Windows 11 is the latest and greatest operating system coming from Microsoft, and it was long overdue. After six years of Windows 10, which was supposed to be the last version of Windows, Microsoft announced Windows 11 in the summer of 2021, bringing many changes to the OS's design and functionality.
It's not just about the original release, either. Just like Windows 10, Windows 11 has been getting significant updates since its debut, adding more features and changes to the overall experience. If you want to know all about Windows 11, we're here to help.
When was Windows 11 released?
After introducing Windows 11 on June 24, 2021, Microsoft officially began rolling it out to the general public on Oct. 5. That means everyone with a supported PC should be able to get it right now by just heading into the Settings app and checking for updates. However, you still have to install it manually because Microsoft isn't forcing anyone to install the update unless they want to, and Windows 10 is supported until 2025.
You'll need a PC that meets the minimum requirements to be supported on Windows 11, and those have changed quite a bit compared to Windows 10. Check out our guide for getting started with installing Windows 11 here. If you want to try out some workarounds for installing it on unsupported PCs, we have a guide for that too. Be careful, though. While Microsoft will let you install Windows 11 on an unsupported PC, you're putting yourself in an unsupported state that might become a problem if something stops working.
As we've mentioned above, Windows 11 is also getting frequent updates that add features every now and then. For example. Android app support began rolling out in February 2022, and more recently, the Windows 11 2022 Update (version 22H2) began rolling out on Sept. 20 of that year. Since then, Microsoft has also been releasing Moment updates, which add even more features. In 2023, the company is also releasing Windows 11 version 23H2 with more new features.
Can my PC run Windows 11? Is it a free update?
Windows 11 is a free update for Windows 10 users, and that's not meant to be temporary like the original Windows 10 upgrade was. Unfortunately, the system requirements are higher for Windows 11. There's no more 32-bit support, and older CPUs won't be supported. You also need at least 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. The biggest roadblock for many seems to be the requirement of TPM 2.0.
Here's the list:
1GHz or faster with 2 or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC)
64GB or larger storage device
UEFI, Secure Boot capable
Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0
Compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
High definition (720p) display that is greater than 9 inches diagonally, 8 bits per color channel
Internet connection and Microsoft accounts:
Windows 11 Home requires internet connectivity and a Microsoft account to complete device setup on first use. Windows 11 Pro requires an internet connection and a Microsoft account when set up for personal use. Switching a device out of Windows 11 Home in S mode also requires internet connectivity. For all Windows 11 editions, internet access is required to perform updates and to download and take advantage of some features. A Microsoft account is required for some features.
Microsoft also changed the CPU requirements, and many older processors are no longer supported. Yes, the table above does mention the minimum CPU specs, but there's actually a list of supported processors this time, and it's way more restrictive. Basically, AMD Zen 1-based processors are out of the question, and on the Intel side, anything older than the 7th-generation of Intel Core processors is also not supported. In fact, only a few 7th-generation models are supported, including Xeon processors and the Core i7-7820HQ processor inside the Surface Studio 2.
The company is also going to let you install Windows 11 on unsupported hardware if you use an ISO. However, you might not receive updates after that, as you'll be considered to be in an unsupported state.
Is Microsoft going to force an upgrade to Windows 11?
The short answer is no, Microsoft isn't going to force anyone to upgrade to Windows 11. Starting with Windows 10 version 1903, the Redmond firm stopped forcing people to install feature updates. This came after a disastrous Windows 10 version 1809 that actually deleted some users' files.
It uses its newer 'seeker' method. When you check for updates in Windows Update, it simply tells you that a feature update is available if you want it, and you can opt into taking it. The only time Microsoft forces a Windows 10 feature update is if the one you're on is nearing the end of support, but that's not even going to happen with Windows 11, at least not anytime soon.
Windows 10 is still going to be getting "major" updates every year, so when your current version is nearing the end of support, you'll just be prompted to upgrade to the latest Windows 10 version instead. Since Windows 10 as a whole is supported until near the end of 2025, you won't have to worry about being forced into Windows 11 in the next few years. With that being said, Windows 10 is no longer any major new features, so if you want to have the latest and greatest, you'll need to upgrade.
