Microsoft has unveiled Windows 11, which features a big redesign along with lots of new features. Windows 11 switches up its look with a new Start menu and rounded corners, but it also includes lots of productivity upgrades, including Snap Layouts for running multiple apps at once.
However, there are also some Windows 11 taskbar changes that have upset Windows fans, including Microsoft's decision to lock the taskbar to the bottom of the screen and prevent users from dragging and dropping apps, shortcuts, or files onto the taskbar.
Windows 11 also features new widgets for keeping you up to date with the latest news, Microsoft Teams integration and a new Windows Store. Plus, Windows 11 can run Android apps.
Gamers will appreciate the addition of Auto HDR for improved visuals, as well as faster performance for Direct Storage-supported PCs. And business users will love being able to undock and dock again without losing their place.
- Windows 11 — 6 ways it beats macOS
- How to install Windows 11 — a step-by-step guide
- Plus: Windows 11 on an M1 Mac? Here’s how it’s going to happen
Here's everything you need to know about Windows 11.
Windows 11 release date, price and beta
Windows 11 is coming out later this year, around the holiday season. Microsoft says it will be available as a free upgrade if you’ve got a Windows 10 PC, and new PCs with Windows 11 pre-installed will show up in time for the holidays, too.
A driver leak from Intel points to October as a possible Windows 11 release date, but that is not confirmed.
You can check if your PC is eligible for the free Windows 11 upgrade by going to Windows.com and downloading the PC Health Check app. Some users won’t be waiting until the year’s end to get their first crack at Windows 11.
Microsoft has already rolled out a Windows 11 Insider build for those who want to try the new OS early. This isn't a complete build with all the Windows 11 features, but there's enough there to give you a sense of what Windows 11 will look like.
As of late July, Microsoft has also begun releasing beta versions of Windows 11 for public testing. Available to Windows Insiders via the "Beta" channel of Windows 11, these builds should be more stable and more supported than the latest builds in the "Dev" channel, which are meant primarily for developers. If you want to take it for a spin now that the Windows 11 beta is available, here's how to download it -- just be aware that it's unfinished software, so you'll likely encounter some bugs.
Windows 11 design: New design and Start menu
Windows 11 has a new look and feel that's designed to be more attractive but also more user-friendly. There's a new Start button that's placed at the center, and pressing it can show you your recent files, docs and apps.
The Start menu now moves away from the big list of applications, and instead has a grid of select applications, and a second grid of recommended documents. An “All Apps” button likely leads to the traditional list of apps.
The overall goal is to get to where you want to go faster. The new Windows 11 also includes more rounded corners on apps to make it look fresher, and a streamlined taskbar. There's also new colors and transitions, and a new dark mode that makes content stand out.
- Windows 11 Start Menu: everything you need to know
Windows 11 Snap Layouts, Snap Groups and docking
Windows 11 now features Snap Layouts. You can pick the Snap Layout that you want to choose so you can run multiple apps at the same time. For example, you could have two apps side by side or three in columns or four in a grid, and there's six choices in total.
If you sometimes feel a little lost after having to respond to a notification, Windows 11 includes a new Snap Groups feature in the taskbar. So you can get right back to what you were doing before you had to answer that message.
The same thing applies to the new docking experience. If you unplug a monitor to move rooms, the windows that were on your monitor will minimize. When you go come back and then re-connect to a dock, all of your Windows will re-appear the way they were before.
Windows 11 widgets
Windows 11 offers a whole new selection of Widgets, which is powered by Microsoft Edge and AI. These widgets can help you check your calendar at a glance, the weather, news, your to-do list, photos and more.
Widgets bring you a feed of info you can personalize, and you can decide how you want it to appear on your desktop. You can have Widgets slide out to cover a portion or all of your desktop, depending on what you want.
