The most exciting features coming to Windows 11
Microsoft's new OS features native Android apps, direct Teams integration, and more
A build of the OS had leaked online in the run-up to the firm's 'What's next for Windows' event, leading many to worry that there would be few surprises left to reveal. Yet the company's head of Windows, Panos Panay, still managed to save some intriguing details for the live show.
We've rounded up some of our favourites from the live reveal, although we won't get to test these fully until the OS goes live "in time for the holidays".
Central Start Menu
One of the most notable changes to the design is the central Start menu, which has been repositioned to bring a "sense of calm and ease", according to Microsoft.
Admittedly, it does look less complex than the Start menu of old, with a 'Start button' found in the toolbar, and it appears to have a more simplified operation that's somewhat similar to the macOS toolbar. This will likely be the first feature to get plenty of scrutiny when the OS is launched.
It is fair to say the functionality of Windows 11 has been developed with the hybrid workforce in mind, and that is very much the case with Snap Layouts, Snap Groups and Desktops.
These let users turn (or snap) apps into various modes that Windows 11 supports and helps to free up screen space when using multiple apps or an external monitor. Snap Groups will also help organise those apps by remembering where you've left them.
Teams directly integrated
Microsoft Teams has gone from strength to strength during the pandemic and Microsoft hopes to solidify those gains by natively integrating the collaboration tool into Windows 11.
What's unclear is how much Microsoft will push Teams on users of rival services like Slack or Facebook Workplace, although recent efforts to promote its Edge browser to Windows users suggest pop-up style adverts may be on the way.
"This innovation is well-timed for the COVID world, which has (re)established the centrality of the PC to the future of work and to digital life," said J.P. Gownder, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. "Whether these features pop for employees remains to be seen, but they're directionally aligned to the new world of hybrid work."
Another great innovation for Windows 11 is the promise that updates will be 40% smaller than those pushed to Windows 10, which, in turn, should significantly speed up the update process and make it less of a burden for users. Updates will also happen in the background, which potentially means a PC will update without the need for constant user interaction or interruptions to work.
Built on the same code base as Windows 10
Speaking of updates - Microsoft has clearly learned its lesson when it comes to OS upgrades, and is keen to avoid the debacle that was Vista and its many incompatible drivers. It's why many people still clung to Windows 7, long after Windows Vista and Windows 8 had come and gone, after all.
Windows 11 has been built on the same code base as Windows 10, meaning that when the time comes to upgrade, the process should be relatively painless for users.
"That's good news," said Gownder. "It means that the application and driver 'breakage' that famously plagued OS releases like Windows Vista is unlikely to occur. And Win32 apps will still be able to run natively on Windows 11."
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Also running natively on Windows 11, for the first time, will be Android apps, which will be accessible through the Microsoft Store.
This is due to a partnership with Amazon and Intel which lets Microsoft use the latter's Bridge technology, a runtime post-compiler that allows applications that were originally designed for different hardware platforms to run natively on x86 devices.
What's more, Microsoft said this was part of its ongoing XPU strategy, so it's likely we might see more than just Android apps on Windows 11 in the future.
Developer policy change
The new OS will also bring with it a brand new store, but, perhaps more importantly, that store will also introduce a significant policy change for developers.
Starting on 28 July, developers will be able to use their own third party payment systems within their app, and Microsoft will let them keep 100% of the revenue - the only exception being gaming apps.
The aim is to entice more developers to the Microsoft Store, but there is a suggestion that the tech giant is firing a shot at the likes of Apple and Google for the way they aggressively implement app payment policies.
Cortana ousted from the boot-up
You'd have to search far and wide to find someone that found Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant, helpful during the initial setup of a new Windows machine. In Windows 10, the assistant is set to automatically start talking when you open a laptop for the first time, and it can be a pain to switch off.
Thankfully, Windows 11 will scrap this feature entirely.
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