Although it was leaked before the official announcement, all the key details about Windows 11 were announced in an emotional livestream fronted by Microsoft's Panos Panay. All the details, that is, except for its release date. But now, in a blog post, the company has revealed that it will be available from 5 October 2021.

The post explains, though, that you won't necessarily be able to get it on that date: "Following the tremendous learnings from Windows 10, we want to make sure we’re providing you with the best possible experience. That means new eligible devices will be offered the upgrade first." In other words, Microsoft doesn't want a repeat of the Windows 10 rollout where some apps and hardware simply didn't work with the new OS and caused plenty of grief. 

This time around, the rollout "will be phased and measured with a focus on quality". The company says it expects all eligible devices to be offered the free upgrade by mid-2022, and that it will use 'intelligence models' that consider hardware, reliability metrics, age of device and other factors. So don't be surprised if you don't see a pop-up giving you the option to upgrade from Windows 10 on 5 October.

You should, however, start to see laptops and PCs running Windows 11 start to be sold from that date.

What's Windows 11 like?

Clearly wanting to avoid upsetting millions by making radical changes (as it ultimately did with Windows 8) 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 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 from early 2022
  • Early build available now to Windows Insiders

At the launch event, Microsoft confirmed that Windows 11 would begin rolling out "this holiday". The US holiday season typically refers to the period between Thanksgiving in late November and the New Year, but in tech spheres October is usually included too.

And as you know if you didn't skip straight to this section, the official rollout will begin on 5 October. 

That's 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:

If you don't want to wait that long, Microsoft has already released an early build via its Windows Insider Program. Anyone with a Windows 10 sign up to the Beta Channels and get early access. Check out our dedicated guide on how to get the Windows 11 beta.

That's also the only way to get Windows 11's Android app support for the foreseeable future, after Microsoft confirmed it won't be available at launch on 5 October. It's one of Windows 11's most exciting new features, but you'll probably now have to wait until 2022. 

If you do decide to download an early build, remember that these are usually relatively unstable and prone to more bugs. As a result, most people shouldn't install them on their main PC.

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.

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, based on what we've seen so far, Windows 11 still feels too much like a Windows 10 feature update.

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
  • Bigger than 9in display with 720p resolution
  • Microsoft account + internet connection

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

However, it's not quite as simple as that. Microsoft isn't enforcing these hardware requirements during the testing phase, and there'll still be a way to install the final version of 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, on 9 September, a shorter advert-style trailer was released:

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. It's where you'll find a brand new Start Menu, sporting a very similar design to the recently-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.

Multitasking is much more fluid, thanks to new snap layouts 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 want. 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

Many stock apps have been redesigned, including File Explorer and the Microsoft Store (in anticipation of Android app support via the Amazon Appstore).

That extends to Photos, as is shown my Microsoft's Panos Panay below, although this may not be ready in time for 5 October:

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

Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay has also confirmed that Windows 11 will be getting a new Snipping Tool. The news was revealed in a recent tweet, and it will replace Windows 10's Snip & Sketch. Despite returning to its original name, the new Snipping Tool will offer a lot more functionality than the version on earlier iterations of Windows.

Another Panay tweet revealed a brand-new tool coming to Windows 11:

This new feature within the Clock app 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 integrates 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.

For a visual look at the beta, Mark Hachman has been testing it out on our sister site PCWorld.

Tech Advisor's guide to Windows 11

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

There's plenty more where all that came from. Keep it locked to Tech Advisor for plenty more Windows 11 content as we approach its expected release date.