Microsoft lifted the lid on Windows 11 today, capping several weeks of speculation, testing, and argument over the size of the OS update and the degree to which it would upend the status quo. The company had a lot to say about the quality of life improvements coming to Windows 11, and while it’s not going to reinvent the wheel, it has some features to recommend it.
Windows 11 will be a free upgrade in the fall, with some caveats attached. At long last, Windows 11 will be 64-bit only. This doesn’t mean 32-bit applications aren’t supported, but 32-bit processors won’t be able to install the OS. Given that 64-bit CPUs debuted in the consumer market 18 years ago, we’re pretty fine with dropping 32-bit OS support. Minimum specifications have increased: TPM 2.0 modules are now required and Windows 10 Home users will be required to have a Microsoft account.
That last is going to be a serious sticking point for a lot of people. Even if you use the Pro version of Windows and are not immediately impacted, this is a pretty clear example of writing being on the wall. Microsoft has gone from being hostile to the idea of local-only accounts to declaring war on the idea. I’ve used Windows in its various “Pro” incarnations for the last few decades, but I look forward to publicizing the creative ways people will find to get around this requirement on Windows 11 Home. That’s all I’ll say on this topic for now.
There are a number of developer-centric improvements. There’s a new Windows Store coming, with support for UWP (Universal Windows Platform) applications, Win32 apps, and Android apps provided by the Amazon Store. There will be an option to buy from a “pop up” store that can open directly in a browser. There will be new tools for developing ARM64 applications natively for Windows on ARM, and Thurrott.com reports developers can mix x86-64 emulated code and native ARM64 code in the same applications. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes to make Windows more broadly compatible with all platforms and CPUs, not just x86 chips.
Gamers can look forward to features such as AutoHDR, which adds HDR support to games that didn’t initially support it. DirectStorage support is coming to Windows 11. We’ve talked about that API several times in the past; games will have to be optimized for it, but SSDs are now common enough in gaming rigs that developers can assume the overwhelming majority of players are using them. Xbox Game Pass will be baked into the Xbox App on Windows. Xbox Cloud Gaming support will be available in-browser and via the Xbox app. Windows updates will be 40 percent smaller and install more quickly.
One major quality of life enhancement for multi-monitor users: When you disconnect a second monitor, Microsoft will automatically minimize these applications to the Task Bar. Hook the monitor back up and they’ll appear again.
Microsoft will integrate Teams directly into the next version of Windows and has integrated Chat directly into the taskbar. The company writes, “Now you can instantly connect through text, chat, voice or video with all of your personal contacts, anywhere, no matter the platform or device they’re on, across Windows, Android or iOS. If the person you’re connecting to on the other end hasn’t downloaded the Teams app, you can still connect with them via two-way SMS.” The ability to send text messages seamlessly from the desktop without a cellular modem could be useful in certain circumstances and you can supposedly mute people seamlessly, too. We’ll see how this pans out.
There’s a lot of things Microsoft didn’t talk about, including a release date for the operating system. There was no detail on hybrid x86 performance or concrete numbers on how ARM CPUs might also benefit from these changes. It’s not clear if any of the named features will still come to Windows 10 as updates or not. The total number of changes Microsoft is making to the OS probably do qualify it as a new version, as such things are now measured, but we’re still waiting to find out some of the important technical details we’d hoped the company would reveal today.
Feature image by Microsoft.
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