At the beginning of 2021, the likelihood of Microsoft releasing a successor to Windows 10 anytime soon seemed extremely low. That remained the case until late May, when CEO Satya Nadella began openly discussing "the next generation of Windows".

Speculation surrounding a potential 'Windows 11' soon went into overdrive, especially once Microsoft announced an event for 24 June. An preview version leaked ahead of the official reveal, but Microsoft still had a few surprises up its sleeve. 

Early builds became available to members of the Windows Insider Program soon after, before Microsoft finally confirmed an official release date - 5 October 2021.

As the company explains in an official blog post, the update won't be delivered to all eligible devices straight away. However, there's an easier way to get Windows 11 right now on any compatible hardware, and Microsoft is encouraging people to do so. 

The release of Windows 11 coincides with new Surface hardware becoming available. Microsoft's Surface Pro 8, Surface Laptop Studio, Surface Go 3 and Surface Pro X (2021) are among the first devices to run Windows 11 out of the box.

What's Windows 11 like?

Clearly wanting to avoid upsetting millions by making radical changes (as it ultimately did with Windows 8), Microsoft has kept the same basic layout, albeit with a significant redesign. You'll also find rounded corners everywhere you look and a new centrally positioned Start Menu, although you can return the latter to the side if you'd prefer.

There's a new widgets panel which can show the weather, stocks, news and other things - seemingly replacing the old Start Menu's live tiles - and improved grouping and snapping of open Windows so you can focus more easily on what you're trying to do.

Windows 11 on tablets is much improved thanks to the introduction of gestures and a new on-screen keyboard that much more similar to the one on your phone. You can even install and use Android apps, via the Amazon Appstore, but that isn't available at launch.

But while there are lots of visual changes, Windows 11 should be an easy transition from Windows 10 for most people.

When is Windows 11 coming out?

  • Initial release date: 5 October 2021
  • Free upgrade for Windows 10 PCs between now and mid-2022
  • Insider Preview Builds and ISO files can be downloaded now

As Microsoft confirmed a month earlier, Windows 11 was officially released on 5 October 2021.

However, really the date that OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) can begin to release Windows 11 hardware. The blog post states that 'in-market devices' which are eligible for the upgrade will be offered it later as part of a phased and measured approach. 

In an official post, the Windows Twitter account appeared to confirm that Windows 10 users be waiting until 2022 for the free upgrade:

You don't need to wait that long, though. If you're happy to install it manually, a final version is available to download from the Microsoft website. Learn more in our separate guide - how to download Windows 11 now. This ISO file is also how you can install it using a USB.

How much will Windows 11 cost?

  • Free for eligible PCs
  • New hardware pricing dependent on manufacturer

This is of course one of the biggest questions, but the good news is that it will be free for eligible PCs. However, Microsoft has updated the hardware requirements, so it's not as simple as all Windows 10 devices getting Windows 11.

Naturally, upgrading from Windows 10 won’t be the only way to get Windows 11. Once it launches, new laptops and PCs will be running the operating system out of the box, negating the need to buy a license separately. It's impossible to say how each company will price their hardware, but expect it to be similar to the equivalent Windows 10 devices:

  • Windows 10 Home - £119.99/$139
  • Windows 10 Pro - £219.99/$199.99

Wasn't Windows 10 the 'last ever' version of Windows?

That's what Microsoft said when it announced Windows 10, yes. But apparently it changed its mind about that. The company could have rolled out these changes in a Windows 10 update, but it chose not to refer back to this statement during the launch event and might be hoping its customers have short memories.

Indeed, after spending a few weeks with Windows 11, it's clear not much has really changed.

Will my current PC / laptop run Windows 11?

Microsoft has published a list of minimum hardware requirements:

  • 1GHz dual-core processor
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB of storage
  • UEFI, Secure Boot capable
  • Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0
  • Graphics card compatible with DirectX 12
  • Display larger than 9in with 720p or higher resolution
  • Microsoft account + internet connection

Not sure if your device is compatible? Microsoft has released an updated version of its 'PC Health Check' app, designed to help you do just that. It's available to download from the bottom of the main Windows 11 page.

For more information, check out our separate guide: Will my PC run Windows 11?

Microsoft doesn't encourage it, but there is still a way to install Windows 11 on unsupported PCs.

Windows 11 trailers

There are two key trailers for Windows 11 that are worth watching. First up, the official introduction video from 24 June:

Then, from 9 September, a shorter advert-style trailer. You may have seen a shortened version broadcast on TV:

What new features does Windows 11 have?

There are too many to go into lots of detail here, but here are the main ones you need to know about.

First, there's a significant visual overhaul. Windows 10 has maintained a similar look and feel throughout its lifespan, but that's about to change with Windows 11.

A new taskbar moves icons to the centre, although this can easily be reverted to a more traditional layout. What can't be changed is some of the functionality Microsoft removed compared to the Windows 10 version, but Microsoft is taking steps to rectify this. When using two or more displays, the time and date will now show across all screens. It's a small change (that's being tested by Insiders currently), but a significant one.

However, there are no signs of other removed features making a reappearance. The Windows 11 taskbar is still lacking in customisation features, and still doesn't support the popular drag-and-drop functionality. 

It's where you'll find a brand new Start Menu, sporting a very similar design to the now-cancelled Windows 10X. Here's the dark-mode version:

Windows 11
Image: Microsoft

It features a grid of customisable 'Pinned' icons, with separate 'All apps' section for everything else you have installed. The 'Recommended' heading below displays recently used files, apps and folders - including from cloud services such as OneDrive and Microsoft 365 - enabling you to quickly pick up where you left off, even if you last used a different device.

