Microsoft Windows 11: Pricing, availability and new features explained

Posted: 25 June 2021 9:50 am
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Microsoft's announced Windows 11, and we've got your pricing information, upgrade requirements and all the new features worth getting excited – or angry about – right here.

It was no secret at all that Microsoft was going to announce Windows 11 overnight, with the company leaving numerous not-in-any-way subtle hints about its next generation operating system, alongside a leak of an early build that hit the Internet last week, revealing a lot about the new operating system's new look.

That wasn't the be-all-and end-all of everything new about Windows 11, however, which looks to both radically reshape the way not only the way that Windows looks, but also the way that Microsoft works with consumers, businesses and developers. Here's what you need to know about Windows 11 features, pricing, requirements and availability.

Hang on… wasn't Windows 10 meant to be the "last version" of Windows?

Microsoft did say this, and it's been a big reason why Windows 10 has been the version of Windows for the past six years, as distinct from the more regular upgrade cycles we saw through Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista and so on before it.

Windows 11 does appear to be making some big changes to Windows, however, and clearly Microsoft feels like new branding is appropriate.

Will I have to upgrade to Windows 11 if I don't want to?

It doesn't appear to be the case at this point in time, although Microsoft does have plenty of form in terms of not-so-subtle pushes to eligible users to upgrade based on what happened when Windows 10 came out.

How much will Windows 10 cost?

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If you've got an existing licensed Windows 10 machine, the upgrade to Windows 11 will be free according to Microsoft.

That may be the case for the full lifespan of Windows 11, although Microsoft is hedging its bets here. Officially, Microsoft states that "The free upgrade offer does not have a specific end date for eligible systems. However, Microsoft reserves the right to eventually end support for the free offer."

Based on what happened with Windows 10, which officially only had a 1 year upgrade cycle offer, but for practical purposes was kept "free" to upgrade for most users right up until now, that could mean that eligible Windows 10 PCs will be able to upgrade at their leisure. We'll have to wait and see if Microsoft says anything more definite about this later on.

If you're buying a new PC once Windows 11 ships you can expect it to be pre-installed as a matter of course. Newer PCs purchased right now should pretty easily skip past the minimum requirements and be eligible for an upgrade.

If you're building a PC yourself, it's not yet clear what the cost of a standalone licence for Windows 11 will be. While many OEM licensors sell cheap Windows 10 keys, officially speaking a full Windows 10 Home licence costs $225 directly from Microsoft, or $339 for Windows 10 Pro. That pricing may well hold for Windows 11 if you do need a full licence key, but we'll have to wait and see.

Will my PC be able to run Windows 11?

Microsoft has made just a few small changes to the requirements for Windows 11 PCs. To upgrade, you'll need to meet the following system requirements, according to Microsoft.

Windows 11 System Requirements
Processor:1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with 2 or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC)
RAM:4 gigabyte (GB)
Storage:64 GB or larger storage device
System firmware:UEFI, Secure Boot capable
TPM:Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0
Graphics card:Compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
Display:High definition (720p) display that is greater than 9" diagonally, 8 bits per color channel
Internet connection and Microsoft accounts:Windows 11 Home edition requires internet connectivity and a Microsoft account to complete device setup on first use. Switching a device out of Windows 11 Home in S mode also requires internet connectivity. For all Windows 11 editions, internet access is required to perform updates and to download and take advantage of some features. A Microsoft account is required for some features.

The biggest change there is the need for a 64-bit processor explicitly. Microsoft Windows 11 will still support 32-bit software, but if you're running Windows 10 on a processor that's based on a 32-bit core, you'll need a hardware upgrade to run Windows 11.

If the above table looks like total tech jargon gibberish to you, Microsoft has an available upgrade tool that you can download to check your compatibility. Microsoft's PC Health Check app, which checks eligibility can be downloaded from here.

When can I get Windows 11?

Microsoft has indicated that it will release an official beta version of Windows 11 to select members of its Windows Insider program from next week, but that's going to be software that still needs fine-tuning before it's ready for consumer and business systems.

