The Complete Guide to Windows 11: New Features, Requirements, and Release Date

A man operating Windows 11 on a PC
Click here to read a summary of this article!
Summary: A Guide to Windows 11

Microsoft has released Windows 11! The much-anticipated update arrived on October 5th, 2021, six years after its predecessor Windows 10. Some of the key new features/additions are:

  1. A change in design and refreshed UI
  2. Multitasking features such as Snap Groups, Layouts, and multiple desktops
  3. Improved touch controls
  4. Widgets for easy access to information
  5. Gaming-related features such as DirectX 12 and AutoHDR
  6. Microsoft Teams integration for better communication
  7. A brand-new app store with Android apps
  8. Amped up security and privacy features

Windows 11 is offered as a free upgrade on devices running Windows 10. Of course, such devices must meet the minimum hardware requirements.

Though privacy and security concerns that existed in Windows 10 have been improved upon in Windows 11, make sure to tweak your Windows settings and use a VPN to protect yourself from third-party software and prying eyes.

We recommend ExpressVPN for Windows users due to its blazing-fast speeds and ease of use.

For more information on the new features in Windows 11, be sure to read the rest of this article!

Microsoft recently announced the release of a much-anticipated update to their flagship operating system in the form of Windows 11. Six years after the release of Windows 10, the new update provides a visual update and adds a host of multitasking, gaming, and security features.

Many people are curious about the additions being made in Windows 11 as Microsoft’s operating system is the most widely used in the world. This article aims to provide the latest and most accurate information on Windows 11’s features, required specifications, release date, and installation process. It also covers the privacy and security aspects of Windows 11.

What is Windows 11?

Windows 11 is the latest iteration of Microsoft’s operating system for desktops, laptops, and tablets. An operating system refers to the system software that manages hardware and software resources in a device to deliver a seamless and unified experience for users. Windows is the dominant PC operating system in the world, with a market share of more than 75%.

Windows 11 is slated to provide users with a better interface and other useful features, such as improved Microsoft Teams integration and better touch support.

What are the New Features in Windows 11?

As with any operating system update, some novel additions are being made to the Windows OS to improve it. Let’s have a quick look at some of the most exciting new features in Windows 11

A new design and user interface

Simplicity and usability are the core principles that Microsoft has followed for its upcoming update. The Start button and Taskbar have been redesigned to make it easier to find whatever you need quickly. Several people have noticed that the centered taskbar resembles the MacOS dock. The resemblance to Mac OS is also evident in the form of rounded corners and an overall softer look for Windows 11.

Windows 11 Screenshot Start Screen

© Microsoft

The Start menu now also features Microsoft 365 integration and syncs your recent documents from multiple devices.

Snap layouts, snap groups, and desktops

Due to the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, our computers have become our gateway to the outside world, especially for work. Windows 11 makes it easier to organize our digital lives by providing some great new multitasking features.

Snap Layouts and Snap Groups provide a flexible and easy way to organize different apps and documents that you’re working on simultaneously. As you can see in the image below, Windows 11 offers multiple layout grids to choose from. This is designed to simplify multitasking, especially for power users:

Windows 11 Screenshot Snap Layout

© Microsoft

For example, if you select the option to have three layouts next to each other, it will look something like this:

Windows 11 Screenshot Snap Layout Three Screens

© Microsoft

The new Desktop functionality allows you to create different desktops for different aspects of your life. For example, you could have one for work with all your office and video conferencing apps and another for gaming or entertainment.

Touch and tablet improvements

Microsoft had been trying its hand at tablets for almost 10 years, albeit with a modified version of Windows XP, when Apple introduced the iPad. Since then, Microsoft has been playing second fiddle. It tried to make Windows touch-friendly with Tablet Mode in Windows 8, but the feature was poorly designed and hardly ever used. Surface RT, released in response to the iPad, was a monumental failure.

More recently, Microsoft has released its own touch-enabled hardware, including the Surface Duo and the Surface Book. In line with this, it is making major improvements to touch operation in Windows 11. The improvements include multi-point touch, smoother performance, and better haptics. The company has also redesigned the touch keyboard to allow use with just the thumbs.

