visual overhaul, with rounded corners
Windows 11 is going to be visually different from Windows 10. Because as Windows 10 has had some subtle changes to the design over the years, it hasn’t gotten a whole new look, like the kind of new look we typically get from a new version of Windows.
And yes, there will be rounded corners. Windows has been focused on sharp corners ever since Windows 8, and those squared-off tiles made their way into Windows 10 as well. Windows 11 will follow suit with more modern operating systems like iOS and Android now.
There’s a brand-new Start Menu, which is centered and floating. In fact, it’s just like Windows 10X was. The taskbar is centered as well.
There are also new, more colorful icons throughout the operating system. You’ll find these in the more modern File Explorer, Device Manager, and pretty much anywhere else. These are available in Windows 10 previews, and they make for a pretty big visual change on their own.
It’s not just about a new look though. The way you interact with the UI will be different as well. A big focus here is making Windows better for touch, something that Windows 10 has struggled with. Indeed, while Windows 8 was all-in on touch, Windows 10 felt like it scaled back a bit too much. Windows 11 will support more swipe gestures and such, but more importantly, it should be more consistent with what happens when you tap on something.
Microsoft said that the touch gestures are going to be the same as when you’re using a Precision touchpad. That way, you’ll be using gestures that you’re already familiar with.
Microsoft is laser-focused on gaming, and why shouldn’t it be? It has the only viable PC gaming platform, a console play, and a cloud back end that’s second to none. And as we know, if there’s an Azure play to be made, Microsoft is going to make it.
Windows 11 has a bunch of gaming improvements. One of them is Auto HDR, a feature first included in Xbox Series X|S consoles, and now coming to Windows. It automatically adds HDR to older games, as you can probably guess from the name.
Another feature being borrowed from the firm’s latest consoles is DirectStorage. You’ll need a “DirectStorage Optimized” PC for this one, as you’ll need the kind of SSD that was engineered as part of the Xbox Velocity Architecture, but it’s going to allow for super-fast loading times and better performance.
Finally, Xbox Cloud Gaming is going to be built-in. It’s going to be part of the Xbox app on Windows 11, although to be clear, there’s no reason that that app update shouldn’t come to Windows 10 as well. We’ll have to wait and see if Windows 10 users get the feature.
A new Microsoft Store
One thing that Satya Nadella said at the Build keynote is that the new OS will “unlock greater economic opportunity for developers and creators”. That leads us to a new Microsoft Store. Make no mistake; this is a big part of the update.
Desktop apps still haven’t made it to the Store in the same way that Microsoft would have liked. With Windows 11, there are some big changes. Developers will be able to submit their apps without packaging them, and they can also host them on their own CDN, meaning that they won’t actually have to be distributed by Microsoft, just through the Microsoft storefront.
This is opening up the Microsoft Store in a big way. Previously, big-time apps like Google Chrome were left out because of Microsoft’s own rules. Now, it’s a whole lot easier to put your app in the Store.
The big point is that Microsoft doesn’t care what kind of app you made. It can be Win32, .NET, UWP, Xamarin, Election, React Native, Java, a PWA, or something else, and Microsoft wants it in the store.
Microsoft announced that Adobe Creative Cloud, Disney+, TikTok, and Zoom are all coming to the Store. Moreover, it’s bringing Microsoft Teams and even Visual Studio to its virtual storefront. That’s a big deal, especially Visual Studio.
The company also just wants to make a better store. It’s adding collections to help you to find more apps, and there’s a “pop-up store” that will manage installations when you try to install apps that come from the web.
Not only that, but developers can use their own commerce platforms. That means that your app can use the platform that earns you the most money, and your app can still be in the Store.
Microsoft is integrating Teams into the OS. You’ll now find Teams chat right in the taskbar, so you can easily talk to friends. It’s also going to work with SMS, just in case those friends haven’t downloaded Teams yet. The company specifically referred to it as “two-way SMS”, so don’t expect MMS group texts to work.
There’s also a mute/unmute button that’s going to show up in the taskbar, along with an option to start presenting.
Windows 10 brought us Snap Assist, and Windows 11 is bringing us Snap Layouts. This is a cool one. In Windows 11, you can hover over the maximize button, and you’ll be presented with layout options.
You can select one of the tiles in the layouts, and your app will snap to that position on the screen. Snap Assist will help you fill in the rest.
While this is useful for everyone, it should be particularly useful for those that use ultra-wide monitors. Microsoft has never supported three apps side-by-side before.
Virtual Desktop wallpaper
This is a pretty small change, but if you’re a virtual desktop user, it’s probably a big one. You can set the wallpaper on each of your virtual desktops now, helping you to define the look of each one that might have its own purpose.
Microsoft is adding a widgets panel, which will slide in from the left. The company seems to like to compare it to a pane of glass sliding out. As it stands right now, it’s pretty much News and interests but in a new form. At some point, it will likely open up to third-party developers.
x64 emulation for Windows on ARM
You remember Windows on ARM, right? Windows 10 devices with ARM processors have struggled with a lack of apps since they’ve only supported 32-bit emulation. With Windows 11, those devices will finally get support for 64-bit app emulation. This is something that’s been in testing with Insiders for a while.