We take a closer look at Microsoft’s Windows 11 announcement

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Microsoft’s big Windows 11 reveal this week easily ranks as one of the company’s more significant announcements to its end user computing roadmap in a while. Major step changes in desktop operating systems don’t come along all that often, and when they do they offer up a tantalizing look at how most of us will be interacting with our computers for years to come.

You’d be forgiven for thinking Windows 11 takes some design cues from Apple, as some of the visual changes are in line with recent macOS enhancements, including:

  • The Start button has been moved to the middle of the screen from the lower-left corner it’s occupied since it first debuted in Windows 95. Similarly, the taskbar migrates to the middle, though Microsoft says users will be able to move both of them back to the left.
  • The Start Menu tosses tiles for good, and instead will incorporate widgets. Microsoft says the menu is now powered by the cloud and Office 365, and will suggest which apps and files you’ll likely want to use next.
  • The File Explorer gets a fresh coat of paint, with touch-optimized buttons replacing tabs and ribbons, and an overall cleaner look that should be easier to navigate on touch-enabled devices.
  • OS-wide design changes that include rounded corners for windows, greater transparency, as well as new icons to replace many designs that have been around since the 1990s.

But there’s a lot more going on than first meets the eye. Microsoft is positioning Windows as much more than an operating system. Rather, it wants us to view it more as a lifestyle choice, aimed at encouraging us to make Windows as much a part of our day as we possibly can. Part of the new Windows-everywhere push includes an updated tablet mode that better – and subtly – adjusts the user interface for the specific needs of touch, including buttons and touch targets. While Windows 10 already has a tablet mode, videos of how it works on Windows 11 suggests a much smoother, better integrated user experience.

Other adaptive improvements include:

  • More support for gestures.
  • Seamless transition between keyboards and pens, as well as enhanced haptics for pen usage.
  • Additional voice support and voice typing support throughout the operating system.
  • Immediate access to content through updated widgets, which operate like customizable newsfeeds.

A significantly revised Microsoft Store streamlines the app experience, bolsters security, improves payment options for developers, and introduces a surprise twist: Android apps will now run natively on Windows 11, thanks to a partnership through Amazon’s Appstore. Windows 11 users will be able to use the new Microsoft Store to access apps via the Appstore. Once installed, they’ll work seamlessly alongside traditional Windows apps.

Most of the changes – including significant updates to gaming specs and support – seem targeted more at consumers rather than enterprise users. But in this era of remote and hybrid work styles – along with permanent pandemic changes to how we approach technology in the first place – we think these updates will appeal to workers and IT decisionmakers, as well, as they promise to improve productivity and accessibility, simplify training and support.

Microsoft is also adjusting the cadence of major Windows updates from the current twice-per-year schedule, to once per year. While this simplifies life somewhat for Windows admins, it also reinforces the need for greater vigilance throughout the year to stay on top of regular security updates and bug fixes.

Compatibility will also be on the roadmap for admins, as Microsoft has established an eye-opening set of hardware minimums for getting the most out of the new operating system. Its updated compatibility requirements page sets what is calls a “hard floor” below which devices can’t be upgraded:

  • At least a dual-core CPU running at 1 GHz
  • At least 4 Gb of RAM
  • At least 64 Gb of storage
  • Supports at least TPM v1.2 and Secure Boot

For organizations with Intel and AMD Ryzen or EPYC-powered machines in their inventory, the following processor minimums will apply:

  • Intel 8th Generation (Coffee Lake) and newer
  • Intel Xeon (Skylake-SP) and newer
  • AMD Ryzen 2000 and newer
  • AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2000 and newer
  • AMD EPYC 2nd Gen and newer

Microsoft has further defined a “soft floor” minimum below which devices will receive a notification advising against upgrading, but that the update process will be allowed to proceed. Check out Microsoft’s Windows Processor Requirements page for the latest guidance.

More demands on hardware when supplies are already short?

It might seem bad timing that Microsoft is introducing its new operating system at a time when supplies of many device types and models are already scarce. If your organization is considering a swift move to Windows 11 you might want to check out SHI’s recent eGuide on how to build an effective End User Device Strategy.

What’s next?

Here at SHI, we can’t wait to get our hands on this next-generation operating system to see what it can do – and figure out how it can best help you drive your business. Stay tuned to ensure you don’t miss a thing as we pull together a full range of resources to help you plan, purchase, deploy, train, and manage your way through this significant update.