Windows 11 is coming: Here’s everything you need to know about your PC’s next major update

Microsoft Windows 11 laptop on red background 2x1
Windows 11 features new apps, new tools, and a new look.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Windows 11 is the newest version of the Windows operating system, and it’s likely launching in October.
  • Most users will be able to upgrade to Windows 11 for free, but it won’t work on all computers.
  • From a new Start menu to enhanced graphics, here’s everything you need to know before Windows 11 drops.
  • Visit Insider’s Tech Reference library for more stories.

In June 2021, Microsoft officially announced the upcoming release of Windows 11, the latest major edition of their Windows operating system.

New editions of Windows are a big event. It’s been six years since the release of Windows 10, and the computer world has changed a lot since then.

But what will Windows 11 mean for you? What’s the difference between it and the operating system you’ve got now? And is your computer ready for the update?

Let’s take a deep dive into Windows 11.

Windows 11: What to expect

As a successor to Windows 10, Windows 11 marks the first major update to the Windows platform since 2015.

Each version of Windows comes with its own changes and new features. That said, the majority of Windows 11’s new features are aesthetic. Windows 11 looks more different than any Windows version before it, which might frustrate some longtime users.

Here are five big features coming to Windows 11:

  • New Start menu and taskbar design: The Start menu is moving to the bottom-center of the screen instead of the bottom-left corner. You also can’t move the taskbar to the sides or top of the screen anymore.
The Windows 11 Start menu.
Your taskbar icons are huddled in the center of the screen now.

  • Improved virtual desktop support: Virtual desktops let you have more than one desktop on the same screen. Windows 11 will let you rename these desktops, give them custom backgrounds, and switch between them more quickly.
  • Revamped Microsoft Store with Android support: has been completely redesigned, and now includes Android apps. This means that if you have a favorite app on your Android phone – TikTok, for example – you’ll be able to load it on your PC.
The Windows 11 app store, advertising Android apps.
A variety of Android apps are ready to be downloaded and open in Windows 11.

  • “Snap Layout” multitasking tools: A new menu lets you quickly and more freely arrange all your apps on the screen at once. You can let each app take a quarter of the screen, let one app take half, and more.
A Windows 11 menu with a pop-up that lets you arrange it in different places on the screen.
You’ll have a few different options for how to arrange most apps.

  • Better visuals: Under the hood, automatic HDR tech gives games and apps more vibrant graphics, and DirectStorage shortens load times.

Windows 11 release date

There’s no official release date for Windows 11. But all signs are pointing to October 2021.

This October, retailers will start selling computers with Windows 11 installed. Current Windows 10 users will be able to upgrade for free in early 2022.

At some point after that, Microsoft will start selling Windows 11 by itself, likely for about $100 to $200. But Microsoft hasn’t given any information about that yet.

If you’re impatient, you can download the “Insider” build of Windows 11 right now. This is a beta version that doesn’t have all the features you’ll see in the final version. For more information on how to get this, check out our section below.

Windows 11 system requirements

If you’ve bought or built your computer in the last five years, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to update to Windows 11.

Here are the exact specs you’ll need:

Computer Component What you need for Windows 11
Processor (CPU) A compatible 64-bit processor with two or more cores, and a speed of at least 1Ghz; or a System on a Chip (SoC)
Memory (RAM) At least 4GB
Storage space At least 64GB – more will be needed for future updates
Graphics Compatible with DirectX 12 or later, with a WDDM 2.0 driver
Motherboard UEFI, Secure Boot compatible
Other requirements TPM 2.0 module, HD monitor larger than 9” diagonally

You can find your computer’s individual stats in a few different ways. If you bought a prebuilt PC, check out the manual or contact the manufacturer. If you built your PC or don’t know which model you bought, you’ll need to go through the Device Manager and look up your computer’s components.

The TPM 2.0 module will be a sticking point for some users. The Trusted Platform Module is a device that’s meant to keep your data secure and make sure your version of Windows is “authentic.” Microsoft is including it to crack down on users running pirated versions of Windows, and encourage them to use more official Microsoft apps.

To check if you have a TPM 2.0, log into an Administrator account, press the Windows key + R, and search for tpm.msc. In the window that appears, if you see The TPM is ready for use, you’ve got a TPM module. If it also says Specification Version: 2.0, you’ve got a working TPM 2.0 module.

A computer menu explaining what type of TPM this computer has. The phrases "The TPM is ready for use" and "Specification Version: 2.0" are highlighted.
Check these two sections to see if your computer has a TPM.20 module.

If it tells you that you don’t have a TPM module installed, also be sure to check your computer’s BIOS. Your TPM might just be disabled.

