Windows 11 is Microsoft’s latest desktop operating system. Few were predicting its arrival at the beginning of 2021, with Windows 10 previously described as “the last version of Windows”.
But Microsoft’s attitude seemed to change during the pandemic, which left people around the world relying on its software for everything from remote working to keeping in touch with friends and family. Some of these new trends appear to be permanent, so the company decided it was time for a fresh start.
Windows 11 represents a big shift in design, aiming to simplify the user experience and reduce clutter. Many elements are inspired by Windows 10X, the cancelled Windows 10 spin-off designed for touchscreen devices. These days, Microsoft appears intent on making Windows 11 a great OS for a variety of different devices and form factors.
All eligible laptops and PCs can now install Windows 11, either via Settings or downloading it manually. Aside from a Mac or Chromebook, almost every other 2022 laptop runs Windows 11, so there’s plenty of choice.
But despite its simple design, there’s plenty of different elements to the Windows 11, many of which are worth exploring in more detail. This full guide aims to answer every question you might have about the OS, linking out to our extensive Windows 11 coverage.
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, although a workaround lets you use the Google Play Store instead.
However, while there are lots of visual changes, Windows 11 should be an easy transition from Windows 10 for most people.
When did Windows 11 come out?
Initial release date: 5 October 20212022 Update released on 20 September 2022All compatible devices can upgrade manually
As Microsoft confirmed a month earlier, Windows 11 was officially released on 5 October 2021. But really, that was just the date that OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) could begin to release Windows 11 hardware.
However, a year later, you’ll be able to download the update on all compatible devices. If it’s not been delivered to your computer for whatever reason, you can download Windows 11 manually or install it using a USB.
New features have been added on a regular basis, but the most significant update so far arrived on 20 September 2022. That’s when the big 2022 Update was officially released, although a gradual rollout means it may be a while before your device gets it.
How much does Windows 11 cost?
Free upgrade for eligible PCsNew hardware pricing dependent on manufacturerUSB and download link versions available
Pricing was always likely to be one of the big questions, but the good news is that it is free for eligible PCs. This will continue indefinitely, potentially for the duration of Windows 11’s lifespan.
However, it’s not as simple as all Windows 10 devices getting Windows 11 – as is explained below, Microsoft has updated the hardware requirements for its new OS.
Naturally, upgrading from Windows 10 isn’t the only way to get Windows 11. Plenty of new laptops and PCs are already running the operating system out of the box, with plenty more on the way. So far, it doesn’t seem like having Windows 11 pre-installed has affected the asking price.
However, you can also now buy Windows 11 as a standalone operating system. The easiest method is via a download link, which will be sent to you once you complete the purchase:
Windows 11 Home – $139/£119.99Windows 11 Pro – $199.99/£219.99
You can buy it pre-loaded on a USB stick if you’d prefer – this is currently available for Windows 11 Home ($139/£115.99), but not Pro. At Amazon UK, you can even get a disc version for £99.
It’s worth reiterating that this isn’t necessary for most people, especially while the free upgrade from Windows 10 is available.
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.
Interestingly, Microsoft did reference this at its April 2022 hybrid work event. However, the company described the pandemic as the key driver of this change in strategy, adding that “how, when and where we work fundamentally changed overnight”.
But after spending a few months with Windows 11, it’s clear not much has really changed under the surface.
Will my current PC or laptop run Windows 11?
The minimum hardware requirements for Windows 11 are as follows:
1GHz dual-core processor4GB RAM64GB of storageUEFI, Secure Boot capableTrusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0Graphics card compatible with DirectX 12Display larger than 9in with 720p or higher resolutionMicrosoft account + internet connection
Not sure if your device is compatible? Microsoft has a free ‘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.
That storage requirement might be SSD-only from 2023, if data storage analysts Trendfocus (via Tom’s Hardware) are to be believed. However, Windows 11 devices using HDDs or eMMC storage aren’t expected to be affected.
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. Indeed, you’ll probably see messages within Settings and on the desktop warning you that your device isn’t compatible. It doesn’t seem to affect performance and app compatibility, though.
The company accidentally released the 22H2 feature update to unsupported Windows 10 devices in June 2022, but that doesn’t make it any less risky. Like before, we’d only recommend trying this if you have a spare Windows 10 device lying around – not on your primary machine.
That update has now been officially released, and all existing Windows 11 devices are compatible. Learn more in our separate article on how to install the 2022 Update.
Windows 11 trailers
If you have a spare three minutes, it’s worth watching this official introduction video to get a sense of what Windows 11 is all about:
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. The February 2022 update means the time and date shows across all external screens, while drag-and-drop returned in the 22H2 feature update.
The brand-new Start Menu isn’t necessarily lacking, although its brand-new design certainly isn’t for everyone. In fact, this aesthetic is similar to what Microsoft teased for the now-cancelled
Windows 10X. Here’s what it looks like with dark mode enabled:
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. However, Microsoft has since added the ability to choose the split between Pinned and Recommended sections. The official screenshots below give you an idea how it looks:
One new feature that has gone down well 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.
Widgets haven’t been a major feature of recent versions of Windows, but that’s changed now. 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.
Widgets for the weather and stocks are also built into the taskbar, but these can now be used to trigger notifications on the taskbar. As The Verge reports, the static icons will now be replaced with live animations. That means you’ll get a more obvious alert that there’s a thunderstorm or your favourite stocks are trading downwards for example. This could be distracting for some people, but there’s no obvious way to turn it off as it stands. Microsoft explains more about Widgets in a support article.
