Windows 11: Pricing, availability and new features explained

Posted: 3 September 2021 5:20 pm
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How to get it, what it will cost you, how to upgrade and what to expect from Windows 11, Microsoft's newest computer operating system.

Since 2015, if you purchased a new Windows computer, it came with Windows 10. If you purchased a computer in the prior couple of years to that, you most likely upgraded to Windows 10.

Microsoft told us when it launched that Windows 10 was going to be the "final" version of Windows. This is why it's enjoyed a 6 year run as "the" version of Windows, with upgrades coming in the form of rolling upgrades rather than new version numbers.

Along the way, however, Microsoft's had a change of heart. That's why in 2021, it's introducing Windows 11 as the next evolution of the Windows ecosystem.

This guide will walk you through what you need to know about Windows 11 and help you decide when (or if) you want to upgrade from your existing Windows PC, or buy a new Windows 11 machine.

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.

When will Microsoft release Windows 11?

This is a more complex question to answer than you might think. Windows 11 is already available in beta form (at the time of writing) for Windows Insider members.

That's probably not you. For general consumers, Microsoft has announced that it will begin rolling Windows 11 out on new PCs and to compatible PCs from 5 October 2021.

However, that's not the end of the answer.

5 October 2021 is the date that Microsoft will start making it available for upgrades to "select" machines.

Microsoft intends to make the rollout process a gradual one. Even if you have a qualifying PC that can take Windows 11, you may have to wait until later in 2021 or early 2022 before Microsoft actually makes it available to you.

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How much will Windows 11 cost?

For most consumer and business users Windows 11 will be a free upgrade from Windows 10. Or it will be part of the price of a new laptop or desktop system.

Microsoft has stated that "The free upgrade offer does not have a specific end date for eligible systems."

There's a catch, however, because it goes on to state: "Microsoft reserves the right to eventually end support for the free offer."

Microsoft will inevitably offer installable copies if you are building a new PC yourself, but we're yet to see announced pricing.

Right now, if you wanted to buy an official consumer licence for Windows 10 Home from Microsoft it would cost you $225 AUD.

While that price isn't set in stone, that's around what we expect Windows 11 as a download to cost.

The way many self builders get around this is to grab an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) copy of Windows bundled with hardware.

OEM copies are meant to be sold with major components, but it's not uncommon to see them bundled with smaller peripherals at a cheaper price point than that flat $225 fee.

Microsoft tends to look the other way at such transactions. It's still keeping a Windows customer, and from its viewpoint also one that may opt for Microsoft subscription services such as Office 365.

What are the minimum specifications for Windows 11?

Microsoft currently lists the following as the bare minimum needed to install Windows 11 on a PC:

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.

It's important to note that this table represents the low-end use case, and some new Windows 11 features will require more advanced hardware to run.

The big hardware catch that has caught some users out is Microsoft's insistence on a TPM 2.0 compatible Trusted Platform Module as part of the install process. The odds are good you're wondering what a Trusted Platform Module is in the first place.

Putting it simply, a TPM is a distinct chip in your computer that handles authentication, in the same way that your fingerprint might unlock your phone. The TPM can handle decryption when your computer starts up to avoid hackers compromising it, and select software may also use it for encryption purposes to keep your private data private.

The good news here is that if you've got a reasonably recent PC, the odds are good that you'll have a TPM 2.0 compliant module on board. Microsoft briefly offered a compatibility checking tool for users to see if they were Windows 11 compatible, but it rather swiftly took it offline not long after announcing Windows 11.

If you do have a Windows PC with an older TPM module, some online reports suggest that you may be able to manually install Windows 11 .

It will "run", but in an unsupported state, and one that may not receive Windows 11 updates in the future. That's a risky proposition over any long term.

The practical reality for most consumers (and many businesses) is that if the TPM requirement is what makes your PC fail the Windows 11 upgrade path, you're better off using your existing Windows 10 PC for as long as possible – or buying a new PC.

Will new PCs come with Windows 11 by default?

That will be the predominant case after 5 October 2021. Many manufacturers have already confirmed to Finder that they will offer Windows 11 on new PCs from that time.

There will still be some old stock of Windows 10 PCs in warehouses and store shelves, but not all that many. Given the timeframe, manufacturers will already be provisioning those systems to ship and sell from 5 October.

How can I upgrade to Windows 11?

If you're particularly keen prior to 5 October 2021, you can still sign up for the Windows Insider program to access early builds.

That's not especially recommended for your primary PC, however, because the Windows Insider track offers early and often buggy builds of Windows explicitly for testing and spotting bugs. Don't install it on any machine that houses data you rely on, in other words.

