Windows 11 arrives next week, ushering in a new era for Microsoft’s desktop operating system. What we once suspected would be a transformative update to Windows 10 will instead mark the debut of an entirely new OS version. Where Windows 10 undid some of the mistakes of Windows 8 by reverting to a more familiar layout, the goal of Windows 11 is to modernize, simplify and introduce new features meant to make you more productive.
Microsoft has only teased Windows 11 thus far, but a major leak of an early build of the upcoming OS gave us a glimpse at the new interface and some new features. These are all subject to change, but what we’ve seen so far is likely representative of the final product. There are important details we don’t know just yet, including how Microsoft plans to roll out Windows 11.
So far, Windows 11 appears to be a gorgeous remodel of Windows 10 and a breath of fresh air away from the antiquated interfaces found in the world’s most popular laptop OS. We will learn more about Windows 11 on June 24 when Microsoft officially debuts the latest OS version. We’ll get you ready for that event with a breakdown of everything we do and don’t know about Windows 11.
Windows 11: What is it?
We’ve long known that Microsoft was preparing a major update to its desktop operating system. Called Sun Valley, this revamp was expected to be an overhaul of Windows 10, which one Microsoft exec had called the “last version of Windows.” We now know better.
Windows 10 will eventually be phased out in favor of Windows 11, which Microsoft will officially reveal on June 24. The latest reports suggest Windows 11 will be a free update for users of Windows 10, Windows 8 and Windows 7. Microsoft ran a similar program with Windows 10, giving Windows 8 and 7 users a window to upgrade for free.
What happens to Windows 10?
Microsoft will eventually phase out Windows 10 by dropping support. As it stands, Windows 10 will stop receiving support on October 14, 2025. That gives Windows 10 users roughly 4 years before they are strongly encouraged to transition to Windows 11.
As is written in Microsoft’s support document: “Microsoft will continue to support at least one Windows 10 Semi-Annual Channel until October 14, 2025.”
When the clock strikes midnight on October 14, 2025, Windows 10 will stop receiving crucial updates including security patches. If this date holds, Windows 10 will be just over 10 years old when it is retired. It’s possible Microsoft chooses to or is forced to extend the life of Windows 10 if users don’t adopt Windows 11 or if the new operating system has problems four years in.
Windows 11 Taskbar and Start Menu
Based on screenshots from the leaked Windows 11 build, the OS will introduce a radically new Start Menu and Taskbar. Already controversial, the new Taskbar and Start Menu are among the most exciting UI changes debuting in Windows 10.
Instead of being left-aligned, the new Taskbar features icons centered at the bottom of your screen, not unlike macOS. Pressing on the Start Menu (a modernized blue Microsoft logo) presents a floating window displaying pinned and recommended apps as well as the restart/shut down button. A small icon in the top-right corner takes you to your full app list.
Icons in the Start Menu were also given a makeover. Instead of dynamic Live Tiles, colorful app icons sit atop a uniform transparent background. It gives the operating system a more cohesive look instead of a disjointed amalgamation of recycled parts.
Hello there, meet Small and Large Windows 11 taskbar 😊 pic.twitter.com/eoo5jchO0qJune 16, 2021
Next to the Start Menu is a search icon which is very similar to the current Windows 10 tool except, again, it’s floating. Here, you can run a system-wide search for documents, apps, documents and more. Next to those mainstays are your pinned apps (which could include a new File Explorer). Oh, and if you don’t like the center alignment, you can easily move it to the left.
The Action Center icon remains on the bottom-right corner as is the system tray where you can pin tools for quick access. Minor updates were made to the Action Center; there is a larger brightness slider and reshaped buttons.
Windows 11 Design and animations
On to another 90-degree turnaround. Windows 11 will swap sharp corners for rounded ones that adhere more closely with Microsoft’s Fluent Design language. This gives the OS a softer, less aggressive aesthetic. This is another design choice that won’t be embraced by all users (macOS Big Sur showed as much), but to us, it gives Windows 11 a modern, welcoming appearance.