Microsoft Teams integration

Microsoft wants to make it easier for you to connect with your personal and professional contacts in Windows 11. It does this by integrating the Chat app from Microsoft Teams right into your Start bar. This will allow people to text, chat, voice, or video call with all their contacts in Teams, regardless of the platform or device they’re using. Imagine being able to message friends on iOS and Android right from your desktop home screen! You can even connect with people who haven’t downloaded Microsoft Teams using two-way SMS.

Windows 11 Screenshot Teams Integration

© Microsoft

Widgets

Microsoft last experimented with widgets in Windows Vista. That experiment did not go too well. The Windows 11 operating system reimagines widgets to give you access to important information right at your fingertips. Previews of Windows 11 show widgets for weather, mail, calendar, and a to-do list. This could really help improve productivity and efficiency since you can view all this information in one place.

Windows 11 Screenshot Widgets

© Microsoft

Gaming

Windows 11 has promising new enhancements for gamers. DirectX 12 Ultimate and AutoHDR drastically improve graphics performance for most games on PC. Users who also own an Xbox are able to use the Direct Storage feature to load up games faster than ever before and even live stream gameplay.

Windows 11 Screenshot Gaming

© Microsoft

Microsoft Store and Android Apps

Despite the company’s best efforts, the Microsoft Store hasn’t really caught on with Windows users. Most people prefer to download installation packages directly from the web to install apps. Windows 11 aims to change that. It features a redesigned Microsoft Store, which will host a variety of native and third-party apps. In fact, Microsoft has even said that it will charge no fees from developers in certain cases. This should allow for many new apps and software to be accessible using the Store.

Windows 11 Screenshot Microsoft Store

© Microsoft

One of the most anticipated new features in Windows 11 is the ability to install Android apps using the Amazon Appstore. You can now download and install all your favorite mobile apps, such as TikTok and Instagram, right from your desktop!

Windows 11 Screenshot Android Store

© Microsoft

When Will Windows 11 Be Available?

Microsoft began rolling out Windows 11 on October 5th, 2021. Some leaks suggested that the operating system would be available starting late October 2021, so they were close, but Microsoft beat them to the punch!

Most Windows 10 users will probably have to wait a little bit longer to get their hands on Windows 11, however. Microsoft has revealed that it will be following a phased rollout of  Windows 11, with newer devices getting the operating system first. All eligible Windows 10 devices can expect to get the update by mid-2022.

You can check whether the update is available on your device by going to Settings > Windows Update, as shown in the image below.

Screenshot of the settings page on Windows to show where to find "Windows Update"

Windows 11 will be available as a free update for Windows 10 users whose laptops or desktops meet the minimum hardware requirements (covered in the next section). Those looking to switch from a different OS to Windows can either buy a Windows 11 compatible laptop or purchase the OS and install it themselves.

For a standalone version of the OS, we’ve seen Windows 11 Home (32/64 bit, one license per PC) available from online retailers between $105 – $130. Windows 11 Pro is available standalone for around $150.

What are the Minimum Hardware Requirements for Windows 11?

Windows 11 will run smoothly only on machines that meet the minimum requirements specified by Microsoft. These requirements are as follows:

  • Processor: 1Ghz or faster with two or more cores on a 64-bit processor
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64 GB or larger
  • System Firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable
  • Trusted Platform Module: TMP 2.0
  • Graphics Card: Compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
  • Display: 720p display that is greater than 9″ diagonally

If you’re unsure whether your PC meets these requirements, you can use Microsoft’s PC Health Check app. It’ll do a quick scan of your device’s configuration and let you know whether it can run Windows 11.

In addition to these minimum requirements, there are also some feature-specific requirements in Windows 11. Microsoft has released a full list of requirements that you can view.

Windows 11 Security Features

Considering the wave of cyberattacks in recent years, Microsoft has really amped up its security efforts for its rollout of Windows 11. To provide strong protection against viruses and other malicious software, Microsoft has made TPM 2.0 a minimum requirement.