Does Windows 11 get feature updates? What are versions 22H2 and 23H2?
Just like Windows 10 before it, Windows 11 is serviced with some different kinds of updates. The basic ones are, of course, cumulative updates, which focus on fixes and security enhancements. However, Windows 11 also received feature updates, which are meant to add new functionality. Microsoft announced this would be the case before Windows 11 even came out, and we've seen it over the past couple of years.
Starting in September 2022, Windows 11 received an update to version 22H2, which added a ton of new features like more advanced touch gestures, folders in the Start menu, tabs in File Explorer, and more. This was the first major feature update the operating system received. Later in 2023, there will be another update to version 23H2, which also adds more features, such as Windows Copilot, RGB lighting controls (called Dynamic Lighting), and a modernized File Explorer.
However, these traditional feature updates aren't the only way Windows 11 gets new features. Since version 22H2 released, Microsoft has also rolled out what have been called Moment updates, which include sets of features bundled in regular cumulative updates. Through this method, we've seen features like the ability to copy 2FA codes from notifications arrive in the Moment 3 update, or an improved tablet mode introduced with Moment 2.
Essentially, Windows 11 is constantly evolving, and it's a good idea to stay on top of those updates if you want the latest features.
Is Windows 11 the true final Windows version? Will there be a Windows 12?
Since Windows 10 was promised to be the last version of Windows, supported only by a continuous stream of feature updates, we were all a bit surprised when Windows 11 showed up. Windows 11 is still getting feature updates like version 22H2, so that begs the question if there will be a Windows 12 at some point. In fact, that seems to be the case.
We've been hearing reports for a while that Microsoft is indeed working on a Windows 12 and that it may launch as early as 2024. While it's very early to talk specifics, one thing we've heard is that Microsoft is potentially working on modernizing Windows again, similar to what it tried to do with Windows 10X, a version of Windows 10 that ended up not releasing. Windows 12 will reportedly be more modular and thus, Microsoft will be able to tailor the experience to different kinds of devices, ensuring smoother performance on lower-end hardware while keeping all the features you'd expect for traditional desktop PCs. Of course, these plans have fallen through once, so that could happen again.
Recently, Microsoft introduced a new Canary channel for the Windows Insider Program, and the company never specified that it's testing Windows 11 specifically in this channel. All we know is that it will be used to test early platform changes, which could suggest we'll be looking at potential Windows 12 features in the next few months. It's unlikely Microsoft will reveal them as Windows 12 features until we're closer to a launch date, however.
In the meantime, Windows 11 version 22H2 is going to get smaller feature drops every few months (the Moment updates we've already mentioned). These will add some new features here and there without making huge changes to the overall experience. These new features include things like tabs in File Explorer, so they can be major additions. Whether Windows 12 ends up happening is still not officially confirmed, but Windows 11 won't be completely static in the meantime, and Microsoft has consistently been delivering improvements to different parts of the experience.
What is new in Windows 11?
You might have heard the term Sun Valley tossed around for the last few months before Windows 11 was announced. That's the codename for the big UX overhaul that's available with Windows 11. It's meant to make the OS more touch-friendly, something that Windows 10 has struggled with.
More changes are also being made with updates to Windows 11, such as the version 22H2 update that was released in September 2022, as well as subsequent Moment updates. Here's a breakdown of what's new, both in the initial release and those follow-up updates.
Tabs in File Explorer and Notepad
Microsoft has added some huge new features in Windows 11 version 22H2, starting with tabs for File Explorer and Notepad. Indeed, both apps now have a tabbed interface, like what you might expect from a web browser. This makes it easier in File Explorer to manage your files without having to open multiple windows, and for Notepad, developers can open more files at once.
Windows Studio Effects
Windows Studio Effects are a set of features powered by artificial intelligence that are available for certain devices with neural processing units (NPU). They let you change the way you look on camera, such as by blurring your background, automatically keeping you in frame, or using eye contact, which corrects the position of your eyes to make it appear like you're looking directly at the camera. There's also a voice effect called voice focus, which filters out background noise. These features initially showed up in the Settings app, but now, you can also access them through the Quick Settings panel on the taskbar.
