A first look at Microsoft’s major Windows makeover released today
Windows 10 was supposed to be the “last version of Windows”, but Microsoft has changed course on its enduring PC operating system. Yes, Windows 11 is here and available for download today.
Windows 11 isn’t a dramatic change of upgrade, but it does bring a lot of changes across the board. From the look and feel of Windows to its performance, game features, and app compatibility, it contains many potentially important improvements.
Here’s a look at the biggest new Windows 11 features.
1) A refreshed look
After pushing back to its Windows 8 Live tiles, Microsoft appears to have accepted that people want Windows to have a traditional taskbar and Start menu. Windows must be Windows it seems. But Windows can still be improved and expanded.
Windows 11 retains these elements, but there’s more than a hint of Apple’s macOS influence here. You get a centered row of app icons on the system tray, rounded window edges, and other flourishes that make for a cleaner, more engaging user interface. There’s also a new widget feed and snap layouts that make it easier to load multiple apps / features at the same time.
2) Improved performance
Obviously, the hope is that a new feature-rich operating system upgrade won’t be blocked by the weight of its new additions and improvements. Fortunately, Microsoft seems to be keeping an eye on performance, as evidenced by some key details from the presentation.
For example, Windows updates will be around 40% smaller than they are now and run in the background, leaving less room for interruptions. You can also expect general performance improvements across the board, including web browsers (not just Edge).
3) Teams integration
You may have become familiar with Microsoft Teams during the pandemic, but if you haven’t, it’s essentially Microsoft’s hybrid version of Zoom and Slack for workspaces and communications. And in Windows 11 it’s no longer just an app, but an integrated part of the operating system.
Teams had approximately 145 million daily active users as of April. Even if you haven’t used it, Teams is a big deal. It will be highlighted in the user interface and it will be easier to start new Teams sessions. Skype could be the big loser in all of this as teams grow in importance within Windows.
4) Android apps are running
Here’s a nice surprise: Windows 11 will be able to run Android apps on your PC, much like Chromebooks are capable of performing as well. In this case, however, Windows relies on Amazon’s Appstore and not on Google’s own official Play Store.
Still, there are many popular apps in the Amazon version. This also gives you access to popular mobile apps like TikTok and mobile games that snap you into one corner of your screen while you pretend to be productive elsewhere.
5) Xbox gaming improvements
Microsoft will also be enhancing the PC gaming experience in Windows 11, adopting some of the improvements made in the new Xbox consoles, while better integrating Xbox Game Pass and other features.
The Auto HDR feature on the new Xbox Series X and Series S has come to the PC, automatically enhancing games for those with HDR-compatible monitors. Windows 11 will also support DirectStorage for users with NVMe SSD drives, which enables much faster load times in supported games.
6) Major ecosystem changes
The Windows Store has been quite a mess over the past few years as Microsoft oversees the types of apps allowed within the native storefront. Not anymore: Windows 11 opens things to all types of apps, even if they aren’t universal Windows apps.
That means apps like Adobe’s Creative Cloud will finally be available through the native Microsoft Store, and there’s another twist: app makers can use their own in-app monetization systems and keep 100% of sales. It’s a shot over the bow towards Apple and Google, both of whom are taking part in the App Store purchases and battling Epic Games over attempts to break that system with Fortnite. Apps that use Microsoft’s payment system still pay a cut, but at least there is a choice with Windows 11.
7) It’s a free upgrade
This isn’t actually a feature, but it’s important to note: Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for Windows 10 users. If you are already running Windows 10 on your device, you will receive a free upgrade through Windows Update when it becomes available.
There’s no exact release date for Windows 11 yet, but Microsoft says it will be available at the end of the year for the holiday season. Official test builds will be shipped to Windows Insider members starting next week. Here’s a look at the Windows 11 system requirements in case you’re curious.