Overnight Microsoft officially unveiled Windows 11. This comes on the back of a leaked build a couple of weeks ago that unfortunately spoilt the surprise. Despite news arriving early, there were still some surprises and now we can talk freely about Microsoft’s decision to go with a full point release for their next release of Windows.
Windows 11 will look very different than Windows 10, offering a new centered start menu position by default, but can be optionally configured to return to the left, if you choose, which we expect many enterprises to do, to minimise the change for users.
In this new start menu, the Tiles are gone, completely removing the concepts introduced back in Windows 8 and refined in Windows 10. Microsoft talks about Windows 11 as being ‘cloud connected’ and those Office 365 users will already have a good appreciation of how this works. For some time now when you launch an office App, regardless of which machine you’re signed into, you’re most recent docs will be there and waiting for you. These will now be surfaced into the Windows 11 start menu, so the Office division has had a big win there.
Most users will still pin their most-used apps to the taskbar, but for those occasional use apps, the start menu will still be the place you head to, to retrieve them. As with the Start Menu today, you can pin apps to the start menu, however in Windows 11, they’re arranged in a grid on top of your most recent docs, a substantial change to the UI, but functionally will work very similar to what we’re used to.
The top of the start menu features a search box, which should search apps and files, regardless of whether they’re on your local PC, or your OneDrive. We also see a dedicated search button next to the Start icon which allows you to search the web, apps, documents, settings and more. This is is a very Microsoft approach, with the most logical decision would be to integrate both search options into one, universal search.
New user interface
In Windows 11, you’ll notice the interface now includes a brand new set of icons, animations and rounded corners on application windows. One of the changes I’m most excited by, is the new, incldued snap options for application windows. Currently I’m using FancyZones, as part of the PowerToys utility to assist with window management across multiple displays, so to have some level of that included, is a step in the right direciton.
I suspect this will still fall short of the great configurability (virtually unlimited zones) of FancyZones, but it’s a big start. One example of that would be the ability to service super ultrawide monitors, like the 49″ CHG90 from Samsung, When you run a monitor like this, you’ll want to have up to 4 applications sitting side-by-side, which makes the 4 snap points in the corners of Windows 10, not helpful at all.
Docking / Undocking
Microsoft shows the docking and undocking experience to be dramatically improved in Windows 11. That is an incredibly welcome improvement as the current experience is slow and frustrating when returning to your desk. In the videos, we see a user connect their dock, and the application windows return to the external monitor(s) almost immediately and in the same position as before.
When the user undocks their laptop, like you would to move to a meeting room, the application windows that are open, are then immediately moved to the laptops display, there’s no 5-10 second recalibration like their is today. It’ll be interesting to see how well this works with legacy apps, I suspect poorly, but at least with modern apps, this should be a big win.
Microsoft Teams built-in
If you’re still on the Skype team at Microsoft, today is a bad day at the office. Microsoft has revealed that they are building in Teams, right into the Operating System. This is a powerful move against competitors like Zoom, but as a user who communicates with family, friends and co-workers, this should be a nice addition.
What remains a question in my mind, is how elegant Microsoft can make this experience. If I sign into Windows 11 with my Microsoft account, does that automatically mean I’m online as soon as I log on? I would hope they give users the preference here. Then there’s the question around your personal and work accounts on Teams, but given recent updates to Teams has added better multi-account support, I’d hope this is well resolved by the time Windows 11 ships.
Personalised Feeds and Widgets
Microsoft seems certain that you want your OS to help you get to the latest news and weather, but the reality is, most of us simply get that content on our phones, or fire up a browser and head to our favourite website. Microsoft recently added a similar ‘News and Interests’ taskbar item to Windows 10, but I am yet to hear from anyone who uses it.
I doubt many will get excited by the news feeds and widgets section in Windows 11, but it’ll be there for you if you do. Potentially it’s useful for quick checks of your calendar.
Outside mobile gaming, Windows is the biggest gaming platform on the planet and that’s about to get better in Windows 11.
Windows 11 will run something called DirectX 12 Ultimate which has some advantages over Direct 12 we have today. We can expect to see immersive graphics at high frame rates; DirectStorage for faster load times and more detailed game worlds; and Auto HDR for a wider, more vivid range of colors for a truly captivating visual experience.
In terms of hardware compatibility, Windows 11 will support everything Windows 10 does today, including gaming accessories and peripherals.
Xbox Game Pass for PC or Ultimate will also continue.
The Microsoft Store in Windows was something Microsoft had hoped would follow the popularity of Apple’s AppStore and Google’s Play Store, but it just never did. Application developers still had access to the same 70/30 split in revenue, but despite more than a billion potential customers, it just never thrived like Microsoft had hoped.
The new Windows 11 Store, will go some way to addressing one of the biggest issues, the discoverability of great apps, but what is brand new is that services that offer their store within the Windows Store (like Adobe’s Creative Cloud), will be able to do so, without paying anything to Microsoft.
Android Apps on Windows
Android apps are coming to Windows for the first time in Windows 11. While some will be really excited by the prospect of getting Android apps on the desktop, there is one big caveat here, these are being made available by leveraging the Amazon Appstore.
For those not familiar with the difference here, the number of Android apps in the Amazon store, is significantly less than what’s in the Google Play Store, so while you may soon be able to use TikTok or the Khan Academy, you may not be able to use your favourite app and the second that happens, you’ll be back to your phone.
Microsoft says they’ll have more to share about this experience in the coming months and that they’re using Intel Bridge technology to make this happen. We’ve seen a little bit of Android on Windows with the Phone Companion app, but the experience is often slow and cumbersome, compared to what we should expect of those apps that work on Windows 11.
Windows 11 Release Date and how to get it
So now you know it’s real and what’s included, the next question is when can you get it. You may have thought, like I did, that today would also be the day you’d be able to download an official version of Windows 11, but unfortunately that’s not the case.
From next week, those enrolled in the Windows Insider channel, on the Dev branch, will have the ability to get Windows 11. It’ll obviously proceed through testing over a number of months, before new PCs with Windows 11 pre-installed become available from a broad selection of retailers later this year.
Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for existing Windows 10 users, but you should be aware, Microsoft has also set the clock ticking on the end of Windows 10, committing to a supporting window through October 14, 2025. Obviously enterprise customers will have longer, but regular consumers would need to upgraded by then.