Another big addition to Windows 11 is support for running Android apps on Windows. This is possible thanks to the Windows Subsystem for Android and a partnership with the Amazon Appstore, which makes it easier to install these Android apps on your Windows PC.
While the Amazon Appstore is the official way to install Android apps on Windows 11, you can also sideload Android apps using the Android Debug Bridge (ADB). There are even apps, such as WSATools, designed to make it easier to install Android apps on Windows 11. Because the Windows Subsystem for Android doesn't ship with Google services, some apps may not work, but there are ways to work around that.
The Amazon Appstore on Windows 11 debuted in early 2022 for U.S. users and is available in many more countries today; 31 countries are now supported. If you're not in one of those countries, you can still install the Windows Subsystem for Android and sideload apps using other methods.
A big visual overhaul with rounded corners
Windows 11 also brings a huge visual overhaul compared to Windows 10, which was arguably long overdue. Windows 10 looked very similar for nearly six years, and Windows 11 brings a lot of changes, starting with rounded corners throughout the UI, which are meant to make it feel welcoming.
There's a brand-new Start Menu, too, which gets rid of the square tiles in favor of more prominent app icons, and it has a more modern look overall. By default, the Start menu and the taskbar are also at the center of the screen now, though you can move them back to the left side if you don't like that.
Other parts of the UI have also been refreshed, including the File Explorer, and there are many new icons throughout the OS that are a bit more colorful. Many built-in apps also have new icons that follow the same guidelines, so they're more colorful and three-dimensional. Microsoft has also redesigned the context menus in places like the taskbar and File Explorer to make them look more modern.
In Windows 11 version 22H2, Microsoft also updated elements like the volume and brightness sliders when you use hardware keys to change them, which is long overdue. Windows 11 looks a lot more consistent than Windows 10 did.
Optimizations for touch devices
It's not just about a new look, though. The way you interact with the UI will be different as well. A big focus here is making Windows better for touch, which Windows 10 always struggled with. Indeed, while Windows 8 was all-in on touch, Windows 10 felt like it scaled back a bit too much. Windows 11 supports new touch gestures, especially with the update to version 22H2. You can do things like open and close the Start menu, the notification center, the quick settings panel, and more.
Starting with the "Moment 2" update for Windows 11 version 22H2, there's also a new collapsible taskbar that becomes smaller to adapt to tablets and takes up less space. This new taskbar still shows information like the time and battery info, and if you want to see your app icons, you can swipe up from the taskbar to see all your open apps.
Snap Layouts and Snap Groups
Windows 10 brought us Snap Assist, and Windows 11 is bringing us Snap Layouts and Snap Groups. This is a cool one. In Windows 11, you can hover over the maximize button and be presented with layout options.
You can select one of the tiles in the layouts, and your app will snap to that position on the screen. Snap Assist will help you fill in the rest. While this is useful for everyone, it should be particularly useful for those that use ultra-wide monitors. Microsoft has never supported three apps side-by-side before.
In Windows 11 version 22H2, there's another way to access Snap Layouts. You can drag your app window to the top of the screen to see all the layouts show up, then drag the window into the layout you want. This can be useful for any device, but it's especially interesting for touchscreens, which wouldn't be able to use the maximize button to access these layout options.
Snap Groups keeps your snapped windows stored. In other words, if you minimize all of your windows and then hover over the app in the taskbar, you'll see an option to put all snapped apps back in their positions.
A new Microsoft Store
One of the big focus points of Windows 11 is to "unlock greater economic opportunity for developers and creators." That leads us to a new Microsoft Store.
Microsoft wanted to attract desktop apps to the Microsoft Store with Windows 10, but that didn't work out quite how the company wanted. With Windows 11, there are some big changes. Developers can submit their apps without packaging them, and they can also host them on their own CDN, meaning that they don't have to be distributed by Microsoft, just through the Microsoft storefront. For apps being distributed independently, you'll see a warning that says who's publishing and updating the app.
This is opening up the Microsoft Store in a big way. Previously, big-time apps like Google Chrome were left out because of Microsoft's own rules. Now, putting your app in the Store is a lot easier. Speaking of web browsers, developers no longer have to use the platform engine. Any browser can now be distributed through the Microsoft Store, with Mozilla Firefox being a notable example.
