This week Microsoft released Windows 11, its new operating system. The redesigned software is a free upgrade with better facial recognition technology, tighter integration with office software such as Teams, and improved gaming features. It can also run Android apps.
“Windows 11 is an iterative upgrade, not a revolution, with a lot of really useful features,” Daniel Rubino, executive editor of Windows Central, told CBS MoneyWatch in a Twitter DM.
Here’s what you need to know about the new upgrade.
Can my computer run Windows 11?
Windows 11 is a free download but might not run on all computers. Microsoft recommends computers have at least a 1Ghz processor, 4GB RAM and 64 GB storage — but an optimal experience will require much more power and dedicated hardware. A free tool released by Microsoft, called PC Health Check (available for download here), helps determine if your computer can run the new software.
The strict system requirements, while inconvenient, make for a better user experience in the long run, said Rubino, noting, “Windows 11 is more stable due to new hardware requirements focusing on security and reliability with less frequent updates.”
Many of the changes in Windows 11 are cosmetic, intended to make the operating system less cluttered and more approachable. Colors pop and icons have a modern, minimalist appearance. New informational widgets, neatly displayed, replaces the jumble of Start menu live tiles in Windows 10. Translucent menus, a streamlined taskbar and centered Start menu improve access to Microsoft’s other applications, like Office and Game Pass.
“The redesign is supposed to make the operating system more functional,” said Rubino.
Windows Hello is Microsoft’s facial recognition software that unlocks your computer and phone by scanning your face. When linked to Microsoft’s two-factor authentication app, Hello generates a security key that allows users to sign into apps and services without a password. The tech isn’t new but, according to the company, it’s been greatly improved by deep integration with Windows 11.
Windows Hello is also integrated with human presence detection systems that ship with most new laptops. HDP can lock and unlock a PC based on the physical presence of an approved user. Windows 11 is more adept at handling AI systems that allow HDP technology to learn and adapt to changes in a user’s appearance.
“If you grow a beard or you wear glasses, the operating system is more likely now to recognize you without the need to ‘improve’ it manually,” said Rubino. “We’re seeing this tech commonly adopted across most new PCs, including all-in-one desktops. [HDP] is still a major defining factor between Apple and MS, as Apple doesn’t use it in MacBooks (yet),” he said.
With over a quarter billion active monthly users, Microsoft’s team-messaging app, Teams, experienced significant growth during the pandemic. The collaboration app’s voice and communication features are built-in across Windows 11 as well as Microsoft’s Office applications.
Office apps like Word received a number of collaboration-focused updates, like better version control and the ability to co-author documents. Each is deeply integrated with Windows 11 and more accessible across the entire operating system.
Windows 11 also introduces several features that improve multitasking. Snap layouts and snap groups make it easy to organize apps and jump between them. File Explorer, meanwhile, has been overhauled to make navigating the operating system less confusing.
The PC gaming market surged during the pandemic — exacerbating a— and is expected to be worth $47 billion by 2025. Microsoft’s PC gaming strategy orbits around Xbox Game Pass, its Netflix-like game subscription service integrated through the new operating system. The tech giant has invested heavily in exclusive content for the service, including its recent acquisition of ZeniMax Media, the company that owns the Doom franchise, for $7.5 billion.
Of course, it’s also easy to run other game shops like Valve’s Steam, the Epic Game Store and Nvidia’s GeForce Now on Windows 11.
Windows Android update
In early 2022, a Windows 11 update will allow users to install over 500,000 Android apps from the Amazon App Store, including Spotify, Disney+ and TikTok. By allowing Android apps on Windows 11, Microsoft hopes to give consumers more options and developers a larger audience.
Should you upgrade to Windows 11 today?
Windows 11 is an incremental upgrade that does not introduce revolutionary changes. If you bought a PC recently, stick with Windows 10 — it’s stable, functional, and capable.
Upgrade to Windows 11 only if you’re willing to tolerate a few bugs and have a specked-out machine. Microsoft’s new operating system is a fresh take on familiar software.