Windows 11 has arrived (a day early in the US), and yet many Windows observers thought we’d never see this day. At the company’s 2015 Ignite conference, Microsoft’s Jerry Nixon famously announced that “Windows 10 is the last version of Windows.” He was referring to the fact that Windows 10 updates would subsequently roll out in a “software as a service” model rather than as a big update once every few years. But times and strategies change.
With Chrome OS making dents in Windows’ market share, Microsoft first worked on a separate operating system that resembled Google’s simplified desktop OS, called Windows 10X. That project was scrapped, with the new interface design instead making its way into the main Windows branch now known as Windows 11.
When Can You Get Windows 11?
Windows 11 starts rolling out at 1 p.m. Pacific Time (4 p.m. Eastern) today. The originally announced launch date was Oct. 5, but Microsoft wanted it to be available worldwide all at once, and it’s already Oct. 5 in many countries. It rolls out first to new PCs designated as ready for Windows 11, such as the company’s own updated line of Surface laptops and tablets.
The upgrade will be offered to older PCs through the standard Windows Update process as Microsoft determines their hardware and software configurations are compatible. The company says that the rollout will complete by mid-2022, so be patient. Windows 10 is still a fine option, and it’ll be supported through 2025.
But not all older PCs will be able to run the new OS; check out Can My PC Run Windows 11? to find out if yours is eligible. In short, you’ll need a computer with a fairly recent CPU and a TPM 2.0 security chip along with Secure Boot capability.
What New Features Does Windows 11 Have?
New features include the Widgets panel, which offers relevant, current news, weather, sports, and finance info, and the new Snap Layouts feature, with even more ways to organize windows on your desktop. It lets you save layouts for use not only on your current display but on external docked displays as well as virtual desktops.
You can also expect updated default apps that incorporate Fluent design principles, with transparency and background shading. Avoid distractions with the Focus Sessions feature in the new clock app. The Photos, Paint, Calculator, Snipping Tool (for screenshots),and other apps also get redesigns.
A tablet mode now appears when you detach a keyboard from a slate or convertible; it just happens automatically. New three- and four-finger swipe gestures replace Windows 10 Tablet mode’s single-finger gestures. And stylus input on tablets sees improvements, with custom app preferences and better PDF and web page markup options.
There’s a lot more to Windows 11. For example, we get new technologies for gamers such as Auto HDR and DirectStorage and a built-in Xbox gaming app as well as new accessibility tools like text scaling, contrast views, and captioning modes. Security gets beefed up even further, and the OS now supports the much faster Wi-Fi 6E standard along with Dynamic Refresh, which can save laptop batteries. For much more, see our full review of Windows 11 and the video below.