Windows 11 is the next version of Microsoft’s operating system, and it comes with a brand new design and some updated features. The company unveiled the new PC-powering software at a virtual event last week (here’s everything Microsoft announced). The Windows 11 beta download will be here in July, but for right now, the new operating system is only available as an Insider Preview build — here’s how to download it.
Windows 11 features a streamlined new design, with pastel-like colors and rounded corners, and overall a more Mac-like look. The Windows Start menu has moved from the bottom left of the screen to the middle, with app icons arranged in the center next to it. You’ll also find widgets that give you information on the weather, stocks, news and more.
For the first time, Android apps will run natively on Windows, through Amazon’s app store (here’s everything we know about that).
The new system also includes a feature called Snap Groups — collections of the apps you’re using at once that sit in the taskbar, and can come up or be minimized at the same time for easier task switching. You can also set up virtual desktops in a way that’s more similar to Macs, toggling between multiple desktops at once for personal, work, school or gaming use. Microsoft Teams will also be built directly into Windows 11, becoming a more FaceTime-like chat app.
Windows 11 marks the first major update to Microsoft’s OS since Windows 10 launched back in 2015. Rumors about a major Windows redesign have been circulating for the past year. At the Microsoft Build developers conference on May 25, CEO Satya Nadella said Microsoft was planning “one of the most significant updates of Windows of the past decade,” confirming that a major change was on the horizon for the 1.3 billion users of the OS in 2021. And in mid-June, Microsoft quietly announced that it would end support for Windows 10 in 2025 as leaked images of Windows 11 spread (here’s what that means for Windows 10 users).
Microsoft’s decision to upgrade Windows now is no accident. PC sales have exploded over the past year as the pandemic upended billions of lives, forcing many people into lockdowns and sudden mass experiments in remote work. While those efforts largely worked out, and productivity across the US actually rose while people worked from home, it turned out many people needed new computers to do it. As a result, PC sales growth has roared back so much that many computer parts are hard to come by nowadays. If it weren’t for supply shortages across the tech industry, analysts believe desktop and notebook computers would notch their highest-ever sales this year.
CNET Editor at Large Ian Sherr contributed to this report.