Well, it’s finally official. After years of inaction, many missteps, rumors, and leaks, Microsoft today finally unveiled the next major version of Windows. Which, yes, is called Windows 11.
Here are some of my key takeaways from the unveiling, many of which were not part of the public launch.
There’s no beta today, sorry. Anyone hoping to sign in to the Windows Insider Program today and enroll a PC to begin testing Windows 11 will be disappointed: That’s not happening yet, for reasons that are unclear.
Free upgrade. Windows 11 will be free for those with a Windows 10 PC that meet the new system requirements…
The system requirements are changing. Windows 10, like Windows 7 and 8, had lower system requirements than its predecessors, in part because of years-long ongoing componentization and optimization. But time marches on, and with Windows 11, Microsoft is making small upwardly mobile changes to the system requirements: It requires at least a dual-core 1 GHz CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of storage. It’s also making one major change to the system requirements…
Windows 11 will be 64-bit only. Here’s one major blocker for some upgraders, though it will be cheered by many: Windows 11 will only be available in 64-bit form on both Intel-style x64 and ARM systems. Windows 10, by contrast, came in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. A moment of silence, please, as technology races forward and leaves the past behind.
Windows 11 Home will require a Microsoft account. Confirming what I saw last week when I installed both Windows 11 Home and Windows 11 Pro in clean install and upgrade configurations, Windows 11 will controversially require both an Internet connection and a Microsoft account (MSA) during the initial Setup. This is a curiously tone-deaf decision, given that Home is the mainstream Windows 11 version and Microsoft’s history with this kind of thing. (Anyone else remember the “submarine” episode ahead of the Xbox One launch?)
Windows Updates improvements. Windows Update will be faster and more efficient with updates that are 40 percent smaller and install in the background.
Snap layouts. We saw this is in the leak but didn’t know the name.
Snap groups. This is new. When you create Snap layouts, they’ll be saved in the taskbar as Snap groups you can reapply at any time later. Nice.
Multi-monitor improvements. Now, when you disconnect a secondary display, any open apps will minimize to the taskbar on the laptop so they don’t get in the way. When you reconnect, everything goes back to where it was. Very nice.
Teams integration. A new Teams panel will replace the Meet Now feature from Windows 10.
Windows widgets. We learned about this new feature from the leak, but it is a personalized feed powered by AI curated content, and it will support third-party content from developers.
Windows without a keyboard. In the latest attempt to make Windows feel good on a tablet, Microsoft is making UI changes in tablet mode, with more space between icons, bigger touch targets, and subtle visual cues. Snap supports rotate so snapped windows feel more natural, plus the exact same gestures as with a touchpad for familiarity. Smart.
Gaming. Auto HDR is coming, which we already knew, but now new games load faster with Direct Storage technologies from the Xbox Series X|S. And Game Pass will be built in via the Xbox app, which will now be included, as will be Xbox Cloud Gaming.
New Store with Android apps. The new Store will be much simpler, but the big news is the addition of new commerce capabilities for third parties both big (Adobe, with Creative and Document Clouds) and small and, yep, Android apps. Curiously, however, WSL has nothing to do with that: Microsoft is using “Intel bridge technology” to bring Android apps to Windows through the Amazon App Store, which will be part of the Windows Store. Welp!
Yes, I’m writing a book. And thanks to Microsoft for creating the perfect version break that I needed: The Windows 10 Field Guide will conclude this summer with version 21H1 and I’ve already started working on the Windows 11 Field Guide, which will be a new book (from a purchasing perspective) with completely updated content.