However, many people have been disappointed by this, especially the lack of customisation ability. As an official blog post confirms, Microsoft is testing functionality that allows to choose the split between Pinned and Recommended sections in the Start Menu. However, it's exclusive to the Windows Insider Program for now.

Windows 11 new Start Menu options
Image: Microsoft

One feature that's already available is the new Snap Layouts multitasking functionality. Hovering over the maximise button allows you to choose the arrangement of apps on the screen, as you can see below. 

Windows 11 leak
Image: Mark Hachman/IDG

Widgets haven't been a major feature of recent versions of Windows, but that's set to change. The panel slides in from the left, but can be customised to fill the whole screen if you'd prefer. It's designed for quick glances at important information without distracting you from what you were doing before you opened it.

Windows 11
Image: Microsoft

Teams and chat are integrated into Windows 11:

Windows 11

The Teams integration now extends to the Edge browser. It means individual tabs now show up within Task Manager, with GPU and crashpad data shown too. Tabs on the taskbar will also include the site, icon and topic name, although this is replaced by a generic icon during private browsing sessions.

Many stock apps have been redesigned, including File Explorer and the Microsoft Store. The latter is in anticipation of Android app support via the Amazon Appstore, but other third-party app stores will also work. The Epic Games Store will be the other initially, but look out for plenty more further down the line. Google is also working on a dedicated Play Store Games app, although that will also be compatible with Windows 10.

The stock Photos app has also been redesigned, as is shown by Microsoft's Panos Panay below:

Windows 11 also has a brand-new Action Center, splitting Quick Settings, Notifications and a music controller into separate sections. Its design is inspired by Windows 10X, making it easy to navigate using touchpad, mouse, pen or finger.

Windows 10 Sun Valley

Windows 11 also has new Snipping Tool. It replaces Windows 10's Snip & Sketch, but offers a lot more functionality than the legacy Snipping Tool found on earlier iterations of Windows.

Other apps with a Windows 11 refresh include the Calculator and Clock apps. The latter benefits from a new feature known as Focus Sessions, too:

As the name suggests, this is aimed at helping users focus better and block out distractions. It uses the popular Pomodoro technique, where you work solidly for a fixed period (usually 25 minutes) and then take a five-minute break. Focus Sessions works with with Microsoft's To-Do app and has direct integration with Spotify.

Windows 11 also has a brand new startup sound. Check out the five-second clip below:

There are also a range of stunning new wallpapers to choose from, and you can choose from a variety of preset themes or choose your own.

Windows updates are now 40% smaller and are applied in the background, so shouldn't interrupt your work - or play. Windows 11 is also more efficient, which means it uses less power which means your laptop should last longer.

You should have no concerns when it comes to buying a Windows 10 laptop or PC now, provided it's compatible with Windows 11. As GSMArena reports, Microsoft now offers users the choice to install Windows 11 when they're setting up an eligible Windows 10 device for the first time.

Upcoming Windows 11 features

Moving forward, Windows 11 is shifting to annual feature updates, but several new features are expected to arrive long before October 2022. Android app support and third-party app stores are the most well-documented - we may be waiting until the start of next year for those to arrive, but they're available to members of the Windows Insider Program now. 

As Windows Latest reports, the same can be said of a new taskbar feature. The Microsoft Teams integration has received mixed reviews, but it will also soon apply to the Edge browser. It means individual tabs now show up within Task Manager, with GPU and crashpad data shown too. Tabs on the taskbar will also include the site, icon and topic name, although this is replaced by a generic icon during private browsing sessions.

The Task Manager is also expected to get an Eco mode soon. The same article suggests this will be used to allocate more resources to specific apps by setting the priority of others to 'low'. This stops resource-intensive apps from consuming too much of the CPU or GPU power, and it's expected sometime around the start of 2022.

Elsewhere, the eagerly anticipated Dynamic Refresh Rate (DRR) feature looks to be on its way soon. As Windows Central reports, Intel's latest generic drivers now include the option within settings, allowing the display to automatically adjust between 60Hz and 120Hz depending on what you're doing. This can help conserve battery life when a high refresh rate isn't required.

Judging by a recent tweet from The Verge's Tom Warren, the release of the Dynamic Refresh Rate feature could be imminent:

However, the expected requirement of a high refresh rate display which is rated to work with DRR drivers means most Windows 11 devices won't be able to benefit - even many 120Hz panels aren't compatible. Among those that will work are Microsoft's own Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio.

After nine years, we're also finally getting a new volume. In a January 2022 blog post, Microsoft confirmed that the feature would initially be available to members of the Windows Insider Program, ahead of an expected full rollout. Here's what you can expect:

Windows 11 new volume indicator
Image: Microsoft

This has been designed to be in keeping with the rest of the Windows 11 UI. It supports both light and dark modes, with the same sliders appearing when changing brightness via the keyboard shortcuts. Other notable changes in this update include a new in-progress call window for the Your Phone companion app, more on-screen keyboard themes and the ability to uninstall the clock.

It's not clear if we'll have to wait until Windows 11's first feature update to see them - that's expected in 2022, potentially as soon as July. Here's everything we know about the 22H2 update so far.

We discussed Windows 11 in depth on episode 86 of Fast Charge, our weekly podcast:

Tech Advisor's guide to Windows 11

We have plenty of Windows 11 coverage on the site, answering all the key questions about Microsoft's new operating system.

The basics



There's plenty more where all that came from. Keep it locked to Tech Advisor for plenty more Windows 11 coverage over the coming weeks and months.