Windows 11: Better touch, pen and voice support
Windows 11 contains a number of tweaks to input, particularly when it comes to touch. For example, there’s more space between icons in the touchbar, making it easier to tap the right thing. To that end, Microsoft is also adding bigger touch targets while inserting visual cues aimed at helping you more easily resize and move windows.
The onscreen keyboard is both redesigned and customizable. If you happen to use a pen or stylus to interact with your Windows 11 machine, you can expect improve haptics that sound and feel like you’re using an actual pen.
Windows 11 also features enhanced voice recognition for text input with Microsoft promising more accurate voice-to-text transcription and automatic punctuation. Voice commands are supported as well, such as "delete that" when you're in a document.
Windows 11 desktops
Windows 11 now lets you personalize different desktops with their own wallpapers. So you can have a desktop for work, home, school or gaming, each with their own apps and look and feel.
Windows 11: New Windows Store and Android Apps
With Windows 11, Microsoft is redesigning the Microsoft Store, making it faster and easier to find the apps you’re looking for. That’s all well and good, but the announcement that will probably garner the most attention is that Android apps will be directly available for Windows 11.
Later this year, Microsoft says that you’ll be able to find Android apps in Microsoft’s Store and download them through the Amazon Appstore. The process sounds a little convoluted at this point, but Microsoft is promising to reveal more information on the experience in the coming months.
Windows 11 gaming: Auto HDR and DirectStorage
Gaming has always been a big part of Windows, so that’s obviously continuing with Windows 11. Microsoft is introducing some new features specifically aimed at improving the gaming experience in its operating system.
Specifically, Auto HDR is coming to Windows 11, bringing improved contrast and color output without requiring app makers to reconfigure their games. During the Windows 11 launch event, Microsoft showed off a split screen of Skyrim — one half of the game appeared in SDR and the other in the new Auto HDR. The Auto HDR image was much brighter and featured greater detail.
Windows 11 also adds a DirectStorage API. If you’ve already used an Xbox Series X or Series S — both of which feature direct storage — you’ll notice how fast load times improve.
Finally, Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s gaming subscription service, will still be built right into Windows 11 via the Xbox app.
Windows 11: Teams integration
Although Windows 11 will no longer include certain Microsoft apps as standard, Microsoft is attempting to make Teams much more mainstream by integrating it directly into Windows 11. Chat from Microsoft Teams lets you connect through video calls but also text or voice. And it will work across Windows, Android and iOS (while FaceTime won't have an app but only work via web links). You can also start presenting directly from the taskbar.
Windows 11: System requirements and TPM
For Windows 11, all systems will need a TPM 2.0 chip. TPM is short for Trusted Point Module, and it's primarily known as a means for security in PCs. We have a guide to check for how to see if your PC has a TPM chip.
Also check out our what is a TPM guide and find out why it's so important for Windows 11.
According to Microsoft, these are the system requirements for running Windows 11:
- CPU: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with 2 or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC)
- RAM: 4GB
- Storage: 64GB of larger
- 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” diagonally, 8 bits per color channel
- Internet: Windows 11 Home edition requires internet connectivity and a Microsoft account to complete device setup on first use.
We've also put together a guide to the CPUs that are compatible with Windows 11. For example, only chips from Intel's 8th generation or newer will run Windows 11.
Microsoft has made it clear that there's no getting around the Windows 11 system requirements, such as by tinkering with Windows 10 Group Policy to force the update. If you want to use the new OS, then, you'll need the right hardware, and probably won't be able to cheat-install it.
Windows 11: How to do a clean install
You don't need to be Windows Insider to try Windows 11 before its public release. And you don't need to upgrade directly from Windows 10.
Follow our guide to learn how to do a clean install of Windows 11 on a spare laptop or a partition on your hard drive.
Windows 11 outlook
Overall, Windows 11 doesn't necessarily feel like a reinvention of Windows, but it certainly seems like a bigger leap for productivity and for entertainment (especially gaming) than macOS Monterey. We especially like the new multitasking features and the new Start menu. Stay tuned for our hands-on impressions of Windows 11.