Windows 11 revealed – 5 things you need to know about the new operating system

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

ANALYSIS: With Windows 11, Microsoft is aiming for a sleeker, less-intrusive operating system that throws the door open to mobile app developers seeking access to the world’s most popular operating system.

Windows 10, released in 2015 was supposed to be Microsoft’s last operating system. The future was Windows as a service, we were told, regular incremental updates that would finetune the operating system in perpetuity.

Since then, the rise of Office 365, Teams, and the debut of Microsoft’s own Surface hardware devices has changed how we interact with Windows, which has receded to the background to some extent, getting out of the way to let you get on with your work.

But the unveiling of Windows 11 illustrates that Microsoft still needs the new software release hype cycle. Anyone who went to the midnight launch 25 years ago of Windows 95 at stores around New Zealand, which were the first in the world allowed to sell the flagship software, knows the power of a big bang release.

Hundreds of people queued for copies of the software back then. Windows 95 signaled a radical new direction for Microsoft’s core product. Windows 10, 20 years later, was the next high point for Windows. They nailed it after some speed wobbles with Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8. Now 1.3 billion devices run Windows 10. Microsoft had been developing a successor, 10X that was to be a true hybrid operating system, making Windows seamless on any device. 

But the pandemic sparked a rethink and 10X was shelved in favour of a Windows upgrade that “feels familiar, where you can create, learn, play and most importantly, connect in all-new ways”. It’s like the digital equivalent of a comforting blanket in these uncertain times of remote working and endless Teams meetings.

“Through the pandemic, we kind of learned that we were trying to fit the PC in many ways into our lives,” Panos Panay, Chief Product Officer, Windows + Devices, said in launching Windows 11.

“It kind of flipped, where our lives had to fit into the PC for a while. And so the PC should feel familiar and engaging, and like, remove itself, and try to get you to your best computing place,” Panay added.

So where will Windows 11 take us? There are 5 things you need to know about the next generation of Windows. 

The new, more-centred Windows 11

  1. Android apps will run on Windows

This has technically been possible before through emulation software, but it was a bit clunky and didn’t really encourage the surge of co-development of apps for mobile devices and Windows machines that Microsoft had hoped for. Third-party software developers will now be able to put their apps on Windows whether they are built on Win32, Progressive Web App (PWA) or Universal Windows App (UWP). 

It means that apps currently available via the Google Play store and Android on smartphones and tablets will easily be able to be offered via the Microsoft Store for download, much as a large number of apps that exist there currently are. Interesting, there’s a tie-up with the Amazon app store as part of this. But Microsoft says the process of downloading apps will be seamless. 

Crucially, Microsoft has also changed the business model of the Microsoft Store to encourage more apps to be sent to Windows. It will allow app developers to use their own commerce engine via the Microsoft Store and keep 100% of the revenue generated through it. The option will still be there to sell through Microsoft’s platform, giving 15% of revenue to Microsoft.

That’s a smart move by Microsoft as Apple and Google face legal action over their app store policies, which exclude developers from bypassing the payment systems of both platforms. But it also highlights the reality of Microsoft’s weakness in the app store space. It has relatively little to lose and much to gain in offering a better deal and welcoming android developers to embrace Windows.

  1. Teams in the taskbar

Windows 11 will have Microsoft Teams built-in, so more people are likely to use it, initiating calls and answering messages right from the home screen. It is part of a move to make Teams more hardware-agnostic, so it is effortless to use across devices. It comes as Apple introduces new features to make its FaceTime video calling app more attractive, allowing with the new iOS15 software update the ability to send links to non-Apple users to initiate a FaceTime call through a browser.

The elevation of Teams, which really accelerated during the pandemic, really puts the nail in the coffin of Skype, once the most widely-used messaging and calling app, but one that has languished since being acquired by Microsoft. Teams is packed with features and increasingly an important productivity tool. But it has a heavy skew towards business users. With it now being front and centre on every Windows 11 desktop, it will need to be made more inviting for consumers to use.

The revamped Microsoft Store, now with Android apps.

  1. Less intrusive updates

Microsoft still hasn’t nailed the art of releasing Windows updates. We get that they are important and may need to be updated as soon as they are released. But some of them are big updates and take a long time to download and install. They also seem to arrive at the worst possible moment, starting to self-install and requiring a reboot just as you are about to send an important email. 

With Windows 11, updates will be 40% smaller, making them quicker to download, unpack and install. They’ll increasingly happen in the background too so you will have fewer frustrating and badly-timed prompts to install a new update. Let’s see how that works out in reality as it has been promised before.

  1. Skin-deep interface changes

The Start menu moves to the middle bottom of the screen in a major break from tradition that nevertheless makes a lot of sense. I’ve always found having to mouse over to the left-hand side of the screen to access the menu a bit of a hassle. There are more curved edges and design tweaks evocative of both iOS and the Android app experience. The tiled system of Windows 10 to show you all your apps gives way to a more straightforward, centred app tray, similar to Android.

Snap Layouts, lets you quickly snap into various preferred modes for app usage and Snap Groups, will help you instantly set up your preferred working environment. It will also help those using multiple monitors ensure all the apps open on the correct screen all of the time. Widgets have been expanded and revamped and there will be better light and dark modes as well as transparency features to let you more easily see everything that is cluttering up your desktop.

  1. What you’ll need to run Windows 11

As has been the policy for previous Windows upgrades, those on the previous version will get Windows 10 as a free upgrade. But you will need to make sure you have the hardware required to run it.

All systems running Windows 11 will require a special chip, called a Trusted Point Module 2.0. The TPM is used to manage security in hardware devices. Here’s how you find out whether your computer has the prerequisite TPM chip. You may not have heard about it, but most newish laptops and desktops are likely to have it under the hood.

The other system requirements for running Windows 11 include a 64-bit dual-core processor of 1 GHz or faster, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB storage device. Those are relatively modest requirements, which should allow a straightforward upgrade path for the majority of Windows 10 users.Windows 11 will be available towards the end of the year. In the meantime, you can access a Beta version of Windows 11 by signing up with the Windows Insider Programme.

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform, Sciblogs.co.nz.

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