When you click on a retailer link on our site, we may earn affiliate commission to help fund our not-for-profit mission. Find out more.
Windows 11 has launched and can now be downloaded to your computer or bought with new desktop PCs and laptops. But should you upgrade, and will your computer even run it? We explain everything you need to know.
Want to find out whether your next computer is compatible with Windows 11? Use our free online Windows 11 checking tool and guide.
When can I get Windows 11?
Windows 11 launched on 5 October, 2021. However, this doesn’t mean your computer will automatically upgrade to Windows 11, as there are millions of computers eligible to upgrade, so Microsoft will likely stagger the roll-out to spread out the number of people downloading it at the same time. If you’re really keen and want to jump the queue, you can download Windows 11 directly from the Microsoft website and install it manually.
Do I have to upgrade to Windows 11?
No, you won’t be forced to upgrade if your computer is running Windows 10. Windows 11 is an optional update, but if there aren’t any features you’re interested in, or you just want to keep things the way they are, you’re under no obligation to upgrade.
With that said, we did find with Windows 10, which launched in 2015, that Microsoft was keen on getting people to upgrade and some users found themselves unexpectedly upgrading to Windows 10 when they didn’t want it.
Keep in mind that Windows 10 will stop receiving security updates in October 2025. From then on, it will no longer be supported, so you will need to consider upgrading if your computer is compatible, or buying a new, up-to-date computer.
Will my computer work with Windows 11?
This depends on a number of factors including the age of your computer and its specification. Which? has created a free online Windows 11 compatibility tool to help you get an idea of whether your current computer, or one you’re thinking of buying, is likely to work with Windows 11. Microsoft has also recently reintroduced its own PC Health Check Tool (scroll to the bottom of the page to find it), which you can download and run on your computer to get an idea of whether it’s compatible.
What’s more, all Windows 10 laptops on Which.co.uk now indicate whether Windows 11 is likely to work. Go to any Windows laptop review and look in ‘Tech Specs’ for ‘Windows 11 support’ to see whether it’s likely to be compatible.
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.
Widgets first appeared way back in 2006 with Windows Vista, but have been missing in any useful form since 2012’s Windows 8. Now they’re back, with widgets for news, weather, stock prices, your calendar and more.
The widgets 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 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 lets you group windows. So instead of having to open them one by one, you can select the group and they will all come back into focus.
The Microsoft Store is having a complete overhaul. This should mean the number of programs available increases dramatically.
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.
Get the best from your gadgets: Sign-up to our tech newsletter for the best tech tips and guides.
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 clear exactly how this will work yet as the feature wasn’t ready for the launch day of Windows 11, but when it does launch it should mean an even greater variety of apps are available on Windows.
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, so there should be no need to set aside a day or two to get everything set up again.
Will I get Windows 11 for free?
If you have a Windows 10 computer, you will be able to upgrade to Windows 11 for free. Microsoft hasn’t put a time limit on this offer – its website smallprint simply says the free upgrade will be available for at least a year after launch.
Given it was possible to upgrade from Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 for several years after Windows 10’s launch, we don’t expect this offer to be withdrawn quickly.
Can I go back to Windows 10?
Yes, you can downgrade if you decide you don’t like Windows 11 up to 10 days after installation. After this time, 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 past few years, we wouldn’t be surprised if there were some teething problems initially, especially with older computers and those with specialist hardware accessories that might not yet work properly with the latest OS.
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.