Windows 11 is Microsoft’s latest operating system, preceded by Windows 10. With Windows 10 set to be discontinued in 2025, it’s clear that something needed to take its place. Available since October 2021, this version of Windows offers a new Start menu, adds a widget taskbar, and changes the overall user interface.

Windows 11 Start menu

When Was Windows 11 Released?

Windows 11 was officially announced on June 24, 2021. The beta version arrived soon after in July, and the full public release became available October 5, 2021.

Windows 11 can be used on older devices through a software update, and newer devices that ship with the OS preinstalled. If your device isn’t eligible for the upgrade, the quickest way to get it is to buy a new device. Some devices that were first to run Windows 11 include Microsoft’s Surface Pro 8 and Surface Go 3.

Windows 10 has largely been considered the last major version of Windows, where it’s treated more as a service that updates continually. But with Windows 10 officially losing support in 2025, Windows 11 is available as an optional free upgrade—here’s how to update from Windows 10 to Windows 11.

Microsoft has been offering eligible Windows 10 devices the Windows 11 upgrade since it was first available. Another option is to download the Windows 11 ISO image or use Microsoft’s Installation Assistant to force the update.

You can also buy it on a USB drive—Windows 11 Home USB and Windows 11 Pro USB are available on Amazon, or through Microsoft’s website if you need a new license: Windows 11 Home download and Windows 11 Pro download.

How to Install Windows 11 Windows 11 update alert in Windows 10

Windows 11 Features

Major OS updates bring big changes. This isn't to say Windows 10 hasn't seen improvements over the years, but a major update like Windows 11 wouldn't be considered major without some significant changes.

Beyond small adjustments, like rounded corners, the ability to delete preinstalled apps, and new icons, are these bigger ideas:

  • Updated taskbar: It’s clear that Windows 11 is changing a lot when it comes to visuals, with the taskbar being the primary focus. This means big UI changes, windows with rounded corners, an updated Start menu, and buttons in the middle of the taskbar.
  • New Start menu: The Start menu has been overhauled. The upper portion of this menu shows a search bar and pinned apps, with a link for easy access to all your installed apps, and will soon let you create folders for better organization. The lower part has recommended files, folders, and apps based on your usage habits. Sign out, lock, shutdown, and other related actions are accessible here as well.
  • Battery stats: If you find it helpful to see battery usage statistics on your phone, you’ll enjoy the same on your Windows 11 computer. You can trigger battery saver mode automatically when your battery drops below a threshold, and see usage stats from the last seven days and 24 hours.
  • Modern Menu Interfaces: The upper portion of File Explorer is updated in Windows 11 to favor buttons rather than the traditional File and Home menu items seen in Windows 10. There’s also a more sophisticated right-click menu when you look for more options on folders and files.
  • Flexible Store app: There have been reports that rules will be relaxed to allow developers to submit any app to the Microsoft Store. This could include apps that connect to a third-party commerce platform and apps that update via their own CDN.
  • Smart video meeting features: As described by TechRadar, Windows 11 is coming out with Voice Focus, Eye Contact, Automatic Framing, and Portrait Background Blur to improve video calls.
  • Android app support: Windows can already run Android apps through third-party emulation software, but now that native support is arriving with this OS, you’ll be able to get Android apps in Windows 11.

More Windows 11 Features to Know About

Beyond new features are several changes that take place after upgrading to Windows 11. They’re all listed on Microsoft’s feature deprecations and removals page, but here are a few:

  • Cortana: Won't be pinned to the taskbar or included in the first boot experience.
  • Internet Explorer: The browser is disabled, with Edge taking its place.
  • S Mode: Only available for Windows 11 Home edition.
  • Tablet Mode: This mode is removed, and new functionality and capability is included for keyboard attach and detach postures.
  • Apps: These apps remain during an upgrade to Windows 11, but won't be auto-installed during a clean install: 3D Viewer, OneNote, Paint 3D, Skype.

Below are some screenshots of the interface, taken from Windows 11 Pro. You can see that there's a completely new center-focused taskbar with a newly designed Start menu, widgets menu, updated File Explorer and Control Panel icons, Microsoft Store, search tool, Settings, and a refreshed setup procedure.

Windows 11 widgets menu Windows 11 Start menu Windows 11 File Explorer Windows 11 Control Panel Microsoft Store preview on Windows 11 Windows 11 Search Windows 11 Settings Windows 11 Pro setup screen

Windows 11 System Requirements

Listed below are the basic requirements for installing Windows 11. See Microsoft’s feature-specific requirements for Windows 11 for even more necessities that your computer must have should you want specific features.

Windows 11 Basic System Requirements
Processor: 1 GHz+; 2 or more cores; 64-bit processor or SoC
Storage: 64 GB or larger
System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable
TPM: Trusted Platform Module version 2.0
Graphics card: DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
Display: HD (720p) display greater than 9" diagonally, 8 bits per color channel

The PC Health Check app can tell you if your computer is eligible for the upgrade. Install, and then run that program, to be given a simple yes or no answer.

How to Fix It When a PC Can't Run Windows 11 PC Health Check Windows 11 compatibility check

The Latest News About Windows 11

You can get more computer-related news from Lifewire; below are early rumors and other stories about the latest major version of Windows:

New Windows 11 Update Finally Adds Better Touch Gestures and More Microsoft Will Support Third-party Windows 11 Widgets Later This Year You Can Now Buy a Physical Copy of Windows 11 Windows 11 Wants to Save You From Phishing Attacks Windows 11 Gets Its First Android Apps Windows 11 Is Now Available for Some Users