The Trusted Platform Module (TPM) is technology that provides hardware-based, security-related functions. It uses cryptographic keys to ensure that malicious software is unable to tamper with the security functions of the OS.

While mandating TPM 2.0 certainly bolsters security, it has also left some Windows users worried that they will be unable to upgrade to Windows 11 even if they meet all other hardware requirements. TPM 2.0 is a recent security standard and many laptops produced before 2017 are unlikely to have it. Hence, laptops without TPM 2.0 could remain stranded on Windows 10 without any future updates.

Microsoft Windows 11 security features to toggle

If your device is able to handle Windows 11, here’s a breakdown of some of the OS’s new security features and how to activate them:

  1. Facial recognition and fingerprint login: Under Settings > Sign-in options, you can see these options are made available instead of password logins. Most newer devices support these biometrics with facial recognition via webcams and fingerprint scanners on the touchpad. It’s a bit safer way to log in than passwords.
  2. Alternate log-ins: Windows 11 will also let you log in with Windows Help, the Windows Authenticator app, or FIDO2 keys to provide a convenient yet secure log-in process.
  3. Signing in and out: On the same Sign-in options page, you can decide when Microsoft should require you to sign in. Security-minded users often push for a sign-in during every session. Check their Dynamic Lock option too, which enables automatic signing out when you’re away from your laptop or PC. Your Microsoft account gets this from the location of your connected smartphone.
  4. Windows Security: Though we often recommend third-party antivirus and password managers, it might be worth it to flip on Windows’ new defense program. Navigate to Setting >Privacy & Security > Windows Security to make sure their real-time protection is enabled.
  5. Check Security Providers: While you’re on the Windows Security page, you can see the programs that are currently protecting your device. If you don’t have Kaspersky, Intego, Norton 360, or alternate protection, you can use Microsoft’s built-in security defense.
  6. Malware Scans: To run scans for viruses, Trojans, and other online threats, stay on the Windows Security page choose between a quick or deep scan. A quick scan will give you peace of mind, while a deep scan will take a deep dive into all the files on your device.
  7. Secured Online Browsing: Take a peek at the App & browser page on Windows Security. For safe browsing online, you can switch on two functions. Reputation-based protection means that Windows will block connections and try to stop you from accessing malicious, bad-acting or uncertified apps or webpages. Enabling Exploit protection helps guard you against outside hacking attempts from malicious actors and sites.

Securing Your Privacy on Windows 11

Perhaps one of the biggest privacy features for Windows 11 is its default encryption via BitLocker. This encryption is automatically enabled and secures all the data on your device should it be lost or stolen. Windows 11 will create an encryption key (a PIN) and ask where you’d like to back it up.

Every time your device starts, Windows 11 will ask for the PIN in order to access any data. In the case of a cold boot attack, or if anyone tries to physically or remotely access your device, this would protect your data and encryption keys.

This kind of encryption won’t protect your online browsing privacy, though. For that, you’d need a Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPNs mask your IP address and provide military-grade encryption to cover up all of your internet activity. This also shields your personal information from Microsoft and other third parties. Check out our list of best VPNs for Windows to decide which VPN provider suits your needs.

Adjust your Windows 11 privacy settings

While your privacy settings from Windows 10 should roll over to Windows 11, it’s important to check and make sure they’re set to your preferences. Privacy concerns like keylogging that existed with Windows 10 could continue to lurk. While location tracking is necessary for some Windows 10 features, some privacy-conscious users choose to opt out.

Refer to our guide on privacy settings in Windows 10 to learn more about privacy issues with Windows and how you can fix them.

Another thing that’s important to note: Your privacy while using Windows may be at risk even after changing the OS’s privacy settings. This is because third-party apps and software installed in Windows may still be collecting your personal information. Again, by using a VPN, you can protect yourself from these concerns.