Alternatively, you can use an app that will scan your PC and tell you if it can upgrade. Microsoft had released their own tool for this, but after users reported inaccurate results, they took it down. In the meantime, check out the open-source “WhyNotWin11” app – just scroll down to Download and click Download latest stable release.

What if my computer can’t run Windows 11?

If you don’t have the right setup for Windows 11, don’t panic. Windows 10 is still a good operating system – there’s a reason it’s been the industry standard for six years.

Microsoft has promised to keep supporting Windows 10 users with updates and tech support until at least October 14, 2025. So don’t feel pressured to buy a new rig just for Windows 11.

How to install the Windows 11 beta

In the lead up to Windows 11’s public release, Microsoft is letting users download the Windows 11 Insider Build. This is a work-in-progress version of the OS that includes most of the final version’s main features.

The Windows 11 beta is being distributed through the Windows Insider Program. To sign up, head to this page and click the Register option. You’ll need to log in with your existing Microsoft account.

Once you’ve signed up, head to this page and click Flight now. Follow the instructions you’re given, and you’ll be running Windows 11 in no time.

A page inviting Windows users to "flight" their computer, installing beta software.
“Flighting” is the term Microsoft uses to describe installing beta versions of their software.

As you use the Windows 11 beta, you might be asked to share feedback with Microsoft. There’s no requirement to do this, but it’s a great place to suggest new features.

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Microsoft and Apple’s newest updates show how the pandemic has fundamentally changed our relationship with computers

woman on conference call video chat computer
  • Apple and Microsoft’s new software updates bring big changes to their video calling apps.
  • Other new features hope to help us better manage work-life balance.
  • The updates are a sign the way people use their computers has fundamentally changed over the past year.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The world may be opening up again, but remote work is here to stay for many people. That’s the sentiment that has seemingly shaped the new updates coming to Windows and Mac computers later this year.

Apple and Microsoft are both introducing new features that vastly improve conference calls and the way we manage work-life balance, updates that will come as the majority of American workers continued working remotely into 2021, according to Gallup.

Some of these new features are a response to remote work, but they’re also a sign the two biggest operating systems see a fundamental shift in how we’ll use computers to work and communicate.

Microsoft unveiled Windows 11 on Thursday, its first major Windows update in six years. The free update will bring a slew of aesthetic changes to Windows computers this holiday season, but tighter integration with its Teams video chat app is one of the biggest updates. With Windows 11, Teams will sit right in the task bar so that you can start a text chat, video call, or voice call without having to launch the app.

Apple also announced big changes coming to FaceTime during its Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month. That includes some Zoom-like features, such as grid view for group calls and the ability to create links to join FaceTime conferences from any device, marking the first time Apple has expanded FaceTime beyond its own products.

The iPhone maker is also launching a new capability called SharePlay that lets you watch movies and TV shows in sync with someone else via a FaceTime call – a feature that surely would have been appreciated over the past year as many sought to co-watch shows with friends and family.

But videoconferencing is only one aspect of remote work; there’s also the actual work. Apple’s macOS Monterey update and Microsoft’s Windows 11 will both have new tools for helping us better separate our digital work lives from our personal matters. Windows 11, for example, will let you create separate zones called Desktops tailored to different themes like work, personal, or gaming.

Apple is launching a new Focus mode that makes it possible to block out notifications based on your activity across all devices. That means no Facebook notifications during the workday and no Slack alerts past 6 p.m. if you so choose. Such features could be particularly useful as American workers are grappling with burnout, particularly over the past year. A survey conducted by Insider and SurveyMonkey that polled 1,093 working Americans in late April found that about 60% of respondents felt at least somewhat burned out. Nearly half of the respondents who reported feeling a little burned out said this happened over the past few months.

The launches also come at a time when there’s a desire to continue working remotely even after the pandemic. A national survey conducted in April 2020 by GetAbstract found that 43% of respondents said they wanted to continue working remotely more often moving forward.

Still, the software updates are just the latest example of how tech companies are tailoring their products around longterm behavioral changes. New laptops that debuted at the annual CES show in January came packed with technologies meant to improve video calling and security, such as sophisticated microphones and sensors that could lock your device when you’re away.

It’s possible many of these features would have arrived to Windows and macOS whether there was a pandemic or not. But what is certain is that more than a year of remote work has changed the way we use computers in both a professional and personal capacity. Now, we’re getting a sense of which trends the big tech companies think are here to stay.

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Microsoft’s first attempt at making laptops more like tablets was a disaster. Now it’s making up for that nearly a decade later with Windows 11.

Microsoft's Windows 11 software being shown on the screens of various laptops.
Microsoft’s Windows 11 update will better bridge the gap between laptops and tablets, an ambition it’s pursued for almost a decade.