The big point is that Microsoft doesn't care what kind of app you make. It can be Win32, .NET, UWP, Xamarin, Electron, React Native, Java, a PWA, or something else, and Microsoft wants it in the store. There are already a lot of new apps available on the Microsoft Store in Windows 11, including Visual Studio, Adobe Creative Cloud, Disney+, and more.
The store as a whole is also just better, with a new design and new categories and collections meant to make it easier to find the kinds of apps you want.
Not only that, but developers can use their own commerce platforms. That means that your app can use the platform that earns you the most money, and your app can still be in the Store, so you're not tied to Microsoft's commerce platform and revenue-sharing model. That includes other app stores too. One of those examples is the Amazon Appstore, which is delivering Android apps. But the Epic Games Store is also in the Microsoft Store now.
Microsoft is laser-focused on gaming, and why shouldn't it be? It has the only viable PC gaming platform, a console play, and a cloud back end that's second to none. And as we know, if there's an Azure play to be made, Microsoft will make it.
Windows 11 has a bunch of gaming improvements. One is Auto HDR, a feature first included in Xbox Series X|S consoles and now coming to Windows. It automatically adds HDR to older games, as you can probably guess from the name.
Another feature being borrowed from the firm's latest consoles is DirectStorage. This requires a fast NVMe SSD and a modern GPU, but it allows assets to be decompressed much faster by using the GPU to decompress those assets instead of the CPU. Game developers will have to enable this in supported games, so not every title will support it, but it's a huge upgrade. It's also available on Windows 10, to be clear, but Microsoft says Windows 11 has exclusive improvements to the storage stack that make it even better.
Finally, Xbox Cloud Gaming is built into the Xbox app, so you can more easily play games using the cloud. Plus, since the Xbox app now runs on Arm devices, cloud gaming is easier than ever for those users, and this is pretty much the only cloud gaming service that officially runs on Windows 11 without needing a browser.
Updated apps with tweaked designs
Microsoft is updating inbox apps to include Windows 11 visuals, which means adding a bunch of rounded corners to things like Calculator. It also includes features like programmer mode, graphing mode, and support for over 100 units and currencies.
Of course, many other apps have also been updated with tweaked designs, including the Camera app, Mail and Calendar, and more. Others have had more significant redesigns and feature changes, too.
Clock with Focus Sessions
One of the big app updates with Windows 11 is a new Clock app with Focus Sessions. This feature is meant to help with concentration, and it lets you create a timer so that you can stay focused on work as long as that timer is running.
There are several pieces to this feature. You can set a timer for your Focus Session, and you can even link your Spotify for background music. It also integrates with Microsoft To Do, allowing you to sync up with your scheduled tasks. There's also a daily progress dashboard and a bunch of options to let you customize your Focus Sessions however you need them.
Microsoft actually integrated this feature deeper into the operating system with Windows 11 version 22H2, so you can start a focus session from the notification center or even the Settings app.
A beautiful new Photos app
Microsoft has redesigned the Photos app not once, but twice with Windows 11. Originally, Windows 11 came with a redesigned version of the app that still had many of the same features, though it had a refreshed design and some new additions, like a filmstrip at the bottom of the photo viewer to see all the photos in a group or folder.
Now, it has received an even more extensive redesign, with improved navigation on the homepage to make it easier to find your photos locally and on OneDrive. There's even a new integration with iCloud Photos, so you can see your photos from iCloud in the same place as all your other photos.
The new app also removes some superfluous features like the basic video editor, and that's because of another addition to Windows 11.
An all-new Snipping Tool
You might recall that with Windows 10, Microsoft spent a lot of time trying to revamp old apps. It had a plan to replace Paint with Paint 3D, it did replace Internet Explorer with Edge, the OneNote saga still isn't over, and Snipping Tool was replaced by Snip and Sketch. With Windows 11, we're back to a single Snipping Tool, combining the best of both apps — though it's still mostly Snip & Sketch.
You have options like Rectangular Snip, Freeform Snip, Window Snip, and Fullscreen Snip, and you can use the Win + Shift + S shortcut to get started. It also provides editing tools, so you can mark them up and more. And, of course, it has dark theme support.
