Microsoft announces Windows 11 as a free upgrade

At one point in time, Microsoft had aspirations to make Windows 10 the last “major update” for its desktop operating system. But apparently the company wanted to turn things up to 11. Today, Microsoft officially introduced the next big update to Windows.

It was teased plenty of times, but Windows 11 is now officially official. The company has been teasing the number change for quite a while now, and here we are. And it’s simply not an uptick in the version number, either. The company knew it had to go big to warrant such a change at all. Whether or not it warrants it based on the changes the company is making, remains to be seen.

But there’s certainly plenty of change, that’s for sure.

The new Windows 11

Microsoft is reworking the whole interface. Both with small and big changes. The company is focusing on multitasking (like iPadOS 15!), a simplification of the user interface in general, performance improvements, and a brand new Windows Store.

Things start (no pun intended) with the new Start menu and Star button. Microsoft has made the decision to center both of these on the taskbar. (This can be changed in settings, but this is how Microsoft feels it is best handled out of the box.) Interestingly, Microsoft appears to be bringing some elements from the now defunct Windows 10X, the operating system originally destined for dual-screen devices.

But, back to the Start menu. Microsoft has dropped the Live Tiles introduced in Windows 8. Instead, we’ve got a more launcher-friendly approach. You’ll find a refined search option, a list of recent documents, apps, and a lot of rounded corners. There are new light and dark themes, and users can customize the Start menu to fit their needs.

Multitasking

In an effort to help with getting things done, there are new efforts with multitasking. That starts with what Microsoft calls snap layouts. Windows 11 supports various modes, like having two apps side-by-side, along with o other layouts. So users will be able to quickly launch apps in these modes, rather than having to deal with sliding and positioning apps in the correct order. And with Snap Group, layouts for specific apps that the user uses frequently will be remembered by the software.

If you use multiple monitors, this should be exceedingly helpful.

Microsoft Teams is being integrated into Windows 11. That’s for consumers and business users. The app will be integrated into the taskbar, letting users make calls, send messages, and keep tabs on contacts right on the desktop. It appears that Skype isn’t getting the same attention this year with Windows 11, so Microsoft’s focus is certainly shifting.

Widgets

Windows 11 is going big with widgets. It’s building up from what it introduced in Windows 10. Widgets are still accessible by sliding in from the left-side of the screen. These are AI-powered and will show relevant information on a daily basis. Microsoft has some built-in widgets, including news, weather, and maps.

There’s even a widget to tip local creators.

Xbox

One probably shouldn’t be surprised that Xbox, and gaming, is a focal point for Windows 11. That stars with a new integrated Xbox Game Pass app. This will also allow users to access xCloud game streaming, too. Windows 11 also supports Auto HDR, a feature that’s built into the Xbox Series S|X video game consoles. This will bring high dynamic range support to both DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 games. (You’ll need a compatible HDR monitor, though.)

Microsoft wants to make sure that Windows 11 performs where it matters. To help with that, Microsoft is supporting DirectStorage (another Xbox Series S|X feature). This will help game load times.

Windows updates

Microsoft says that Windows 11 updates will be about 40 percent smaller than they are now. Meanwhile, Windows 11 is free to those who are running Windows 10. You’ll just need a PC that meets the new minimum requirements. Those are:

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

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-inches 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. 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.

Windows Store

One of the bigger changes to Windows 11 is the new digital storefront. The new Windows Store is completely redesigned, making it easier to find content, while also just being generally easier on the eyes. Microsoft says it’s bringing new apps into the mix, too, including Android apps (like TikTok, via the Amazon Appstore), apps from Adobe’s Creative Suite, and more.

Microsoft also says it won’t take a cut from developers who use their own commerce options within their apps.

This┬ástory is developing…