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Windows 11: what you need to know

It's the biggest update to Windows since 2015, but is it worth getting excited over? We give you the key facts

Windows 11: what you need to know

Windows 11 has been announced and will be available at the end of the year. We take you through the most important questions.

The prospect of an entirely new operating system can be a bit stressful; you don’t know what’s going to happen to your files and programs and you might wonder whether your computer will become more difficult to use.

We’re here to answer some of the most important questions ahead of Windows 11’s launch later this year.


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What’s new in Windows 11?

There are lots of little tweaks here and there for Windows 11, but we’ve picked some new features you’ll probably notice immediately.

New Start menu

The iconic Start menu has moved for Windows 11, and is now in the bottom-middle of the screen instead of the bottom-left. What the menu does has also changed.

For decades, it’s essentially been a list of programs, utilities and folders. In Windows 11 it will be a lot smarter, showing recently and frequently used programs and files. This should mean you can find what you’re looking for more quickly.

Windows 11 start menu

Widgets

Widgets first appeared way back in 2006 with Windows Vista, but have been missing in any useful form since 2012’s Windows 8. They’re back, with tools such as news, weather, stock prices and a calendar all available.

These slide in from the side of the screen so you can get the information you need without having to minimise other things you’re doing.

Windows 11 widgets

Snap

Windows 11 has a few new window management tools that let you properly organise your programs on one or multiple screens without having to remember keyboard shortcuts or fiddle with resizing windows.

It also now allows for groups of windows. So instead of having to open them, one by one, you select the group and they will all come back into focus.

Windows 11 snap

App store

The app store is having a complete overhaul. This should mean the number of programs available increases dramatically, all being well.

Before, only very specific types of apps developed in a particular way were available from within the Store. But with the new version, apps that you’d previously have to download from a website should start to become easier to find. 


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What’s more, Windows users can now gain access to Android apps. This will be done via a partnership with Amazon, which will make apps on its own app store available for Windows users. It’s not exactly clear how this will work yet, but it should mean an even greater variety of apps are available on Windows.

The best part is that both of these updates to the app store are also coming to Windows 10, so you don’t need to upgrade to get the benefits.


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What’s not new?

It’s worth mentioning that if and when you upgrade to Windows 11, all your files and programs should stay exactly where you left them. Plus the update shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes.

So there should be no need to set aside a day or two to get everything set up again.


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When is Windows 11 coming out?

Windows 11 doesn’t have an ‘official’ launch date yet, although various clues in Microsoft’s launch presentation has suggested a date in October, likely the 20th.

This will no doubt be confirmed nearer the time when Microsoft thinks it is ready to launch. 

Do I have to upgrade to Windows 11?

No, you won’t have to upgrade if your current computer is running Windows 10. Windows 11 is an optional update, but if there aren’t any features you’re interested in, or just want to keep things the way they are, you’re under no obligation to update. 

With that said, Microsoft does have a track record of subtly forcing people to upgrade to a new operating system; when it launched Windows 10, many people complained of nagging notifications and upgrade prompts, and even automatic updates they didn’t ask for.

We hope Microsoft has learned from the backlash this created last time around.

Senior woman using laptop

Keep in mind that if you’re running Windows 10, this operating system will continue to get security updates until October 2025. After which it becomes more important you consider making the switch if your computer is compatible.

Will my computer work with Windows 11?

This is something that isn’t completely clear right now. Upon announcing Windows 11, Microsoft made a tool available that you could download to tell you whether your computer was compatible.

However, following confusion and criticism online and in the press for a lack of clarity, Microsoft has withdrawn the tool. 

For the time being, the safest assumption to make is that if your computer was made in late 2017 or after, it will probably be compatible with Windows 11. But this is not a hard and fast rule as there are some technical vagaries that mean it is impossible to give a blanket yes or no answer. 

The best thing to do will be to contact the manufacturer of your laptop and ask the customer service team. By this stage, that should at the very least have some information on this issue. 

But don’t worry if your computer isn’t going to be compatible with Windows 11; as mentioned above, you have until October 2025 before Windows 10 stops getting security updates.


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Will I get Windows 11 for free?

If you have a Windows 10 computers you will be able to upgrade to Windows 11 for free. Microsoft hasn’t put a time limit on this either, although on its website smallprint it does say it will be at least a year after launch.

But given it was possible to upgrade from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 for several years after Windows 10’s launch, don’t expect this offer to be withdrawn too quickly.

Can I go back?

Yes, you could downgrade if you decide you don’t like it up to 10 days after installation. After 10 days, you’ll have to back up your files and programs and do a completely fresh Windows 10 installation if you want to go back.

Should I upgrade to Windows 11?

Not immediately, unless you really just fancy trying it out and have a spare laptop lying around. Which? has previously called on Microsoft to improve the way it updates people’s computers, so we will be watching with interest to see how this upgrade rollout goes.

While Microsoft’s updates to Windows have become a lot better over the last few years, we wouldn’t be surprised if there were some teething problems initially, especially with computers that are being upgraded.

If you’re planning on buying a Windows 11 laptop when the software first launches, you should be fine as these laptops should have been extensively tested with Windows 11 before going on sale. 

Fancy a new laptop now? Read our laptop reviews to make the best choice.

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