More recently, the Snipping Tool also added a screen recorder. Not only can you take screenshots of a specific part of your screen, but you can also record something you're trying to show off, complete with the ability to choose the area you want to record.
A new Task Manager
With Windows 11 version 22H2, Microsoft has redesigned the Task Manager, too, and it's now more in line with the rest of the Windows 11 design language. It now uses the Mica material in some areas, but maybe even more importantly, it follows your system theme. Indeed, the new Task Manager has dark theme support. It even uses your accent color in parts of the UI instead of the generic yellow and orange scale.
The whole UI is revamped, too. The tabs at the top are now on the side and labeled with icons, so they're more easily identifiable at a glance. There are also new features like efficiency mode to help you save power with some apps. On top of that, the Task manager has received more updates over time, including a new search bar that makes it easier to filter your processes and find what you're looking for.
A new Settings app
One of the biggest changes to Windows 11 has to do with the Settings app, which looked incredibly plain and boring on Windows 10. In Windows 11, the new Settings app is much more beautiful, with transparency effects, more colorful icons, and a cleaner visual language overall.
In each category, the top of the page also now displays quick shortcuts to the most important or common settings, which makes the app feel more useful but also more lively and colorful.
Not only that, pages have been reorganized more logically, and instead of booting into a blank page with the main menu, the app now shows a lot more useful content right from the start. The menu is persistently displayed on the left side, so you never lose sight of where you are, either.
Microsoft is pushing Teams as the platform for personal communications, and it's integrating it right into Windows 11. There's now a Teams chat button on the taskbar where you can see your recent conversations and start a video call with others.
It can be a bit confusing, however, as this is only a personal version of Teams, and it's not compatible with enterprise or school accounts.
You can still download a version of Teams for those cases, though. And if you do, there are some new integrations, too, like a mute button on the taskbar, and the ability to start sharing a window directly from the taskbar during a meeting.
Virtual Desktop wallpaper
This is a pretty small change, but if you're a virtual desktop user, it's probably a big one. You can set the wallpaper on each of your virtual desktops now, helping you to define the look of each one that might have its own purpose.
Another one of the big additions in Windows 11 is the Widgets panel, which is a new way to deliver content to you from the web. Widgets include things like the weather, stock information, and sports scores. But they also pull from your Microsoft account for things like Microsoft To Do lists, calendar events from Outlook, and memories using your OneDrive photos. Some information, like the weather, can also be displayed directly on the taskbar so you don't have to actively look for it.
The initial batch of widgets was based on web content provided by Microsoft, but starting with the Moment 2 update, Microsoft added support for third-party app widgets, starting with apps like Facebook Messenger and Spotify.
Below the widgets themselves, this panel also serves you news powered by Microsoft Start, so you can stay informed about what's happening around the topics that interest you.
Windows on Arm improvements
You remember Windows on Arm, right? Windows 10 devices with Arm processors struggled with a lack of apps since they only supported 32-bit emulation. With Windows 11, Arm devices can finally emulate 64-bit apps, too, so most of your apps should work. There's also an Arm64EC ABI (application binary interface), which allows developers to gradually transition their apps to run natively on Arm, meaning some parts of the app are native and others still use emulation. That way, developers can gradually improve performance without committing to fully rewriting every portion of their apps.
Not only that, but Microsoft is converting more of its apps to run natively on Arm devices, including the Calculator, Microsoft Store, and Camera. On top of that, the company is now providing more developer tools for Arm, with native support for Visual Studio and the entire developer toolchain, including things like Windows Terminal, the Windows Subsystem for Android, and more. Microsoft is finally taking Windows on Arm more seriously.
Another thing that's finally available is Hyper-V support for Arm, after a long period of testing with Windows Insiders. This means you should be able to run virtual machines with much better performance on Arm devices.
The latest Windows 11 updates
As per usual, Microsoft rolled out new updates to Windows 11 on a monthly basis, with optional updates in between. While these updates tend to focus on security, some of them do add new features, like the Moment updates we mentioned before. If you'd like to know about the latest Windows updates and the changes they added, check out our Windows 11 update tracker.