Here are some privacy settings you can toggle:

  1. App permission: At Settings > Privacy & security, you can toggle which apps can access your camera, microphone, or location. If you have certain apps you’d rather not give too much freedom, just deny permission.
  2. Find my device: One of the iPhone’s flagship features, Microsoft also has its own “Find my device” function. At Settings > Privacy & security > Find my device, you can turn this feature on or off. It will record your location at regular intervals in case your laptop is lost or stolen.
  3. Advertising ID: Microsoft gathers a unique advertising profile for each user based on their online activity. By collecting and reading cookies obtained during your online sessions, Microsoft directly determines your interests to offer you relevant ads. Microsoft also shares this info with third-party ad providers. If you want to turn off your advertising ID, navigate to Settings > Privacy & security > General and turn off the Let apps show me personalized ads by using my advertising ID option.
  4. Windows Defender SmartScreen: Though it’s one of Microsoft’s security applications, Windows Defender SmartScreen does track and send data to Microsoft about sites you visit and downloads you’ve made. Microsoft says this is to protect you from malicious sites and malware. Many users concerned with their privacy might want to turn off this application by navigating to Settings > Privacy & security > Windows security > App & browser control.
  5. App launch tracking: Microsoft can personalize your Start menu by tracking the apps that you use most often. You’ll see your most often-used apps appear at the top. By going to Settings > Privacy & security > General and toggling your preference for Let Windows improve Start and search results by tracking app launches.
  6. Suggested content: Microsoft will pool and analyze your internet browsing history, app usage, and activity within the OS itself to suggest content and new apps you might be interested in. If you’d like to turn this feature off, go to Settings > Privacy & security > General and select your preference under Show me suggested content in the Settings app.

You’ve Still Got Time to Decide

If you’re unable or not ready to bump up to Windows 11, don’t worry. Microsoft has said it will continue supporting Windows 10 updates through 2025.

Unlike previous versions, Windows 11 is not a major overhaul of the existing operating system. Instead, it adds some new features to further improve the Windows 10 experience. As we move closer to a complete global release for more devices in 2022, more improvements will be made to features, and more updates, patches, and fixes for Windows 11 will become available.

This article will be continuously updated to reflect any changes. If there’s anything we’ve missed out on, please let us know in the comments section!

Windows 11: Frequently Asked Questions

Many readers are looking for short and simple answers to some crucial questions regarding Windows 11. If you’re one of them, this next section is for you! We provide answers to the most commonly asked questions regarding Windows 11.

Windows 11 boasts some exciting new features, such as:

  • A refreshed look and design
  • Snap Layouts and multiple Desktops for better multitasking
  • An improved Microsoft Store with a greater selection of apps
  • Android App integration through the Amazon Appstore
  • Graphics and storage-related improvements for gamers
  • Microsoft Teams integration for easier communication
  • Customizable widgets that provide important information at a glance
  • Increased security and privacy features

For more details on each of these features, check out our complete guide on Windows 11.

Windows 11 was officially released on October 5th, 2021. Most Windows 10 users may have to wait a little longer to get their hands on Microsoft’s latest operating system. The Windows 11 roll-out will be taking part in phases. If your Windows 10 device is eligible, you can expect to get the update anytime between now and mid-2022.

Yes, Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 users will be able to upgrade to Windows 11 for free. However, the update will only work well on devices that meet the minimum hardware requirements. We cover the minimum requirements and more information on Windows 11 in our comprehensive guide.

Windows 11 was officially released on October 5th, 2021. Many Windows 10 users around the globe, however, may have to wait to try out Microsoft’s latest operating system. To see if your device is able to run Windows 11, check out our full guide.

Author
Tech journalist
Mohit is a legal and public policy researcher whose work focuses largely on technology regulation. At VPNOverview, he writes about cybersecurity, cryptocurrencies and sports events.
Co-author
Tech journalist
Taylor is a tech writer and online journalist with a special interest in cybersecurity and online privacy. He’s covered everything from sports and crime, to explosive startups, AI, cybercrime, FinTech, and cryptocurrency. For VPNOverview.com he follows news and developments in online privacy, cybersecurity, and internet freedom.