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Microsoft Signals New OS Era with Windows 11

Microsoft has confirmed rumors that it will move forward from Windows 10, announcing that it will release Windows 11 in time for the 2021 holiday season.

Speculation about Windows 11 intensified in recent weeks with the circulation of a leaked build of the new OS. In virtual event Thursday titled, "What's Next for Windows," Microsoft Chairman and CEO Satya Nadella made it official, calling Windows 11 the first version of a new era of Windows.

"Windows has always stood for sovereignty for creators and agency for consumers," Nadella said. "With Windows 11, we have a renewed sense of Windows' role in the world."

Key elements of the new operating system include user interface changes, anchored by a newly centered Start button; tighter Microsoft 365 integrations; new revenue terms for the Windows Store that are more favorable to application developers; support for running Android apps on Windows; hybrid work features; security changes; and gaming improvements.

Start at the Center
The most obvious visual change to the operating system is the Start button at the center of the taskbar at the bottom of the screen.

"We put Start at the center and made it easier to quickly find what you need. Start utilizes the power of the cloud and Microsoft 365 to show you your recent files no matter what platform or device you were viewing them on earlier, even if it was on an Android or iOS device," said Panos Panay, Chief Product Officer for Windows + Devices.

The button itself was subtly redesigned, along with other icons, as well as the sounds and fonts, Panay said, to "bring a sense of calm and ease."

It is Microsoft's first change to the Start button location since controversially removing it in Windows 8, then promptly re-establishing the button in Windows 8.1. Also notable is the removal of the Cortana icon from the taskbar. Cortana has also been removed from the first boot experience.

Microsoft is taking another swing at anticipating how users might like to organize their windows with features called Snap Layouts and Snap Groups. "These are new features designed to help you organize your windows and optimize your screen real estate so you can see what you need just the way you want in a layout that's visually clean," Panay said.

Recognizing the way people have been using their PCs during the pandemic to work during the day and for things like personal video calls and gaming at night, Microsoft is also introducing the concept of Desktops, which is similar to a feature common to Linux distributions. In that scenario, a user might have a work Desktop, and then can switch to a gaming desktop or a household management desktop.

Chat, SMS, Widgets
Connections are a major focus of the release, as well. The headline feature is called Chat from Microsoft Teams, which will integrate into the taskbar.

"Now you can instantly connect through text, chat, voice or video with all of your personal contacts, anywhere, no matter the platform or device they're on, across Windows, Android or iOS. If the person you're connecting to on the other end hasn't downloaded the Teams app, you can still connect with them via two-way SMS," Panay said.

Microsoft is creating some new real estate within Windows for itself and developers with a personalized feed called Widgets. Billed as a personalized feed, an example shown Thursday included Microsoft Edge-based information cards with weather, stocks, photos, news, calendar items, a to-do list and search box.

Microsoft Store with Android Apps
With Windows 11, Microsoft is also overhauling the Microsoft Store, with new terms for app developers that pose a challenge to Apple's current business model, and the ability for users to discover Android apps in the store and download through the Amazon Appstore.

Giorgio Sardo, general manager of the Microsoft Store, blogged that the Microsoft Commerce platform terms for revenue share will be 85/15 for apps and 88/12 for games. There will also be a way for developers to keep 100 percent of their revenue, he said: "Starting July 28, app developers will also have an option to bring their own or a third party commerce platform in their apps, and if they do so they don't need to pay Microsoft any fee."

The Amazon partnership was a surprise move that will expand the reach of Android developers, while opening Windows users up to a broad range of new apps.

"Today we offer a broad selection of mobile apps in our Amazon Appstore, available across Fire TV, Fire Tablets and Android devices that our customers use and enjoy every day," said Palanidaran Chidambaram, director of the Amazon Appstore and Cross-Screen Technology, in a statement. "With this announcement, Amazon Appstore developers will now have the opportunity to make their Android apps available to hundreds of millions of Windows customers."

What's In It for IT
For IT departments, Microsoft is aiming to make Windows 11 management very similar to Windows 10's, while reducing the frequency of updates.

"Upgrading to Windows 11 is similar to taking a Windows 10 feature update," said Wangui McKelvey, general manager of Microsoft 365, in a blog post. Common Windows 10 management experiences, including Microsoft Endpoint Manager, cloud configuration, Windows Update for Business and Autopilot, will support Windows 11.

McKelvey also acknowledged that many IT pros felt the update cadence of Windows 10 was too fast. "We've also heard from many of you that an annual update works best for you, and a simplified servicing plan makes it easier to deploy. So, Windows 11 will be updated annually with 24 months of support for Home or Pro editions, and 36 months of support for Enterprise and Education editions," McKelvey said.

Microsoft will continue the App Assure service for Windows 11 that it offered for Windows 10. Under that app compatibility program, Microsoft helps customers with 150 or more users fix app issues when upgrading.

Zero Trust will be a big theme with Windows 11. "Key security features like hardware-based isolation, encryption, and malware prevention are turned on by default. We have also made going passwordless easier by simplifying the steps to deploy Windows Hello for Business. And all these components work together in the background to keep users safe without sacrificing quality, performance, or experience," said McKelvey, adding that security baselines are also being raised in hardware in cooperation with manufacturer and silicon partners.

Gaming Is a Focus
A number of features in the new release are intended to improve the gaming experience. Those include Auto HDR for a wider range of brightness values and colors, DirectStorage for faster game load times for users with specific hardware and a built-in Xbox app.

How Upgrades Will Work
When it was released six years ago, Windows 10 marked a new delivery model for Windows with Microsoft providing regular updates that improved stability and security and added features without putting users on an upgrade cycle that required them to buy a new release every few years. It wasn't previously clear if Microsoft would ever deliver a major new launch of the operating system.

The approach has been successful for Microsoft, with Windows 10 becoming Microsoft's most-used OS in early 2018 and surpassing 1.3 billion users worldwide earlier this year.

Microsoft will maintain the free upgrade policy for Windows 11 to an extent. The company said the upgrade to Windows 11 will be free, but only for PCs that are running the most current version of Windows 10. Microsoft is also only committing to providing the free offer for one year after general availability.

On the enterprise side, McKelvey's blog noted that "organizations can move eligible PCs directly to Windows 11 using Windows Update for Business if they are running any supported version of Windows 10, which is Windows 10 Enterprise, version 1909 or higher, or Windows 10 Pro version 20H1 or higher."

Not all PCs that can run Windows 10 will be able to handle Windows 11. Minimum requirements include a 1GHz compatible 64-bit processor with two or more cores or System on a Chip; 4GB of RAM; a 64GB storage device; Trusted Platform Module 2.0; and other requirements. Additionally, many Windows 11 features will only be supported with specialized hardware, such as 5G modems, HDR monitors, USB flash drives, SSDs, cameras, microphones and speakers.

PC manufacturers and retailers are starting to label new PCs as being ready for Windows 11. For current systems, Microsoft plans to roll out the OS upgrade in stages starting later this year and continuing into 2022 based on testing and validation for different models.

For those systems that can't be upgraded, or users and organizations that don't want to upgrade, Windows 10 will have a support deadline of Oct. 14, 2025.

Insider Preview Coming Next Week
The first Insider Preview build of Windows 11 will be available next week. However, company spokesman Frank X. Shaw noted that many of the features demonstrated on Thursday will not be included in that initial build.

Posted by Scott Bekker on 06/24/2021 at 12:36 PM


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