Microsoft’s next version of its flagship operating system will be called Windows 11, and while much of its softer, more modern design owes a lot to Apple’s macOS, the software giant also threw down a gauntlet to its longtime competitor by loosening app store rules for developers, something Apple has strongly resisted.
Users who have signed up for early versions will start getting test releases of Windows 11 as soon as next week with the finished release coming as a free upgrade to Windows 10 users during this year’s holiday season.
According to Forbes, the 45-minute event was marred by problems with its live stream, buffering and choking at some sites where its feed was available, an inauspicious start for a product touted by CEO Satya Nadella as “the beginning of a new generation of Windows.”
During the event, Microsoft executives focused on four different areas where Windows is being changed:
ITS DESIGN SYSTEM
Gone is Windows 10’s flattened, dark-tone design, replaced by a lighter, airier look that adopts transparency and softer colors although, there is a dark-mode theme for those who prefer it. The Start menu, along with icons for open apps and pinned apps, moves to the center of the Taskbar, similar to the Dock on Apple’s Macs. Also borrowed from the macOS: Rounded corners on apps and open windows. Earlier this month, many of the design changes had been seen in a build leaked that chief Microsoft spokesman Frank X. Shaw as “incomplete” in pre-event to journalists.
Microsoft has removed the Start Menu’s Live Tiles feature in Windows 10 and is replacing it with a cloud-based feature to show recent Office 365 and other documents, regardless of where they were last touched – on a PC, an iOS or an Android device.
A Forbes report says Microsoft is also bringing Windows Widgets to the desktop, which slide out as a panel from the left side. Windows 7 had a similar feature, called Gadgets, but they were discontinued because they became a security risk. Apple also recently added widgets in macOS and iPadOS. The new Widgets are AI-based and provide personalized feeds. The company is also touting Widgets as a new way for publishers and marketers to reach Windows users with curated feeds, potentially bringing even more advertising to the Windows desktop.
Microsoft is beefing up Windows’ virtual desktop and app placement features into something its calling Snap Layouts and Snap Groups and Desktops. This allows you to group windows and open apps together for specific tasks, and arrange them on customized desktops.
The company is also integrating its Teams collaboration app into Windows 11, making that products’ Chat component, making it the primary way Windows users can communicate with friends and coworkers. It works across platforms, on Android or iOS, and allows those who have not installed Teams to be reached via SMS, similar to the way Apple’s iMessage works.
Games have always been a strength of the Windows platform, and Microsoft is shoring it further. DirectX 12 Ultimate will bring Auto HDR to games, dramatically enhancing the look of titles without developers having to make changes in their code (though gamers will need to have HDR-capable displays to take advantage of the feature).
There’s also Direct Storage, which will let games on PCs that are compatible with the feature load pieces of a game faster into the graphics card. This is a feature that previously was developed for the Xbox Series X and S.
STORE AND E-COMMERCE
As expected, Microsoft announced a redesign of the Windows Store, with a design that looks similar to those found in streaming boxes such as Apple TV, Google TV and Amazon’s Fire TV. A hero image at the top allows for promotion of high-profile apps, with rows below feature top-sellers and other promoted content. As with Apple’s App Store, the Microsoft version will add “curated stories and collections” to surface and promote apps.
Microsoft is opening up its operating system to Android apps by bringing aboard Amazon’s Appstore, letting you run software designed to work on Google’s mobile operating system on Windows, a move that counters Apple’s capability of running mobile iOS apps on Macs that come with its homegrown M1-based processors.
But more significantly, Microsoft is opening up its store to other commerce platforms, a move that Apple has resisted – a policy that has landed it in court and drawn the ire of lawmakers in multiple countries. During the presentation, Chief Product Officer Panos Panay stressed that Microsoft wanted to give developers a choice, and those who bring their own commerce platform to the store will get to keep 100% of their revenues.
Microsoft also updated the minimum hardware specifications for running Windows 11. With Windows 10, the company had sought to make it run on even underpowered PCs when it launched in 2015. With the new version, PCs will need more capable hardware, though the requirements remain modest for modern-era systems.
For example, Windows 11 will require at least 1-GHz processor with at least two cores, 4 gigabytes of RAM and 64 GB or more of storage. Owners of PCs that use a classic BIOS to initiate the boot-up prices will be left out, as Windows 11 requires the use of the more modern UEFI with Secure Boot capabilities. Also needed: a Trusted Platform Module version 2.0; a graphics card compatible with DirectX 12; a 720-pixel display bigger than nine inches diagonally; and an internet connection. Some features will require a Microsoft account.
Hardware manufacturers will begin to brand their PCs as Windows 11-compatible, allowing consumers and business buyers to pick up machines in advance of the new operating system’s launch later this year. PC owners can check if their current machines are compatible by downloading the PC Health Check app.