App snapping / window resizing is so smooooooth on Windows 11 pic.twitter.com/MNtZLKLbE0June 17, 2021
Animations are also different from what we see on Windows 10. For example, when you minimize a window, it appears to shrink into the centered start menu. When you maximize, a transparent outline appears before the window expands.
Built directly into the maximum buttons in Windows is the ability to snap programs to different parts of the screen. When you press the maximum button, a new icon appears showing six different layouts for using multiple windows at once.
Windows 11 also includes a new snap feature built into the maximize button on all apps. It’s a neat way to surface features that have existed in Windows for years https://t.co/VDS08QPsl5 pic.twitter.com/uXcwVngmTTJune 15, 2021
You can put your current window side-by-side with another or even two other apps or you can have one take up the left half of the screen and the other two stacked on the other half. It’s an excellent new feature that should make it easier to multitask.
Pinned to the Taskbar by default next to the Start Menu is a new Widgets panel that presents news, weather and other customizable information like sports scores and stock prices. The panel appears on the left side of the screen when you select the widget icon. This essentially replaces the News and Interest card Microsoft brought to Windows 10 in April.
Pressing on any of these cards will take you to the source of the info. For example, selecting the score of the San Francisco Giants game will take you to MLB.com, or a news article about politics might direct you to the New York Times. Everyone will have a unique experience with the updated taskbar as it shows personalized information. Each of the cards can be adjusted so the weather can be shown as an icon with text or as an icon only (so it takes up less space).
Windows 11 icons, wallpapers, Dark mode and sounds
Windows 11 will feature new icons and wallpapers, features we’ve previously reported on. Microsoft had already revealed its intention to modernize legacy icons and have already swapped some old with new ones. We don’t love all of the new avatars, many of which are simplified versions of older images, but they are at least high-res and colorful.
The wallpapers, on the other hand, are undeniably stunning. We did a deep dive looking at each new wallpaper and there isn’t one the Laptop Mag staff doesn’t like except maybe the one that reminds of Pringles. These wallpapers are grouped into themes that change the accent color of the entire OS and switch between a stack of backgrounds.
Light mode is enabled by default but a Dark Mode is also available and accessible in the same way as is it in Windows 10. You can still change your theme to adjust accent colors. Finally, Windows 11 will introduce new sounds including a relaxing new start up charm.
Control Panel, File Explorer and Windows Store
Cue sad trumpet music. The Control Panel looks unchanged in the leaked early builds of Windows 11; we hope Microsoft has some tricks under its sleeve when the final OS is revealed because, as it stands, the Control Panel looks ancient, and more out of place than ever before. The File Explorer, where your documents, photos, videos, and downloads are stored also looks identical to the Windows 10 version though it’s assisted by those refreshed icons.
Control panel stays in Windows 11 pic.twitter.com/s6JhDXwV0MJune 16, 2021
We know the Windows Store is being replaced or getting a significant update in the near future, however, we haven’t yet seen how that might look. A crucial element to the revamped app store will be a new monetization system for developers to earn more money from their apps. Also encouraging developers to bring their apps to the Store is Microsoft letting devs submit unpackaged Win32 apps, host apps and updates on their own networks, and use third-party commerce platforms within apps.
Windows 11 is poised to be the next-gen OS Windows users have demanded, and frankly, deserve. Now 5 years old, Windows 10 is getting long in the tooth having received a trickle of new features and design updates over the years. As much as Windows has improved in its lifetime, Microsoft’s OS has a long way to go. Unstable updates have left a bitter taste in users’ mouths while a fragmented UI lags behind modern web standards.
With Windows 11, Microsoft has a chance to start over by delivering a fluid operating system that performs well even on budget hardware. Modernizing the layout, adding new quality of life features, and promising significant (and stable!) updates can reverse the adoption of alternative operating systems and grow its market share. Microsoft showed last year that it could create contemporary, compromise-free software with the new Edge browser. If it does the same with Windows 11, then Google and Apple should be worried.