Elsewhere, Microsoft Teams’ chat function is now directly integrated into Windows 11, with future updates allowing you to share windows and toggle mute directly from the taskbar:
The Teams integration extends to the Edge browser, meaning individual tabs now show up within Task Manager. Edge 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 includes Android app support via the Amazon Appstore, but you can also use the Epic Games Store if you’d prefer. There’s no indication the Google Play Store will be added to Windows 11, but
a workaround allows you to do just that.
If you’d rather stick to official services, Google is also working on a dedicated Play Store Games app. This is expected to be compatible with Windows 11 and Windows 10 and released sometime before the end of 2022.
Windows 11 also has a 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 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.
Plenty of stock apps have also been redesigned to be more in keeping with Windows 11’s new design. They include Calculator, Clock, Notepad, Media Player and File Explorer, with the latter shown below:
Windows 11 also has a new startup sound. Check out the five-second clip below:
Nine years after the previous version was introduced, we also finally have an updated volume indicator. Here’s what you can expect:
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.
The Microsoft Teams integration has received mixed reviews, but it now also applies 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.
In the Task Manager, versions available since February 2022 support an ‘Eco mode’. This can 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, which should help improve performance and battery life.
Elsewhere, Windows 11’s Dynamic Refresh Rate feature is now available. On compatible devices (including Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 and Surface Laptop Studio), this allows panels above 60Hz to automatically adjust their refresh rate depending on what you’re doing. It prevents power from being wasted unnecessarily.
The first significant update for Windows 11 arrived in February 2022, adding several new features. They include redesigned Notepad and Media Player apps, new taskbar functionality and a public preview of native Android app support. However, the latter requires at least 8GB of RAM and an SSD – that’s stricter than Windows 11 itself.
Microsoft made it much harder to change the default browser when it introduced Windows 11, but the company mostly reversed that decision in March 2022. Starting with version KB50011563, there’ll be an option within Settings to set a browser as your default for HTTP, HTTPS, .HTML and .HTM files. However, you’ll still need to change where PDFs open separately.
Then, in September 2022, Microsoft officially released Windows 11’s biggest update so far. Known simply as the ‘2022 Update’, it adds new functionality to the Start menu, Widgets panel and the taskbar. There’s also a new Live Captions accessibility feature, better multitasking via Snap Layouts and new touchscreen gestures. But there are plenty more features that it’s worth being aware of – learn more in our full guide to the 2022 Update.
Updates like these are said to be 40% smaller than Windows 10 and applied in the background, meaning they shouldn’t shouldn’t interrupt your work. Windows 11 is also more power efficient, meaning battery life should be improved in the long run. which means it uses less power which means your laptop should last longer.
But Windows 11 might not be getting an equivalent update for 2023. Microsoft is expected to replace them with smaller ‘Moment’ updates delivered throughout the year, with the first scheduled to arrive in October 2022. The big confirmed feature for that update is tabs being added to the File Explorer.
Looking further ahead, Windows 12 may be released as soon as 2024.
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.
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? What’s the difference between Windows 11 Home and Pro? How worried should we be about Windows 11 ransomware? Beware of malware posing as Windows 11 download links Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2): Everything you need to know Windows 11 2023 (23H2) update: Everything we know so far
How to use Windows 11’s screen readerHow to set up Windows 11 without a Microsoft accountHow to disable ads on Windows 11How to reinstall Windows 11 updatesHow to send large files in Windows 10 and 11How to use Windows 11 22H2’s best new featuresHow to install a virtual machine in Windows 11How to install the Windows 11 22H2 update nowHow to make the mouse or trackpad left-handed in WindowsHow to make Windows 11 more accessible How to fix Windows 11 KB5013943 app crashes How to use Picture in Picture on Windows 11 How to create a guest account on Windows 11 (and Windows 10) How to get the Windows 11 February update How to archive apps on Windows 11 How to stop Windows 11 apps from opening at startup How to customise the Windows 11 Start menu How to turn off automatic updates in Windows 11 How to get the Google Play Store on Windows 11 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 How to use your Windows 11 device as a hotspot How to get Windows 11 for free
No, your Windows device probably doesn’t have a virusWindows 11’s latest update fixes a serious performance bugWindows 11’s July security update breaks the Start menuMicrosoft releases emergency security updates for Windows 10 and 11Windows updates can break Wi-Fi, but you should still install themMicrosoft’s latest Windows patches fix a major security flawA year after it was announced, Windows 11 adoption remains slowWindows 11 is available on unsupported PCs, but you shouldn’t download it Windows 11’s latest update is causing yet more issues Windows 11’s latest bug is preventing updates from installing Microsoft reveals a host of new features coming to Windows 11 Windows 11’s next update reduces Blue Screen of Death crashes Windows 11 set for new Search experience and File Explorer tabs Windows 11’s latest update hides the Start menu, but it’s not a bug Windows 11 is now installed on almost 20% of all Windows devices Windows 11’s Android apps need at least 8GB RAM and an SSD Microsoft is testing even more new Windows 11 features Windows 11’s first big update brings Android apps to everyone Windows 11’s February update is already causing issues Windows 11 increases market share by 3.5% in just a month Windows 11 set for new tablet functionality and wallpaper stickers Microsoft is changing its approach to new Windows 11 features Microsoft releases update to fix Windows 11 and 10 VPN issues A key Windows 11 security feature is causing AMD performance issues Windows now has 1.4 billion users, but how many are on Windows 11? Google Play Store games are coming to Windows in 2022 Faulty Intel audio drivers are causing Windows 11 to crash Windows 11’s native Android app support is now available to try Microsoft releases patch for AMD-related Windows 11 performance issues 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 is 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.
But Windows 11 is just one part of Microsoft’s prioritisation of accessibility. The
Surface Adaptive Kit makes any laptop easier to use, while the new
Adaptive Accessories help people who are unable to use a traditional mouse and keyboard. Combined, these tools make a big difference.