Microsoft Windows 11: What you need to know about new operating system and when you can download it

·4 min read
The taskbar shown in Windows 11.
The taskbar shown in Windows 11.

We now have a window into Microsoft's plans for its popular operating system powering personal computers.

On Thursday, Microsoft unveiled Windows 11, the first major update to the platform since the launch of predecessor Windows 10 nearly six years ago.

Windows 11 features a cleaner interface and pushes further toward a mobile-friendly environment inspired by shifts to how PCs have been used amid a COVID-19 pandemic forcing many Americans to work remotely.

"What was so powerful was the shift in the PC we saw and felt – from something practical and functional to something personal and emotional," wrote Panos Panay, Microsoft's chief product officer for Windows and devices, in a blog post Thursday. "This is what inspired us as we were building the next generation of Windows. To build you a place that feels familiar, where you can create, learn, play and most importantly, connect in all new ways."

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Forrester analyst J.P. Gownder said the changes in Windows 11 align with CEO Satya Nadella's desire to create products users will love, not simply tolerate.

“Ultimately, Windows 11 will need to spend some time in the wild with users before establishing its true purpose and identity," Gowdner said in an email to USA TODAY. "But a revamped user interface and many thoughtful features give it a chance to stand out, particularly since its release coincides with a new world of hybrid work."

Here's what you should know about Windows 11:

When can I download Windows 11?

Windows 11 will be available as a free upgrade this holiday and will continue to roll out through 2022.

What devices are compatible?

Microsoft says eligible Windows 10 PCs and new PCs will be able to run Windows 11. The company has a PC Health Check app to determine whether your PC is eligible. Microsoft also said it's working with retail partners to ensure Windows 10 PCs available to buy now can run the upgrade.

A screenshot of Windows 11 featuring the inclusion of Android apps.
A screenshot of Windows 11 featuring the inclusion of Android apps.

What are the key features?

Android apps on Windows. Through a partnership with Amazon's App Store, Microsoft will support some Android apps, as highlighted by a quick promo of TikTok during the company's event. This comes with an important caveat, though: Amazon's App Store does not have as robust a selection as, say, Google Play.

In an interview with USA TODAY after the event, Panay called Amazon "a great partner" and said working with the e-commerce giant aligned with Microsoft's plans but also left the door open for other marketplaces to get involved.

"We're open to any store. We really want that," Panay said. "It's really about the customer. How do we get the right apps for the customers using it?"

Snap layouts for apps. Microsoft put a great emphasis on multitasking with the introduction of Snap layouts tailored to the size of your screen. Users can spread out layouts in different configurations, such as side by side or even four at a time to maximize efficiency. You can resize Windows on touch screens by pinching or spreading fingers out on a window. You can also set Snap configurations to group apps by topic such as "work."

A screenshot of the Snap feature for apps in Windows 11.
A screenshot of the Snap feature for apps in Windows 11.

Smoother docking. Nothing is more fun than docking or undocking a computer and watching apps on another display disappear. Microsoft says that whenever you dock or undock in Windows 11, you no longer have to reconfigure apps.

Multiple typing options. Of course, physical keyboards and onscreen keyboards are available, but in one demonstration featuring a Microsoft Surface, users can add a smartphone-size keyboard in the corner of the screen you operate with one hand. There's also voice typing if you want to ditch the keyboard altogether.

A screenshot of the Microsoft Store in Windows 11.
A screenshot of the Microsoft Store in Windows 11.

Widgets. Windows 11 will introduce widgets where users can pull information such as weather, news and other details. Users can either open a full window to review all their widgets or slide along one side of the screen.

A new look for the Microsoft Store. On top of adding Android apps, the Microsoft Store experience gets a cleaner look expected to offer faster performance.

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Windows 11 release date: Microsoft unveils new operating system

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