Windows 11: News, Release Date, Features, and More

Everything you need to know about Microsoft's newest operating system

Windows 11 is Microsoft's latest operating system, preceded by Windows 10. With Windows 10 set to be discontinued in 2025, it's clear that something needed to take its place. Available since October 2021, this version of Windows offers a redesigned Start menu and File Explorer, adds a widget taskbar, and changes the overall user interface.

Windows 11 Start menu

Windows 11 Release Date

Windows 11 was officially announced on June 24, 2021. The beta version arrived soon after in July, and the full public release of Windows 11 was on October 5, 2021.

Windows 11 can be used on older devices through a software update via Windows Update, and newer devices that ship with the OS preinstalled. If your device isn't eligible for the upgrade, the quickest way to get it is to buy a new device. Some devices that were first to run Windows 11 include Microsoft's Surface Pro 8 and Surface Go 3.

Windows 10 has largely been considered the last major version of Windows, where it's treated more as a service that updates continually. But with Windows 10 officially losing support in 2025, Windows 11 is available as an optional free upgrade—here's how to update from Windows 10 to Windows 11.

Windows 11 v21H2 is supported until October 10, 2023, and Windows 11 v22H2 is supported until October 8, 2024.

Microsoft has been offering eligible Windows 10 devices the Windows 11 upgrade since it was first available. Another option is to download the Windows 11 ISO image or use Microsoft's Installation Assistant to force the update.

Microsoft's website has Windows 11 Home and Windows 11 Pro downloads if you need a new license. You can also buy it on a USB drive through Amazon.

Windows 11 update alert in Windows 10
Windows 11 update alert in Windows 10.

Windows 11 Features

Major OS updates bring big changes. This isn't to say Windows 10 hasn't seen improvements over the years, but a major update like Windows 11 wouldn't be considered major without some significant changes.

Beyond small adjustments, like rounded corners, the ability to delete preinstalled apps, and new icons, are these bigger changes:

  • Updated taskbar: It's clear that Windows 11 is changing a lot when it comes to visuals, with the taskbar being the primary focus. This means big UI changes, windows with rounded corners, an updated Start menu, and centered buttons. Still, it's easy to customize the taskbar to your liking.
  • New Start menu: The Start menu has been overhauled. The upper portion of this menu shows a search bar and pinned apps, with a link for easy access to all your installed apps, and you can create folders for better organization. The lower part has recommended files, folders, and apps based on your usage habits. Sign out, lock, shutdown, and other related actions are accessible here as well.
  • Upgraded File Explorer: With the new tabbed File Explorer, you can easily switch between folders without needing multiple separate windows open. There's also a new Favorites section so you can pin all your most used files for easy access.
  • AI chat shortcut: A version of ChatGPT is built into the Bing search engine, and Windows 11 provides a shortcut to it directly from the taskbar's search tool.
  • Battery stats: If you find it helpful to see battery usage statistics on your phone, you'll enjoy the same on your Windows 11 computer. You can trigger battery saver mode automatically when your battery drops below a threshold, and see usage stats from the last seven days and 24 hours.
  • Modern menu interfaces: The upper portion of File Explorer is updated in Windows 11 to favor buttons rather than the traditional File and Home menu items seen in Windows 10. There's also a more sophisticated right-click menu when you look for more options on folders and files.
  • Smart video meeting features: Windows 11 comes with Voice Focus, Eye Contact, Automatic Framing, and Portrait Background Blur to improve video calls.
  • Android app support: Windows can already run Android apps through third-party emulation software, but with built-in support, you can get Android apps in Windows 11.
  • Built-in video editing: Microsoft includes Clipchamp in Windows 11 so you can edit videos without needing third-party tools.
  • Built-in screen recording: Snipping Tool includes the ability to record your screen in Windows 11.

Beyond new features are several changes that take place after upgrading to Windows 11:

  • Cortana: Won't be pinned to the taskbar or included in the first boot experience.
  • Desktop wallpaper: Can't be roamed to or from your device when signed in to your MS account.
  • Internet Explorer: The browser is disabled, with Edge taking its place.
  • S Mode: Only available for Windows 11 Home edition.
  • Screenshot tool: Snipping Tool and Snip and Sketch are merged into a single tool.
  • Start menu: Named groups and folders of apps are no longer supported.
  • Tablet Mode: This mode is removed, and new functionality and capability is included for keyboard attach and detach postures.
  • Apps: These apps remain during an upgrade to Windows 11, but won't be auto-installed during a clean install (though you can still get them from the Store): 3D Viewer, OneNote for Windows 10, Paint 3D, and Skype.

Below are some screenshots of the interface, taken from Windows 11 Pro. You can see that there's a completely new center-focused taskbar with a newly designed Start menu, widgets menu, updated File Explorer and Control Panel icons, Microsoft Store, search tool, Settings, and a refreshed setup procedure.

Windows 11 widgets menu
Windows 11 Start menu
Windows 11 File Explorer
Windows 11 Control Panel
Windows 11 Microsoft Store
Windows 11 Search
Windows 11 Settings
Windows 11 Pro setup screen

Windows 11 System Requirements

Listed below are the basic requirements for installing Windows 11. See Microsoft's feature-specific requirements for Windows 11 for even more necessities that your computer must have should you want specific features.

Windows 11 Basic System Requirements
Processor: 1 GHz+; 2 or more cores; 64-bit processor or SoC
Storage: 64 GB or larger
System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable
TPM: Trusted Platform Module version 2.0
Graphics card: DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
Display: HD (720p) display greater than 9" diagonally, 8 bits per color channel

The PC Health Check app can tell you if your computer is eligible for the upgrade. Install, and then run that program, to be given a simple yes or no answer.

PC Health Check Windows 11 compatibility check

The Latest News About Windows 11

You can get more computer-related news from Lifewire. Below are early rumors and other stories about the latest major version of Windows:

  • How do I take a screenshot on Windows 11?

    To take a screenshot in Windows 11, press the Windows key+PrtSc. Screenshots are saved in the Pictures > Screenshots folder. Press the Windows key+Shift+S to choose a section of the screen.

  • How do I uninstall Windows 11?

    To uninstall Windows 11, go to Settings > Recovery > Go Back. Or, go to Settings > Recovery > Advanced Startup > Restart Now and install a new operating system. Back up your personal data and third-party applications before uninstalling Windows 11.

  • What is Windows 11 S mode?

    With Windows 11 in S mode, you can only use and download approved apps. To use apps outside of the Microsoft Store, you must turn off S mode. New Windows 11 computers sometimes come with S mode activated to keep the device secure.

  • How do I shut down Windows 11?

    To shut down Windows 11, press the Power button, select Start > Power icon > Shut down, or press the Windows key+D > Alt+F4 > Enter.

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