Windows 11: Everything You Should Know About the Big Update

Windows is getting a glow up.

It's true: Microsoft has announced that the next version of Windows will be called Windows 11 and will be released as a free update (and on new PCs) by the end of 2021. The announcement comes almost after six years of introducing Windows 10, it is the world’s most widely used PC operating system, with over 1.3 billion devices using it. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made it a point to tell everyone at the event that this was the first version of a new era for Windows. That's a good sign. But there’s plenty of new stuff in Windows 11 nevertheless. Read on to see the biggest new features you need to know.

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  • What is it? Windows 11 is the successor to Windows 10
  • When is it out? Likely late November/December
  • How much does it cost? Free

Windows 11 Will Have a New Look

The taskbar icons are now actually centered the way they're in Chrome OS, but the start button still remains to the left of the other app icons. Windows will be getting rounded corners, almost like macOS. The centered look may win me over, since you don’t have to move the mouse cursor across a full screen to launch an app.

There are more subtle  animations, transparency, and clean icon design that represent a step up in the Fluent Design system, which, though promised, never fully took over Windows 10. Dark mode, too, will look more steady with these changes.

Multiple Desktops

Windows 11 will now have the ability to set a different background for each virtual desktop. This does make a lot of sense: I use one desktop for work stuff and another for personal use, and I suspect I’m not alone. The snap layouts mentioned below can be used on each desktop as well.

There’s New Snap Layouts

Windows has long been unmatched for years in its ability to position, size, open, and close windows on the screen to your taste. MacOS recently added the ability to set your windows to take up exactly half the screen, something Windows users have had for years.

But with the new 11 comes the latest windowing convenience: Snap Layouts. These let you choose from a selection of window layouts (see above), easily assorting them with app windows of your choice. Maybe even more important than these extra layout choices is that the layouts are saved and are accessible from the app taskbar icons so you don’t have to bother re-creating them after doing something else on the PC. Pretty neat I must say.

Windows without a keyboard

With the new Windows, when you plug your laptop into a monitor, it will remember what you were last using.

The tablet mode will be more similar to the desktop mode, with subtle changes like added space between taskbar icons. A new stylus will provide haptic and audio feedback, and voice notes/ typing just keeps getting better.

Widgets Are Back

Widgets are finally making a comeback! Apple recently bolstered widgets in iOS 14, and Microsoft dabbled in bringing back desktop widgets with the News and Interests panel that recently showed up in Windows 10. But Windows 11 widgets will take that idea a step further. Microsoft states that the new widgets will deliver a personalized feed powered by AI and use Edge for rendering. The new widgets can be expanded to fill the whole screen to your needs, and I see third-party content providers taking advantage of this new palette.

Teams Integration

One of Microsoft’s biggest hits has been Teams, its videoconferencing and messaging tool. Teams went from having 20 million users in 2019 to 145 million in 2021. Now the company wants to bring it beyond the workplace with a button that will give easy access to Teams in Windows 11. Teams is cross-platform, running on Android, iOS as well as you know - Windows. It also works with SMS for those who don’t have the mobile app installed.

New Microsoft Store

The company rebuilt the Microsoft Store "from the ground up" with speed and consistency in mind, Panay said. Users will also now have more app choices with the new Microsoft Store, which will now also include the Android apps from the Amazon App Store. That means users will be able to access thousands of Android apps on their PC. During its event, Microsoft gave a not-so-subtle look at the Apple App Store when it announced that, in the new Microsoft Store, developers can create their own payment methods for their apps and Microsoft will not take any cut. Apple has faced some shade by app developers for the fee it takes on in-app sales from iOS apps.

Microsoft's stores haven't exactly been an overwhelming success in the time. But as Microsoft opens up its store to developers, it hopes to change that, making for a better customer experience — a kind of one-stop-shop for everything on your PC, rather than the old-fashioned way: as .exe files from the internet, outside of Microsoft's control.

"We love that the Microsoft Store continues to be more open, inviting our developers in, inviting more apps into the store, inviting you as our customer to use any app that you love," Panay said.

Gaming, With All New Auto HDR

Xbox Game Pass will now be built into Windows 11 to give the subscribers access to a library consisting of hundreds of games on their PCs. In terms of performance and visual quality, the upcoming update will also add DirectStorage and Auto HDR. The former speeds up loading of games from storage to the graphics card. The latter produces a way higher quality of image with more color range and depth.

Insiders Next Week, Release Later in 2021

If you’re already signed up as a Windows Insider, you should be able to give a try of the official early version of Windows 11 as soon as next week (week of June 29th), according to Microsoft. Microsoft states that anyone in the Dev or Beta channels will be eligible to get the Windows 11 Insider builds, provided that their hardware meets the certain requirements. To sign up or change your channel in Windows Insider, go to Settings->Update and Security->Windows Insider Program.  Microsoft also added that the official upgrade will be rolling out by the “holiday season.” So expect it any time between October and December.

Faster Performance, More Security

At the What’s Next for Windows event, Microsoft’s Panos Panay said that the OS improvements weren’t just surface level. He noted that speed improvements are also coming to web browsing, signing in with Windows Hello, and waking from sleep. He added that Windows updates will be 40% smaller and more efficient and occur in the background. More efficient energy also means longer battery life. Panay also said that Windows 11 would be the most secure version yet. One sign of this is that the new OS will require PCs to have a  Trusted Platform Module 2.0 (TPM) security chip.

What it means

Windows 11 has come six years after Microsoft last overhauled its operating system with Windows 10, a major update that's now running on around 1.3 billion devices worldwide, according to CCS Insight. Compared to the substantial change from Windows 8 to Windows 10, Windows 11 isn't a "revolutionary step," CCS CEO Geoff Blaber said.

And that’s about it.

Windows 11 isn’t the most dramatic leap in Windows history, but it’s definitely more exciting than just another ‘Windows 10 fall update.’ We’ll let you know what we think as we test the OS in the weeks and months to come, but Windows 11 will officially begin to roll out widely this holiday season. Improving the experience for PC users is important after a year when everyone has spent more time on their devices.

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