For the first time since Microsoft unveiled Windows 10, there’s a major reason to be very excited about the future of Windows.
On June 24, Microsoft talked about “what’s next for Windows” and revealed Windows 11, the next big release of the Windows operating system, which puts a strong focus on hybrid work and learning. We went hands-on with the early version of Windows 11 and have rounded up everything we know and everything that has officially been announced.
Microsoft confirmed that Windows 11 will be a free update for all Windows 10 users and noted it will be coming for holiday 2021 and early 2022. Some rumors fueled by Intel documentation point to a late October release, too.
But you won’t need to wait that long. Microsoft is already beta testing Windows 11. Three major “builds” of the operating system have been released at the time of publishing for testing.
For those curious, Microsoft details how you can get Windows 11 early on this webpage. New PCs coming later this year will be powered by Windows 11, too.
Basically, if you want to give Windows 11 an early ride right now, you’ll need to opt-in to the Windows Insider program. You’ll also need to make sure you have an Intel 8th-generation or AMD Ryzen 2000 or newer processor and a PC with a TPM 2.0 chip. These are Microsoft’s current requirements to run Windows 11, but that is subject to change.
Once you confirm you reach these prerequisites, you can visit Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Program to opt your PC into flight Insider Preview builds.
And don’t worry too much about things not working right. Nvidia and Intel have updated their graphics, CPU, and GPU drivers so that Windows 11 works as intended.
As rumors indicated, a floating and centered Start menu and centered taskbar are the two most noticeable new elements in Windows 11. They give Windows a drastic new feel, both ditching Live Tiles and adopting a more touch-friendly design. Instead of Live Tiles, you have standard icons that link to your apps and that you can “pin” for your convenience. Microsoft even recently tweaked the Windows 11 Start menu to bring back the search box.
Under your icons, you’ll find a list of recommended documents and files powered by OneDrive or the files you navigate to most on your device. This is one of the biggest changes to the Start menu since Windows 10 was introduced. All of these features are powered by Microsoft 365 and Microsoft’s cloud, but you should still see your local documents, too.
Other than the Start menu, rounded corners and menus throughout Windows 11 are also new, as is an Action Center with a redesigned look focusing more on cleaner sliders and rounded buttons. Microsoft even tweaked the windowing system in Windows 11 so that hovering over the maximize icon will show you new ways to split your apps for multitasking.
This is a feature known as Snap Layouts, where Windows 11 will remember the work that you are doing and save it to the taskbar as a group for quicker access. But even more than that, Microsoft tweaked the way Windows docks with monitors. Now, when you return to Windows 11 on the big screen, Windows will remember the layout of your apps and projects and keep it running as-is.