As noted above, Microsoft will adopt a gradual rollout process for Windows 11 starting on 5 October 2021. From that date, if you want to check if you can get Windows 11, the process should be fairly close to (or identical) to the way that you can currently get Windows 10 upgrades.

  • Open up Settings
  • Select "Update and Security"
  • Select "Windows Update"
  • Select "Check for Updates"

Based on the language used for the Insider update builds, what you should then look for is the option for "Feature update to Windows 11". Click on that, and you'll start the download process for Windows 11.

Depending on your broadband speed and the speed of your PC this may take some time. While the early download part of the install process won't stop your Windows 10 PC from working, while it installs you'll have to wait to actually use your PC. Maybe go make yourself a nice cup of coffee in the meantime.

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

Strictly speaking, no. If you want to continue to use Windows 10 after 5 October 2021, you'll be able to do so.

Microsoft has stated that it will continue to support Windows 10 – including security updates at the very least – until 14 October 2025, which gives you plenty of time to consider your upgrade options.

That being said, Microsoft wasn't exactly subtle about pushing consumers and businesses to jump up to Windows 10 when it was the new kid on the block.

It's likely that it will do so again, so you can expect some pop-ups "encouraging" you to upgrade once Microsoft has decided it's time for your particular PC to qualify.

What is Windows 11 like?

It's like Windows, really.

You can take that shocked expression off your face. Microsoft very much learned its lesson about making massive interface changes back in the Windows 8 days.

Instead, Windows 11 offers a range of tweaks to the user interface and some new features that may change how you interact with Windows itself.

I've been testing the Windows 11 Insider builds since Microsoft started making them available through that channel on a number of PCs.

There is something of a learning curve to some of the new elements, but if you're already au fait with the way Windows works, you won't have too much of a learning curve when it comes to Windows 11.

Microsoft has made some obvious changes, like the default centred positioning of the start bar and a more generally rounded Windows style. However it still has to largely run the same vast library of Windows 10 compatible apps that exist. In many instances outside the new Windows design style, some users may continue working just like they were using Windows 10.

What's new in Windows 11?

Beyond the visuals, Microsoft is promising a range of new features for Windows 11 users that weren't present on Windows 10.

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.

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. The Windows Insider builds have only offered a limited range of Widgets so far, but over time they should grow in scope and complexity.

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 Skype For Business has already been retired in favour of a Teams-centric approach.

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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.

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.

The rebuilt Microsoft Store features an all-new design that will purportedly make it easier to search and discover games and apps.

You'll also be able to install and run Android apps on your Windows 11 PC… eventually.

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 eventually be the effective front-end for Android apps on Windows 11, which you'll be able to search for on the Microsoft Store.

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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.

You might have noticed the word "eventually" there if you were paying attention. That's because this particular feature won't be part of Windows 11 at launch. Instead, Microsoft says that it Android apps access "will start with a preview for Windows Insiders over the coming months."

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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Will Windows 11 run my old apps?

One of the big challenges for Microsoft is that Windows stretches all the way back to 1985, technically speaking.

35 years of software is a lot for any operating system to support, although I'm willing to bet few are still using all that much 80s-era software to speak of.

Still, in terms of broad compatibility, what Microsoft's announced to date would tend to suggest that software that can run on a Windows 10 PC should be able to run on a Windows 11 PC as well.

The massive breadth of software available means that there may be exceptions to this, especially for more esoteric software that dives deeper into hardware requirements and security settings for example.

Should I upgrade to Windows 11?

Microsoft's stated intent is that it would like to offer the upgrade to all eligible PCs no later than mid-2022, so you may have to wait in any case.

The question as to whether you should upgrade as soon as it's offered is a slightly more open one. If you're running a reasonably new PC then you may gain significantly through new features, security upgrades and performance enhancements, but it's also going to be worth checking with your PC (or component) manufacturer in terms of specific driver upgrades.

That's especially true for laptops, where most makers will provide very specific drivers for screens, GPUs and peripherals and ports that may need tweaking for Windows 11. It certainly wouldn't be worth upgrading only to find that your laptop's screen doesn't work properly, or your USB ports are suddenly inoperable!

If your PC sits more towards those minimum specifications, you'll get a lesser feature set and performance bump. You will get the benefit of longer rolling security updates, but it may be worth sticking with Windows 10 through the rest of your PC's service life before upgrading to a new PC. That new PC will almost inevitably come with Windows 11 pre-installed and fully supported anyway.

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