Microsoft took the wraps off of Windows 11 on June 24, 2021, in a 45-minute online event titled “What’s next for Windows”. A few days later, the company released the first preview of the new operating system for members of the Windows Insider Preview Program. And then, on October 5, 2021, Microsoft announced the official release of Windows 11.
That’s roughly 100 days from announcement to release. If you think that schedule seems unusually fast, you’re not alone. Since then, Microsoft has released two annual updates for Windows 11 (versions 22H2 and 23H2) and, in a noteworthy break with longstanding policies, has also shipped a raft of new features not tied to either of those major updates.
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With Windows 10 nearing the end of its supported life and Windows 12 on the horizon, Windows 11 is squarely in the spotlight. How does this upgrade affect the way you work with your PC? I’ve updated this FAQ to cover the latest developments.
For starters, there’s a new user experience, with refreshed colors and icons, major changes to the Start menu and taskbar, an extensive reworking of the Settings app, a Widgets pane designed to deliver bite-sized chunks of news and reminders, and a greatly improved way to snap windows into position. Subsequent updates include a tabbed File Explorer and the AI-powered Windows Copilot.
Hardware-assisted security, which has been an optional part of Windows 10, is mandatory in Windows 11, which means Secure Boot and device encryption are available by default to protect against increasingly sophisticated online attacks.
If you’ve been unimpressed with the paltry selection of apps in the Microsoft Store, you’re not alone. Windows 11 offers a major update to the Store, including the option for third-party developers to make their conventional Win32 desktop apps available for secure downloads through the Store.
Speaking of apps, Windows 11 includes Windows Subsystem for Android, allowing Android apps to run on the familiar Windows desktop. That feature has also received regular updates since its initial release in 2021.
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Before you get too excited about the Android-on-Windows possibilities, be aware that, for now at least, those apps will come from the Amazon app store, which also suffers from Paltry App Selection Syndrome. In theory, the availability of Android apps could expand in the future with the addition of more robust app repositories like the Samsung App Store or even (gasp!) the Google Play Store. Anyone with a long memory of Microsoft’s experiments in this space has a right to be skeptical.
File Explorer gets the same visual refresh as the rest of Windows, with a simplified ribbon and shortcut menus. It retains the familiar three-pane arrangement, but the contents of the navigation pane are different, as is the ability to open folders in separate tabs. The new home layout in the center pane, which includes thumbnails of
The Settings app, on the other hand, gets a complete makeover. A new navigation pane on the left provides ready access to the main categories, with sections on the right that slide open as needed to enable adjustments to system settings and personalization options. One noteworthy improvement is a detailed display that shows battery usage on an hour-by-hour basis, allowing you to identify which apps are responsible for unusual battery drains. A recent addition is a new home page that consolidates access to recent and commonly used settings, personalization options, and devices.
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On touch-enabled devices and tablets like the Surface Pro, you’ll find big changes in the way that the pen and touch elements work, with more graceful transitions from PC to tablet mode and vice versa. On conventional PCs with multiple monitors and docking stations, the system is finally smart enough to remember the arrangement of windows when you reconnect. There’s also a new Voice Typing feature that lets you dictate text to be automatically typed into any app or text box. (Press Windows key + H to activate this feature.)
Options for arranging windows on large external displays are significantly expanded compared to Windows 10. The familiar “snap” shortcuts still work to position windows side by side, but hovering the mouse pointer over the icon in the upper right corner of any window displays additional options for arranging three or four windows, as shown below. Those arrangements are also available from the taskbar, allowing you to restore a specific arrangement with a single click.
Despite the significant UX refresh, you’ll still encounter places where bits of older, even ancient Windows elements peek out. That’s especially true for the last remaining bits of the legacy Control Panel and any app hosted by the Microsoft Management Console (MMC).