The immediate aftermath of Windows 11's announcement wasn't about its features, but a little-known security component called the TPM 2.0 (aka Trusted Platform Module). Clearly, this is not how Microsoft wanted to spend the days following its big reveal about the future of Windows.
That said, the news about Windows 11's stringent system requirements doesn't seem that awful (unless you built your own system, more on that below). And now before you get angry, I'm not saying that Windows 11's chaotic week of confusion has been great.
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Windows 11 specs backlash is warranted — to a degree
I'm not going to let Microsoft off the hook. In its haste to promote all the Windows 11 features, it could have done a better job of explaining what you need to get Windows 11 on your PC. That's now its task for the remainder of the year,: telling people what a TPM is, as well as how to enable Secure Boot and TPM 2.0 functionality if it's not enabled yet.
Microsoft could have explained — up front and to the camera — that Windows 11 would not be available for all systems, and that it would be worth it when you got it. But it did not. It could have also said that Windows 11 was more for new machines and less about upgrading existing machines, but it did not. Things got so bad that Microsoft took down the PC Health Check utility it gave out to check if your system supported Windows 11, because it wasn't explaining things clearly enough.
And then the big list of Windows 11 supported CPUs hit, and left a lot of people out. So, to learn that first-party systems as recent as the 5th Gen Surface Pro — from 2017 — may not support Windows 11 is a doozie.
I called up Avi Greengart, the lead analyst at the Techsponential industry research firm, to get his two cents about Windows 11's sticky situation. He agreed that messaging was one of the key issues, and mentioned that it ties back to Microsoft's years of updates, saying "the expectation set over the year has found Microsoft prioritizing backwards compatibility, but that's not how all updates go, and the Windows 11 security model is a very good reason to not do that."
Greengart says this despite being one of the affected users, as his Surface Studio is among the not-supported devices. He notes that while "Microsoft wants to guarantee a faster experience, which in turn created a list of fast processors, there's a big question of how they define 'slow.' Was one year's i7 fine, where an i3 wouldn't be?"
While it may be easier for Microsoft to just have their big list of supported processors, one wonders if they'll ever explain the cutoff.
Gamers and enthusiasts: the exception to the rule
User-built systems (particularly those made by gamers) are the one area where things get dicey, because, as Greengart told me, "if you built your recent PC yourself," you could be without a TPM chip, with is a bad situation. Especially since your motherboard may not even support the addition of one, another headache to take on.
"Just look at how components are so hard to come by right now," he continued, "with the graphics card situation, and now you add the need for a TPM 2.0 chip on top of that? There's no advice that can be given for that audience, given the supply chain shortages for all the necessary components."
And it's not like gamers won't want Windows 11. Increased Game Pass integration, auto HDR and other big features make this requirement sting a bit.
Windows 11's demands are for a good cause
But even with all that headache that PC users have to process, it looks like Windows 11 will be worth it. It's just that people probably didn't expect it to require so much.
While Windows 11 may be seen as the first huge update since Windows 10, it's arguably even bigger than that. Windows 10 supported most if not all PCs running Windows 7 SP1 or the Windows 8.1. Aside from that, you just needed 1GB of RAM, a processor of at least 1 GHz or faster, 16GB to 20GB of storage space, a DirextX 9 or later graphics card and a display measuring 800 x 600, at least. To put it lightly, Windows 10 was practically a no-questions asked upgrade. Which may have led some people to think Windows 11 would have a similarly wide berth for welcome systems.
Greengart agrees that Windows 11 is a bigger update than one might expect. And a lot of that is owed, he believes, to the renewed importance of the PC, saying that during the last year-plus, we were reminded that while "the PC may not be the central digital device, it is absolutely a central device in our lives. And you need that for connectivity, creation, community, productivity and gaming."
And to try and further perfect the device that you use for your entire life, Microsoft has decided to set stricter standards this time out. In a blog post, the Windows Team said that its decisions for requirements are guided by reliability and security, two priorities where many will hold at least one (if not both) as important. Those new reliability standards, for example, Microsoft notes "are supported by our OEM and silicon partners who are achieving a 99.8% crash free experience."
Per the security needs, Greengart noted that "Some of the requirements aren't just rational, but important. And not just for enterprises, but consumers, too. Demanding that your computer has a TPM 2.0 chip is not a bad thing — even though it will frustrate enthusiasts who built their own without one, or don't know it's there."
I also called up Carolina Milanesi, a principal analyst at market intelligence firm Creative Strategies, Inc, who explained that Microsoft is using Windows 11 to push people to better standards, or as she said "nudging people to move forward," on better behaviors that will improve everything for all. Nobody wants to be told to eat their broccoli, but in this case I can't blame Microsoft, especially as it notes that its set of security standards "has been shown to reduce malware by 60%". And reducing malware on systems helps stop the spread to other systems, so that's a net gain for everyone.
Also, think about the security requirements this way. Yes, you may not run a business at home off your laptop, but you could wind up working for a company whose IT department requires a secure-enough laptop. You never know when you'll be in a BYOPC (Bring Your Own PC) situation where you'll need to meet someone else's requirements.
What are they going to do, switch?
When I asked if this confusion could make people switch, Avi left it at "No," while Carolina agreed, and said "it's not like Windows 10 is not good."
And that's what I come back to. Windows 11 is definitely cool, shiny and neat. I can see that clearly, even as someone who primarily uses Macs. But software updates don't need to be the thing that makes you change your situation.
Instead, PC users whose machines don't support Windows 11 have a new big reason to think about getting a new system when they come to that point. When I asked about advice to give to everyday users, like my relatives I'll hopefully see at the holidays and likely give advice to about their tech. Milanesi told me that they "Probably should continue to use their system, as they're likely not a high risk environment, [and] Windows 10 will be supported [with] security patches."
That's because Microsoft is giving people time to upgrade: Windows 10 support won't end until October 14th, 2025. And while that date comes directly from Microsoft, Avi and I agreed that Microsoft is just as likely to extend Windows 10's end-of-life date down the road.
And that's just half of the good news. You may be frustrated that Windows 11 may not support your system, but older 7th Gen Intel- and AMD Zen 1-based systems could be added, as Microsoft is double-checking that during testing. In the meantime, if anything can be gleamed from the way the reaction went down, we bet that Microsoft won't make a communications mistake like this again.