Windows 10 has enjoyed success, with over 1.3 billion active installations—300 million of those being added from 2020 to 2021. During its six-year run, from 2015 to the present, the OS has remained fairly stable, aside from the occasional new useful tool like a great new screenshot utility, clipboard history, and Your Phone mobile integration. That all changes today.
Windows 11 has some drastic changes coming to Windows and have proven disastrous for Microsoft in the past, with Windows 8 the worst of these. But after seeing the real deal at the company’s What’s Next for Windows event, I’m impressed but concerned regarding what's ahead. Presenters made a point of not wanting to alienate longtime Windows aficionados. That's a good sign. But there’s plenty of innovation in Windows 11 nevertheless. Read on to see the biggest new features.
If you want to be one of the first to kick the tires of the next version of Windows, sign up for the Windows Insider program. Windows 11 has different hardware requirements, a build for the new OS will be available next week for testing, but all the features won’t appear till the holiday shopping season. The good news for those running Windows 10? Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for them.
Windows Will Have a New Look
More subtle are the transparency, animations, and clean icon design that represent an evolution of the Fluent Design system, which, though promised, never fully took over Windows 10. Dark mode, too, will look more consistent.
Redesigned Settings App
Microsoft didn’t spend a lot of time on the new Settings app, but it looks great in the sample screenshots. All of us in the tech community are hopeful that Windows 11 will spell the end of those ugly old dialogs that cropped up for certain settings and that we can do everything in the new interface.
For me, Windows has long been unmatched in its ability to position, size, open, and close windows on the screen to your taste. (I’m still a fan of Aero Shake for showing the desktop.) macOS very recently added the ability to set windows to take up exactly half the screen, something Windows users have had for years.
Now comes the latest windowing convenience: Snap Layouts. These let you choose from a selection of window layouts (see above), easily populating them with app windows of your choice. Maybe even more important than the extra layout choices is that these layouts are saved and accessible from the app taskbar icons so you don’t have to re-create them after doing something else on the PC.
New for Windows 11 will be the ability to set a different background for each virtual desktop. This makes a lot of sense: I use one desktop for work stuff and another for personal, and I suspect I’m not alone. The snap layouts mentioned above can be used on each desktop.
Teams Will be Integrated
One of Microsoft’s biggest hits over the last has been Teams, its videoconferencing and messaging tool. The app went from having 20 million users in 2019 to 145 million in 2021. The company wants to bring it beyond the workplace, though, and a button will give easy access to it in Windows 11. Teams is cross-platform, running on Android and iOS as well as Windows. It can also work with SMS for those who don’t have the mobile app installed.
Tablet Mode and Docking
With Windows 11, when you plug your laptop into a monitor, it will remember the last app layout you were using.
The tablet mode will be more similar to the desktop mode than in Windows 10, with subtle changes like more space between taskbar icons. A new stylus will provide haptic and audio feedback, and voice typing keeps getting better.
Android Apps in the Store
Other significant updates to the store are that developers will be able to include PWAs (progressive web apps) and old-school Win32 apps as well as the UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps normally found in the store. Even better for developers: They’ll be able to bypass any fee cuts from Microsoft by using their own commerce engines. Using Microsoft’s commerce entails a still-market-low 15 percent cut.
The store will also sport TV and Movies, which will offer wireless casting to TVs.
Gaming Gets a Boost
You’ll be able to run Xbox Game Pass games and Xbox Cloud Gaming will be supported in the Xbox app on Windows 11. But in terms of performance and visual quality, the update will also add Direct Storage and Auto HDR. The former speeds up games loading from storage to the graphics card. The latter produces a far richer image quality with more colour range and depth.
Faster Performance, More Security
At the What’s Next for Windows event, Microsoft’s Panos Panay said that the OS improvements weren’t just skin deep. He noted that speed improvements are coming to web browsing, signing in with Windows Hello, and waking from sleep. He noted that Windows updates will be 40% smaller and more efficient and occur in the background. More efficient energy use will mean longer battery life. Panay also said that Windows 11 would be the most secure version yet. One sign of this is that the new OS will require PCs to have a Trusted Platform Module 2.0 (TPM) security chip.