  • Windows 11 is designed to make PCs work more consistently in both laptop and tablet mode.
  • It feels like what Microsoft tried and failed to achieve with Windows 8 in 2012.
  • Windows 11 was announced on Thursday and launches at the end of 2021.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Microsoft unveiled its vision to bridge the gap between laptops and tablets when it previewed Windows 8 back in 2011. But Windows 11, which the company revealed on Thursday and will launch this holiday season, is its most promising attempt at this ambition yet.

Based on Microsoft’s presentation, Windows 11 has the potential to make PCs work much better as tablets without sacrificing their functionality as laptops, finally bringing Microsoft’s decade-old vision to fruition.

To understand why this matters, it’s important to remember where Windows 8 went wrong. The update, which launched in 2012, was meant to make Windows feel more modern at a time when many believed tablets threatened to make laptops irrelevant.

It replaced the traditional desktop operating system – including the beloved Start button and menu – with touch-friendly tiles, a new Start screen, and support for new swiping gestures. The problem, however, was that the learning curve was too steep. Rather than introducing gradual changes to make Windows more mobile-friendly over time, it forced users to completely re-learn how to use a Windows computer all at once.

As a result, Windows 8 wasn’t very widely embraced, with adoption numbers that were even lower than Windows Vista. Some have even called it the worst Windows version of all time.

Microsoft remedied this in 2015 with Windows 10, which walked back its aggressive mobile-first strategy by bringing back the Start menu and making other changes that improved the desktop experience.

Windows 10 devices with touchscreens and flexible designs can already be used as tablets, but doing so doesn’t always feel as consistent or smooth as it should.

Microsoft is addressing these aspects and more with Windows 11, feels like it could finally strike the right balance between mobile and desktop that the company has been aiming for all along. It’s striving to achieve the opposite effect of Windows 8; rather than requiring you to get used to the software, the operating system should effortlessly adapt to your needs.

With Windows 11, the interface for laptop and tablet modes is essentially the same, unlike Windows 10. Bigger on-screen buttons should also make managing windows in tablet mode easier in Windows 11. The new touch keyboard is much smaller and has moved to the corner of the display so that it’s easier to type with one hand as we do on our phones.

Windows 11 will also have a new and more refined feed of widgets surfacing news and the weather that feels much more like the ones on our smartphones, similar to Apple’s Today view for the iPhone. The swipe gestures also match the ones you would use to navigate Windows 11 on a touchpad, bringing even more consistency between laptop and tablet mode.

If these changes aren’t enough to convince you that Microsoft is serious about making PCs more mobile-friendly, the company also announced that Android apps will work on Windows 11. Doing so will keep Microsoft competitive with Apple and Google, both of which have already brought mobile apps to their respective macOS and Chrome OS operating systems.

But above all else, Windows 11 feels like it’s coming at the right moment. Windows 8 was in some ways ahead of its time since it launched long before most people cared about having a laptop that could double as a tablet. People simply weren’t using computers in that way yet, so how could Microsoft possibly understand what people wanted from a hybrid operating system? That question has finally been answered in 2021, and it shows in Microsoft’s plans for Windows 11.

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Microsoft just took a direct shot at Apple’s controversial App Store policy with Windows 11

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook.

  • Microsoft unveiled the next version of its major operating system, Windows 11, on Thursday morning.
  • Part of that event was a not-so-thinly veiled shot at Apple.
  • Going forward, app and game makers with their own payment systems can skip using Microsoft’s system.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Microsoft just took a shot at Apple with a feature in its next major operating system, Windows 11.

Going forward, the Microsoft Store will allow software makers to use their own payment systems – something Apple refuses to allow on its App Store. Rather than paying Microsoft a cut of each transaction, software makers can charge users directly with their own systems.

“If you do bring your own commerce engine, you keep 100% of your revenue,” Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay said during a Microsoft livestream featuring Windows 11. “We keep zero.”

It’s a major point of contention between Apple and a variety of software makers, and it’s at the heart of ongoing litigation between “Fortnite” maker Epic Games and Apple.

Epic Games filed suit against Apple last summer after its hit game was pulled from Apple’s App Store.

Apple says it pulled the game because Epic violated the terms of its developer agreement when Epic implemented a payment system in the game that enabled players to circumvent Apple’s App Store. Epic says the App Store is a monopoly, and argues that iPhones and iPads are no different from computers.

Microsoft previously issued a letter to the court on behalf of Epic Games, and a Microsoft employee appeared as an expert witness during the trial. Arguments have ended for both sides in the ongoing case, and it’s unknown when the judge will issue a ruling.

Windows 11 is a free upgrade for Windows users, and is scheduled to launch “this holiday,” according to Microsoft.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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