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 early build 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.
However, as the company explains in an official blog post, most people won't be eligible for the free upgrade straight away:
"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.
However, there's an easier way to get Windows 11 right now on any compatible hardware.
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 the first devices to run Windows 11 out of the box, although you'll have to wait a bit longer outside the US.
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:
Windows 11 is due out later in 2021 and will be delivered over several months. The rollout of the upgrade to Windows 10 devices already in use today will begin in 2022 through the first half of that year.— Windows (@Windows) June 25, 2021
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. 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:
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.
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.
Teams and chat are integrated into Windows 11:
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.
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 11 is also gettinga new Snipping Tool. It will replace Windows 10's Snip & Sketch, but offer a lot more functionality than the legacy Snipping Tool found on earlier iterations of Windows.
Other apps getting a Windows 11 refresh include the Calculator and Clock apps. The latter will also benefit from a new feature known as Focus Sessions:
Another first look from the team...#FocusSessions on #Windows11 coming soon. This has been a game-changer for me, especially with @Spotify integration #Productivity #Creativity #WindowsInsiders pic.twitter.com/HfJh4niDiS— Panos Panay (@panos_panay) August 5, 2021
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.
We discussed this and plenty more about Windows 11 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.
- How to get the final version of Windows 11 now
- Will my PC run Windows 11?
- When will my PC get Windows 11?
- How to install Windows 11 on an unsupported device
- Will Windows 10 apps still work on Windows 11?
- Should I still buy a Windows 10 laptop or PC?
- Does Windows 11 come with Microsoft Office?
- How to make Windows 11 more like Windows 10
- How to fix missing taskbar and Start menu in Windows 11
- How to install Windows 11 from a USB
- How to try Windows 11 without downloading it
- How to downgrade from Windows 11 to Windows 10
- How to change the default browser in Windows 11
- What to do if the Windows 11 beta isn't appearing on your device
- How to get Windows 11 for free
- Microsoft is shifting Windows 11 to annual feature updates
- Windows 11 is here, but not much has really changed
- Why Windows 11 feels too much like a Windows 10 feature update
- Why Windows 11 is faster than Windows 10, according to Microsoft
- Windows 11 arrives on 5 October, but without Android app support
- Windows 11’s new approach to the Microsoft Store has one major disadvantage
- Windows 11 features you may have missed
- Windows 10 features missing in Windows 11
- Windows 11 will ship running dark mode by default
- Windows 11 available in seven different versions
- Windows 11's new Microsoft Store has made a promising start
- Windows 11 Home doesn't work without a Microsoft account
- One UI Watch, Snapdragon 888+ & Android on Windows 11 | Fast Charge ep. 72
- Why Windows 11 feels too much like a Windows 10 feature update
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.