11 things you need to know about Windows 11

25 Jun 2021

Windows 11. Image: Microsoft

With Windows 11, Microsoft is giving its interface a facelift, focusing on remote work and calling out rival app stores.

In the week that Microsoft became a $2trn company, the tech giant unveiled its next-generation operating system.

At a virtual event yesterday (24 June), Windows 11 was revealed. It comes six years after the launch of Windows 10, which Microsoft is ending support for in 2025.

Here are all the key details.

It has a ‘fresh, sleeker’ interface

The first thing you might notice about Windows 11 is its interface, with rounded corners, new animations and fresh icons.

Forrester analyst JP Gownder described it as a “fresh, sleeker user interface” that aims to simplify the user experience. “Part aesthetic refresh and part user experience redesign, the Windows 11 interface will rise or fall on usability,” he said.

The start menu has been revamped

Along with the search function and the taskbar, the start menu has been moved to the middle of the screen in Windows 11. Panos Panay, chief product officer for Windows, said the aim of this switch is to make it “easier to quickly find what you need”.

“Start utilises the power of the cloud and Microsoft 365 to show you your recent files no matter what platform or device you were viewing them on earlier, even if it was on an Android or iOS device,” he added.

Remote work is front and centre

After the last year threw us all into the world of remote and hybrid work, Windows 11 has a focus on keeping people connected. Microsoft Teams will be integrated directly into the taskbar, and users will be able to text, chat, voice or video call contacts across Windows, Android or iOS.

“Windows 11 should improve distributed work by integrating with Microsoft Teams, making it easier to contact people right from the start menu,” said Forrester’s Gownder. “This innovation is well timed for the Covid world, which has re-established the centrality of the PC to the future of work and to digital life.” 

Microsoft Store is opening up…

A big change is that the Microsoft Store is being opened to any type of app, allowing space for competitors to get in on the action. The company said major third-party apps will be added to the store, including Disney+, Adobe Creative Cloud, Zoom and Canva.

Android apps are also being brought to Windows for the first time, and Microsoft said it will reveal more details on this in the coming months.

…And making a statement

App developers will also be able to use alternative payment systems in the Microsoft Store, which means they can keep 100pc of their revenue and avoid Microsoft taking a 15pc cut on transactions.

This is a significant departure from the commissions taken by competitors Google and Apple – the latter, in particular, has faced scrutiny over its App Store policies from major developers and regulators.

There’s a focus on multitasking

Microsoft has added ‘snap layouts’ that move apps to set parts of the screen to help with multitasking. There are also snap groups that remember where a collection of apps were on your screen so you can pop them back in the same place.

You can also create and customise separate desktops – such as one for work, one for school, one for gaming – similar to on a Mac.

There are also widgets

As well as plenty of new app developments, Microsoft is repackaging its widgets feature with a “new personalised feed powered by AI,” according to Panay.

This will give users a curated view of news, weather and notifications.

Gaming gets a boost

Microsoft is taking cues from its Xbox business and bringing some of its features to Windows 11. This includes the Auto HDR system, which automatically improves the lighting and colours of games.

Windows 11 will be able to load new games faster with DirectStorage technology, and the Xbox app will be built into the operating system allowing for easy access to Game Pass for PC.

It should be quicker

Gaming aside, Windows 11 will be faster and more power efficient than its predecessor. So laptop batteries will last longer than those on devices running Windows 10 and the operating system will start up quicker.

It’s familiar territory for Windows 10 users

While there are plenty of changes, tweaks and updates, Windows 11 is built on the same core code base as Windows 10 and Microsoft said the experience will be familiar for users.

“These user-friendly nods to the past are a double-edged sword, though,” said Gownder. “They’re great for continuity of experience, but they make you wonder what the 11 really stands for. Is this really more of an admittedly feature-rich Windows 10 update than a full-version release?”

You may be able to get it for free

If you’re already a Windows 10 user, Microsoft said it will be free to upgrade to Windows 11. If your PC meets the minimum requirements for the next-gen system, you will be able to upgrade in the same way you normally do a regular update.

An exact launch date hasn’t been revealed yet, but Microsoft said it will be out before Christmas.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic