Windows 11 Is Commercially Released and So Are Most of the Tools
Most of the configuration and deployment tools for Windows 11 are now released for IT pro use, with a few exceptions, Microsoft indicated this week.
Windows 11 version 21H2 reached "general availability" commercial release on Oct. 4, a day before its publicized release date. It seems that an Oct. 4 Pacific Standard Time release would be an Oct. 5 release somewhere else on the planet, or at least maybe that's the rationale.
Windows 11 Support Varies by Edition
The actual release date from which Windows 11 support starts its countdown is Oct. 4, according to an announcement on how to get Windows 11 by John Cable, vice president for program management for Windows servicing and delivery.
With Windows 11, Microsoft is planning to release feature updates once per year, with support varying on the edition that's used. Here's the support breakdown per edition:
- Windows 11 Enterprise and Education editions are supported for 36 months.
- Windows 11 Pro and Home editions are supported for 24 months.
Free Windows 10 Upgrade
Organizations and individuals running Windows 10 systems have the options of a free upgrade to Windows 11. However, most three-year-old PCs won't qualify, due to the stringent requirements associated with Windows 11, particularly with regard to the processors supported.
PCs using Windows Update will either get offered a Windows 11 upgrade, or they'll get blocked. Microsoft recommends getting the "all clear" signal from Windows Update first before trying an upgrade. Alternatively, Microsoft has a consumer tool, the PC Health Check App, to check in advance if a Windows 10 system can upgrade to Windows 11.
Windows 11 isn't coming automatically to organizations. They have to opt to get the new OS as a targeted update.
Moreover, Windows 11 upgrades will get blocked automatically by Microsoft if the target machine doesn't meet Microsoft's minimum requirements. This point was noted by Aria Carley, a program manager focused on the commercial management of Windows updates, in a July "Ask Microsoft Anything" session.
Windows 11 on Incompatible Systems
Despite Microsoft's blocks for incompatible systems, it apparently is possible to install Windows 11 on systems not meeting the minimum specs. Microsoft already has published this support article for people trying to do such things.
The support article warns that running Windows 11 on incompatible systems would be unsupported, so there's no assurance of getting future updates, including security patches. Moreover, "your device may malfunction" and "damages to your PC due to lack of compatibility aren't covered under the manufacturer warranty," Microsoft warned.
Checking for Windows 11 Upgrade Readiness
Microsoft has other tools besides its consumer-oriented PC Health Check App to assess Windows 11 upgrade readiness.
IT pros can use Microsoft's Update Compliance tool, the "Work from Anywhere Report" in the Endpoint Analytics product, or a PowerShell script to check PCs for Windows 11 upgrade readiness. The Endpoint Analytics tool will require having Configuration Manager version 2107 or newer, and it'll work with Microsoft Intune and comanaged devices.
The Update Compliance solution for checking Windows 11 upgrade readiness "will be available in mid-October," Microsoft's tools announcement explained.
Microsoft also clarified in a Microsoft Endpoint Manager for Windows 11 announcement that end users in managed environments won't just be able to upgrade to Windows 11, independent of IT departments.
Upgrading managed devices to Windows 11 requires an explicit approval from an administrator and will not upgrade without this approval when scanning for updates from Windows Update. Enterprise and Education editions will not show Windows 11 as an optional update in Windows settings either, so end users won't be offered the option to upgrade on their own.
Microsoft Endpoint Manager users will be getting new ways to start Windows 11 upgrades. They'll be able to specify a start date for all devices, which will override any deferral options that were set. They'll also be able to space out upgrades to occur every seven days or so, or another interval. Microsoft also plans to show when Safeguard Holds were set by Microsoft for specific devices. A Safeguard Hold is an update block imposed by Microsoft due to problems or incompatibilities.
Microsoft also indicated that the same settings used with Windows 10 will work with Windows 11, and there's no conflict when managing the two client OSes simultaneously.
"Windows 10 and Windows 11 devices can coexist with the same settings, making it easy to keep using the Windows Updates settings you've built over the years," Microsoft indicated.
Getting Windows 11
Windows 11 bits can be had from a number of venues. The easiest way, for PCs meeting the minimum requirements, is to just "seek" it via the Windows Update component in Windows 10, by checking for updates. Capable machines will perform an "in-place upgrade," where Windows 10 bits are replaced by Windows 11 bits automatically.
The Windows 11 OS is available for those with Visual Studio Subscriptions. The bits also can be downloaded from Microsoft's Volume Licensing Service Center.
Windows 11 can be downloaded from Microsoft's Software Download Center, which can be done via the "Windows 11 Installation Assistant or the Media Creation Tool," Microsoft explained. These tools also can be found at the Software Download Center, according to this Microsoft support article on ways to install Windows 11.
The support article contains two important warnings for people installing Windows 11 from media or from an ISO image. Namely, there's no check for the TPM 2.0 requirement, nor is there a check to determine if the CPU is running a supported processor. Installers need to know those details beforehand as they could wind up bypassing the OS' minimum support requirements.
Software downloads to obtain tools to install Windows 11 can be found at this page. It has links to get the Windows 11 Installation Assistant, a tool for installing from media (bootable USB or DVD), and a tool for making ISO images.
There's a free 90-day trial version of the Windows 11 Enterprise edition available from the Microsoft Evaluation Center here.
Windows Update for Business Target Version
Organizations using Windows Update for Business, Microsoft's client OS management solution, must specifically opt in to get Windows 11.
Here's how that notion was expressed in a Microsoft tools for Windows 11 announcement:
As an organization, you control when and how you roll out Windows 11 to the devices you manage. Endpoints managed by Windows Update for Business will not be automatically upgraded to Windows 11 unless an administrator explicitly configures a Target Version via the TargetReleaseVersion setting using a Windows CSP, a feature update profile in Microsoft Intune , or the Select target Feature Update version setting in Group Policy.
Other Deployment and Admin Tools
Typically, IT pros would wait a bit for the tools to arrive when Microsoft would release a new client OS. However, there's no real wait this time with the Windows 11 configuration and deployment tools.
Microsoft has released the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit for Windows 11 for large-scale deployments. If organizations are deploying Windows 11 using Configuration Manager, then this kit is required. Configuration Manager at version 2107, or later, is a requirement, too.
The Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) for Windows 11 apparently is available, although Microsoft didn't describe a download page for it. However, if IT pros want to use RSAT with Windows 11, it's a "features on demand" solution, which means people have to download it via Windows 11's Settings menu.
Microsoft has released the Security Baseline for Windows 11 (described as being at the "draft" stage), which offers Microsoft's recommended configurations to use with the new OS. Microsoft added "a new Microsoft Defender Antivirus setting, and a custom setting for printer driver installation restrictions," according to an announcement. The latter addition seems to have been added in response to the "PrintNightmare" patching confusion.
Microsoft also suggested that its Administrative Templates and Group Policy Settings Reference Spreadsheet tools for Windows 11 would be released on Oct. 5.
A new "Windows 11 deployment lab kit" will be arriving in "the coming weeks." Microsoft is planning to release a "Windows 11 adoption kit" as well.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.