As an upgrade, it will then depend on when Microsoft makes it available to your specific PC. That doesn't mean every Windows 10 PC will be able to upgrade from day one. Instead it'll be a rolling process, with Microsoft noting that "The upgrade rollout plan is still being finalized, but for most devices already in use today, we expect it to be ready sometime in early 2022."

If you're very keen to get your hands on Windows 11, it will be made available on new PCs and laptops from later this year, with Microsoft making references to availability "later this year".

What's new in Windows 11?

Microsoft's making some big changes to the way Windows 11 runs and operates, and given it's still in beta form there could be further changes coming.

The most obvious change is in the visual style, with the Windows 11 start bar shifting from the left hand side of the screen to the middle by default. The leaked beta did offer the ability to shift it back to the left if that bothers you, but Microsoft could disable that in final code – we'll have to wait and see.

Windows 11 will allow for multiple desktops for multitasking across different work or play styles, as well as new "Snap Layouts" that allow you to select predetermined layouts for multiple application windows automatically. That will be most useful for anyone working on a larger monitor, and less so if you're on a smaller laptop display.

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While touch has been part of the Windows experience for some time, it's been a rather clunky experience, especially if you're shifting to and from touch in a tablet way to a "full" Windows desktop. Microsoft says it's making changes here with differing icon sizes for selection when you shift to tablet mode in order to make either mode more fully usable for Windows 11 users. Likewise if you use a stylus to work Windows 11, you'll get subtle haptic feedback as you sketch or edit documents.

If you're a fan of the Live Tiles part of Windows, you won't be happy, as they're being booted in favour of a widget-based approach. Widgets will appear in their own panel, with the idea being that you can quickly check your social or other information feeds quickly while working instead of checking your phone for that information.

Microsoft is also making moves to shift Skype into retirement, with the venerable communications app no longer pre-installed by default on Windows 11.

Instead, there's direct integration with Microsoft Teams, and specifically that app's Chat function for quick video chatting and sharing functionality. Skype for consumers will live for now if you want to download it separately, but if you're a Skype for Business user, you've got until 31 July 2021 to switch over to Microsoft Teams, after which time it'll be formally retired.

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Microsoft has been very aggressive in the gaming space with its Xbox consoles and GamePass service, and it's shifting those ambitions into a fresh gear with Windows 11. While the Xbox app is an optional install on Windows 10, it'll come pre-installed on Windows 11.

Windows 11 will get specific gaming updates with DirectX 12 Ultimate enabling faster load times and automatic HDR upgrading for compatible titles built into the operating system. Microsoft's continuing its push for cloud-based gaming as well, so even if you're on an older non-gaming-specific PC, you'll be able to play Xbox titles (as long as you have a Gamepass subscription) from the cloud even on low-powered laptops, subject to your broadband speed.

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Microsoft's had its own Microsoft Store for apps for years now, but it's essentially blowing up the old Microsoft Store in favour of a new approach that brings some big changes for consumers, businesses and developers.

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For a start, you'll be able to install and run Android apps on your Windows 11 PC. Microsoft's own phone ambitions stalled and died some years ago, and while Windows 10 PCs have had limited Android integrations already, the promise here is that Android apps will run as their own software within Windows 11, although it's a somewhat convoluted process.

Specifically, Amazon's Appstore will be the effective front-end for Android apps on Windows 11, which you'll be able to search for on the Microsoft Store. Using Intel's Bridge technology, Android apps will then run on your PC, at least in theory. As we've seen with iOS apps running on macOS, just because an app can run on a desktop doesn't mean it'll run well or be well-suited to that environment.

The other big change in the Microsoft Store is that while Microsoft will still allow developers to use its ecommerce platform to sell their apps, taking a 15% cut along the way, it's also open to any other selling system that they'd care to use, taking no cut at all. That's a very direct shot across Apple and Google's app store policies where 30% is the norm.

Microsoft appears to have also signed up a lot of heavy hitters in the app and entertainment spaces to come to its new app store, and the prospect of no-fee listing should make it a more enticing space for developers. Or possibly just a breeding ground for millions of dodgy apps, depending on how good Microsoft's app curation is.

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