Windows 11 will be a free update to existing PCs — here’s what’s coming this fall

Microsoft just finished up its latest launch event and, with it, introduced the world to Windows 11. While Windows 10 was meant to be a long-term evolution of the company’s desktop operating system, it’s time to leave that behind in favor of an all-new Windows 11. With this update, which will be free for users to install this fall, you’ll find new designs, features, and even app stores to utilize on your desktop. There’s quite a bit to unpack here, so let’s dive in below.

Windows 11 overhauls its UI, making things simpler and easier to use, even on tablets

Windows 11 is here, and Microsoft is taking a more simple approach to its desktop-based operating system’s UI. You’ll notice that all around, Windows 11 is softer, more rounded, and just easier to look at. Windows 8 — and then 10 — kind of went away from the bubbly design of Windows 7 for a more boxy look, which didn’t bode well overall with end-users after a few years. The UI overhaul didn’t stop with making things softer, as Microsoft wanted to make things easier to use.

The taskbar is now center-aligned, which is something I’ve personally wanted for quite some time. It reminds me of a Mac but, at the same time, is quite different. The Start Menu also pops up from the center with a new look, this time being completely redesigned from what Windows 10 introduced. You’ll find your pinned apps at the top, recommended files below, and a search bar for quickly finding things that aren’t in either group. I like this simple approach that doesn’t take over your entire desktop but still offers more information than Apple’s Spotlight Search function.

For touch-based computers, Microsoft also overhauled how Windows 11 functions. Task Bar icons are now slightly further apart, tap targets are larger, and when windows are snapped, they realign with ease when you rotate. This makes for a seamless transition between mouse-based and touch-based workflows. The improvements didn’t stop there, either, as Microsoft also made changes to how docked computers work.

As someone who works from a docked laptop with multiple displays, unplugging can sometimes be chaotic as open windows just kind of go everywhere. Microsoft fixed this in Windows 11, as the OS now minimizes your open programs to the taskbar when you unplug. Another thing that happens is when you dock again, the windows that were open on the monitor previously re-open exactly how they were, helping you to get back to work quickly.

Snap Groups are a work-from-home dream, here’s what they do

Another area that Microsoft improved Windows 11 is the introduction of something called Snap Groups. These are groups of apps in specific arrangements that can be minimized and maximized together. Essentially, imagine having one Task Bar button for work apps and another for gaming, and they all minimize and maximize together. This is something that I didn’t know I wanted but now I need. As someone who uses the same computers for both work and play, having the ability to only minimize/maximize certain apps and retain how they look in relation to others could become a crucial part of my workflow.

Windows 11 delivers the “best PC gaming experience yet”

Microsoft is all-in on gaming with Windows 10. It’s a central part of the Windows experience, and Windows 11 “unlocks the full potential of your system’s hardware.” You’ll find DirectX 12 Ultimate built-in, which “can enable breathtaking, immersive graphics at high frame rates.” DirectStorage is also included, which lets games load faster and offer a more detailed experience. Perhaps the best gaming features come from Auto HDR, which was first released on the Xbox Series X|S hardware. This allows your computer to automatically enable and disable HDR, so that way you have a “truly captivating visual experience” with little to no configuration required.

How to install the FREE Windows 11 upgrade

Windows 11 will be a free upgrade to existing computers, though there are possibly some hardware limitations. Microsoft has a “PC Health Check” app that will allow you to see if your machine will be eligible for the upgrade, which is coming this fall. Of course, developers who want to give it a test early can do so through the Windows Insider Program, but we want to warn you that this is likely alpha- or beta-grade software, and bugs are almost certain to be present.

9to5Toys’ take

I’m excited for Windows 11. While I use macOS as my main operating system for work, I do use Windows 10 daily for gaming and other tasks at home. Windows 11 offers many quality of life improvements that I both wanted and didn’t know I needed. I’ll likely be installing the developer preview on one of my desktops to play around with, just to see what Windows 11 is all about. I’m also looking forward to the overhauled app store, as well as the fact I’ll be able to run native Android apps within Windows 11. Will you be installing the Insider Program version or waiting for the official release this fall? We’d love to hear from you, so sound off in the comments below or over on Twitter.

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