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Windows 11 First Impressions, Part 1: It's the Windows 10 That Never Was

Microsoft hasn't said so, but Windows 11 might be shaping up to become the great unifying OS that Windows 10 should have been.

Microsoft covered a lot of ground during its recent Windows 11 announcement, and I could probably fill at least a dozen articles unpacking it all. As such, I don't want to simply rehash all of the announcements (there are plenty of people who are already doing that). Instead, I want to talk about a few things that stood out to me while I watched the product announcement.

The biggest thing I took away from the announcement was that Windows 11 seems to be Microsoft's second attempt at creating what Windows 10 was supposed to be. Obviously, this wasn't anything that was said during the launch event -- it's just an observation.

To understand why I think of Windows 11 as a second attempt at Windows 10, you have to consider Microsoft's history. For decades Microsoft's core business involved creating PC software. The company occasionally created hardware products such as keyboards, flight sticks and even a 900 MHz cordless phone, but PC software was the thing that generated nearly all of the company's revenue.

In the lead-up to the Windows 10 release, Microsoft found itself going in a lot of different directions in an apparent attempt to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. This meant that while Microsoft was still offering a Windows operating system for use on PCs, the company also had to create operating systems for its Surface RT tablet, Xbox console and Windows Phone. Each of these platforms had its own unique operating system -- modern Surface tablets run Windows 10, but the first Surface tablets ran Windows RT -- which meant Microsoft was wasting a lot of resources building and maintaining separate ecosystems for each device.

Early on, there was a lot of talk about using Windows 10 as unification platform. The idea was to have a single operating system that would work on all of Microsoft's platforms, as well as any platforms that might come in the future. Ultimately, of course, this didn't happen. Surface RT and Windows Phone were ultimately retired, and while Xbox uses an operating system with numerous similarities to Windows 10, the two are not interchangeable.

However, that may be about to change with Windows 11.

Just to be clear, Microsoft did not say anything about Windows 11 being a device-agnostic operating system. Even so, there were a lot of hints during the product announcement pointing to the idea that Microsoft may be working toward creating one operating system that can work with a wide variety of devices.

For example, Microsoft stopped short of showing Windows 11 running on a phone (which may or may not even be possible), but one of the presenters did mention that they had been working on a document on their phone, and then showed how the same document was immediately ready for editing on their PC.

There was also quite a bit of time spent discussing the way Windows 11 works on a tablet. Microsoft did a lot of work to make sure the experience of using Windows 11 on a tablet (without a keyboard) was very similar to that of using Windows 11 on a PC. In fact, the operating system looked more or less the same in both environments, but with some subtle changes. For example, when operating in tablet mode, some of the touch points were a little larger to make them easier to use. Microsoft's new onscreen keyboard for touch devices also looks and functions very similarly to the onscreen keyboards on some smartphones.

Microsoft even went so far as to discuss gaming on Windows 11 as it relates to the Xbox Game Pass and the new automatic High Dynamic Range feature. What I found to be more interesting, however, is that Microsoft indicated that its Xbox cloud gaming capabilities will make it possible to play the highest-fidelity games on all PCs and that crossplay capabilities will allow games to be played seamlessly across devices.

The bottom line is that while Microsoft never referred to Windows 11 as a cross-platform operating system, there were a lot of hints that Windows 11 may ultimately end up running on PCs, tablets, Xbox consoles and maybe even phones. While the idea of a Windows 11 phone does seem like a stretch, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Microsoft made an optional Windows 11 update available for the Surface Duo. After all, the device was originally designed to run Windows 10X, so why not Windows 11?

Now that I have covered my thoughts on the Windows 11 design philosophy, I want to turn my attention to the operating system itself. That's next on Part 2.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 19-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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