Windows 11 is here — when you can get it

Nearly six years after the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft has confirmed that there will be a new version of its desktop operating system — Windows 11.

Speaking during a much-anticipated live-streamed event on Thursday, Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay and his team showcased features and shared details on the new OS, which will be released at the end of 2021.

Notable changes include a revamped and simplified design, performance improvements, new gaming features, major Windows Store changes, and Teams integration.

One key takeaway from the event is that Windows 11 will serve 40% smaller updates that can run in the background.

On the design end, what Microsoft showed correlated with leaks from the past few weeks.

These include colourful new logos for folders and default Windows apps, rounded corners on app windows and context menus, and the taskbar’s apps being centred by default.

A fly-out Start Menu will offer users a simplified grid layout without the Live Tiles from Windows 10, while there are also new themes, transitions, and widgets that provide users with a personalised feed serving curated content.

Microsoft said the new Search app will provide easier access to everything on the user’s PC, OneDrive, and the web.

For improved multitasking, a Snap Layout feature will let users snap windows to certain parts of the screen by hovering over the maximise button.

In addition, multi-monitor support has been improved so that Windows will remember where you placed your apps and return them to these spots when you wake the computer up or plug back into your setup.

A Snap Groups feature will also let you group multiple apps together, allowing you to jump back into what you were doing after quickly attending to an email or message.

Microsoft’s video conferencing app Teams has now been integrated into Windows, similar to what Apple does with FaceTime.

Windows 11 Start Menu
Windows 11 Taskbar
Windows 11 Snap Layout
Windows 11 Teams integration
Windows 11 widgets

Another key focus for Microsoft has been on revamping the Windows Store to be a more open ecosystem.

Panay said the store will now make it possible for developers to add Win32 apps and their own commerce engine for in-app purchases.

In a shot at the App Store and Google Play and the ongoing battle between Apple and Epic Games, Panay stated that when developers elect to use their own commerce engines they can keep all of their revenue and not pay Microsoft a cent.

Another “small surprise” was that Windows 11 will directly support Android apps through a partnership with the Amazon App Store.

A revamped Entertainment hub in the Windows Store will also make it easier to mirror video streaming onto other devices.

Windows 11 Store
Android apps for Windows 11
TikTok running directly on Windows 11
Spotify Android app on Windows

Microsoft has also added improvements for gamers, which it said makes the OS the best Windows for gaming.

This includes the addition of Xbox Series X and Series S features like Auto HDR, which will be supported on more than a thousand PC games.

There is also Direct Storage API optimisation which will let games quickly load assets to the graphics processor without bogging down the CPU.

This feature is what enables the quick resume capabilities of the Xbox Series X and Series S.

Auto HDR for Windows 11
Xbox app on Windows 11

Availability and pricing

Aside from the new features noted above, Microsoft also detailed general improvements to the overall user experience, including better touch support.

The first Windows 11 preview build will be available to testers in the Windows Insiders programme starting from next week.

Following the testing period, it will be released to the general public during the US holiday period, around November or December.

The upgrade will be free for eligible Windows 10 PCs and on new PCs, Microsoft said.

To check if your current Windows 10 PC is eligible for the free upgrade to Windows 11, Microsoft said to visit its website and download the PC Health Check app.

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Windows 11 is here — when you can get it