After several weeks of anticipation, Microsoft has finally unveiled “what’s next for Windows.” The company detailed Windows 11, with a refreshed design and renewed focus on productivity, connectivity, gaming and more coming in an update later this year.
Microsoft also detailed how it wants to expand what Windows can do for creators, including opening up the commerce platform. During the presentation, Microsoft’s chief product officer, Panos Panay, talked about making Windows feel at home, familiar and secure.
Interestingly, the next version of Windows was conceptualized and created almost entirely within the pandemic. Some of the new features reflect that pandemic approach.
— Windows (@Windows) June 24, 2021
Below is everything you need to know about Windows 11:
Microsoft put a heavy focus on the new Windows 11 design. One of the company’s core mantras with the design was that Windows was not the “end destination” for users. In other words, people don’t come to Windows for Windows — they come to Windows to get somewhere else or do something else.
With that in mind, Microsoft focused on improving the Windows design to facilitate getting things done better. Part of that meant changing designs and components across the system to impact how people feel while using it.
If you spent much time looking at images of the leaked Windows 11 build, what Microsoft showed off today looks pretty similar. There’s a more glassy appearance, windows have rounded corners, and apps now sit in the centre of the taskbar.
On the productivity side, there are many new features like snap layouts that make it easier for users to create custom app and window layouts and save them for easy access. As a user of ‘Fancy Zones’ through Microsoft’s Power Toys system, I’m looking forward to snap layouts.
There are new icons, sounds and animations throughout the OS as well, including more modern icons in the taskbar.
You can read more about the all-new design here.
Big boost to performance
According to Panay, Microsoft improved performance in several ways. Across the board, Windows 11 offers faster app launches and web browsing, as well as quicker updates. That last part leverages a combination of significantly smaller updates as well as a background update process.
There’s also an improvement in power consumption. Windows 11 will use less power overall, making it better for the environment.
Microsoft detailed work on enhancing the touch experience in Windows 11. There are revamped gestures for switching between apps and better touch and voice typing.
Built-in Teams, Windows Widgets and more
One of the other big announcements Microsoft made was integrating Teams software directly into Windows 11. The integration should make it much easier for users to connect to family, friends, coworkers and more through text chats or audio and video calls.
Along with the Teams integration, Microsoft added widgets to Windows 11. This won’t be the first time Windows has offered a widgets feature. However, this time around, it appears to work more like how widgets used to work on iOS — there’s a separate drawer for them that slides out from the left side of the screen.
It remains to be seen how, or if, developers support widgets. Hopefully, the widgets pane becomes a helpful place for quick access to information and not an unused feature.
Gaming in Windows 11
— Windows (@Windows) June 24, 2021
Gaming is huge on Windows, and Microsoft worked to make it even better in Windows 11. To start, Microsoft announced it would bring its Xbox auto HDR feature to games on Windows 11.
Another Xbox feature coming to Windows 11: direct storage. Direct storage will allow GPUs to access game files on the hard drive directly without bogging down the CPU, improving load times.
Wow! Incredible demo of how #Windows11 unlocks the best in PC gaming, with better graphics, performance, and over 100+ top PC games courtesy of @XboxGamePass. #MicrosoftEvent pic.twitter.com/Vpdl34o2GQ
— Yusuf Mehdi (@yusuf_i_mehdi) June 24, 2021
Microsoft announced it would integrate Xbox Game Pass directly into Windows 11, giving users easier access to the massive library of gaming content available through the subscription service. Plus, the app supports Microsoft’s xCloud game streaming service, allowing users with low-spec Windows 11 PCs to play games their hardware might not be able to run.
All-new Microsoft Store and Android apps
As rumoured, Microsoft announced a revamped Store experience for Windows 11. That includes an all-new look that performs better. Plus, a big benefit for developers is that they can now choose to use Microsoft’s “commerce engine” and share revenue with the company or leverage their own commerce engine and keep the money for themselves.
Panay also teased Adobe’s app suite coming to the Microsoft Store.
Speaking of apps, Microsoft also announced that Android apps would come to Windows. Users can discover Android apps through either the Microsoft Store or the Amazon App Store. The apps will run via Intel Bridge.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also spoke on the new commerce model, explaining that the approach is part of how Microsoft wants to think about Windows 11 — as a platform to enable new apps and platforms.
When can I get it?
A public preview of the next version of Windows should arrive next week for Insiders. Not everything shown during the presentation will be available in the early builds but will arrive as part of the general availability this holiday season.
Windows 11 will be available as a free upgrade, but Microsoft did detail new minimum specifications for the OS. Users will need a PC with at least a modern 64-bit dual-core CPU, 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. Further, the ‘Home’ edition of Windows 11 will require a Microsoft account and internet connectivity to complete the first-time setup.
You can learn more about how to make sure your PC will work with Windows 11 here.
Update 06/25/2021: There’s been a lot of confusion around the TPM 2.0 requirement for Windows 11. We have a full breakdown plus an explanation of how to enable the TPM since there’s a good chance your PC already has one. You can find that here.