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Windows 11: Release date, new features and everything else you need to know

Windows 11 brings a new look and new features to Microsoft’s operating system.


Microsoft

Windows 11 is bringing some big changes to the long-standing operating system, including its first name change in six years. The Windows 11 update will begin rolling out Oct. 5, though Windows 11 public beta is already available to download. (Here’s how to download Windows 11 free after it launches and see whether your PC is compatible.)


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Windows 11 includes a slew of new features, such as the ability to download and run Android apps on your Windows PC and updates to Microsoft Teams, the Start menu and the overall look of the software, which is more clean and Mac-like in design. (Check out all of our favorite new Windows 11 features and how to use them.) 

Here’s every detail we know so far about Windows 11, including price, compatibility, release date, how to download the beta and new features.

Seven new features included in Windows 11

Here are a few of the standout new features in Windows 11:

  • A new, more Mac-like interface. Windows 11 features a clean design with rounded corners, pastel shades and a centered Start menu and Taskbar. 
  • Integrated Android apps. Android apps will be coming to Windows 11 and installable from within the new Microsoft Store via the Amazon Appstore. There were a couple of ways to access Android apps on Windows 10, including if you had a Samsung Galaxy phone, but this will make it native. (Note that Android apps will not be available upon the initial release of Windows 11.) 
  • Widgets. While they’ve been around for a while (remember desktop gadgets on Windows Vista?), including in a recent Windows 10 update, you can now access widgets directly from the Taskbar and personalize them to see whatever you’d like. 
  • Microsoft Teams integration. Teams is getting a face-lift and will be integrated directly into the Windows 11 Taskbar, making it easier to access (and a bit more like Apple’s FaceTime). You’ll be able to access Teams from Windows, Mac, Android or iOS. 
  • Xbox tech for better gaming. Windows 11 will get certain features found in Xbox consoles, like Auto HDR and DirectStorage, to improve gaming on your Windows PC. 
  • Better virtual desktop support. Windows 11 will let you set up virtual desktops in a way that’s more similar to MacOS, toggling between multiple desktops for personal, work, school or gaming use. You can also change your wallpaper on each virtual desktop.
  • Easier transition from monitor to laptop, and better multitasking. The new OS includes features called Snap Groups and Snap Layouts — collections of the apps you’re using at once that sit in the Taskbar, and can come up or be minimized at the same time for easier task switching. They also let you plug and unplug from a monitor more easily without losing where your open windows are located. 
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Microsoft Teams will get integrated directly into the Windows 11 Taskbar, which is now centered in the display. 


Microsoft

When will you be able to download Windows 11?

Windows 11 is now available as an early preview for Windows Insiders (here’s how to download it). It will begin rolling out to all compatible PCs and new PCs on Oct. 5, according to Microsoft, and will continue rolling out into mid-2022. The newer your device is, the sooner you’re likely to have access to the update. The older your PC is, the longer you’ll probably have to wait.


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Will your computer be compatible with Windows 11? 

There are a few different ways to check if your Windows 10 PC is eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 11. 


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You can download Microsoft’s PC Health Check app (right now if you’re part of the Windows Insider program, or in the coming weeks if you’re not) to see if your device is compatible, and if not, some details as to why. (Microsoft had pulled the app after it rolled out in June to add more information as to why devices may not be compatible, but as of late August, it’s back online.)

You can use another open-source app called WhyNotWin11 to see if your device is compatible. Plus, here’s how to check some hardware compatibility with Windows 11 without either tool.

Or go to Microsoft’s website for a list of requirements. If you buy a new PC between now and the general release, that computer will also be eligible for the free upgrade.

Can I still download Windows 11 even if my computer isn’t compatible? 

Potentially. Even if your Windows 10 computer lacks some of the requirements for upgrading to Windows 11, you may still be able to manually download an unsupported version of the OS. The process would be similar to how many people could manually download Windows 10 free of charge. However, this version likely won’t be eligible for updates from Microsoft. 

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New PCs will be eligible for an upgrade to Windows 11.


Sarah Tew/CNET

How will you download Windows 11 once it’s generally available?

Once Windows 11 becomes generally available, you’ll download it the same way you would any new version of Windows. Most users will go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and click Check for Updates

If available, you’ll see Feature update to Windows 11. Click Download and install. Remember that Microsoft is rolling out the operating system gradually, so don’t panic if you don’t see the option on day one.

Here’s more information on how to download Windows 11. If you haven’t yet upgraded to Windows 10, you may still be able to download Windows 10 free, too — here’s how.

Will Windows 11 be free to download?

If you’re already a Windows 10 user, Windows 11 will appear as a free upgrade for your machine

For more, check out every feature we wanted in Windows 11 but didn’t get, everything to know about the Windows 10 May 2021 update, the best Windows 10 hidden features we’ve found and six simple security changes all Windows 10 users need to make.


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