Microsoft promises a more open future with Windows 11

Redesigned operating system to have cleaner Start menu and enable use of Android apps

Undated image issued by Microsoft of the new Windows 11 start screen. Microsoft has officially unveiled the next version of Windows, hailing its new, simpler design as helping bring users "closer to the things they love". Issue date: Thursday June 24, 2021. PA Photo. Windows 11 has been given a complete redesign compared to previous generations with new app icons, more translucent windows and a simpler Start menu Ð now moved to the centre of the screen. See PA story TECHNOLOGY Windows. Photo credit should read: Microsoft/PA WireNOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Undated image issued by Microsoft of the new Windows 11 start screen. Microsoft has officially unveiled the next version of Windows, hailing its new, simpler design as helping bring users "closer to the things they love". Issue date: Thursday June 24, 2021. PA Photo. Windows 11 has been given a complete redesign compared to previous generations with new app icons, more translucent windows and a simpler Start menu Ð now moved to the centre of the screen. See PA story TECHNOLOGY Windows. Photo credit should read: Microsoft/PA WireNOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

 

Windows 10’s days are numbered. At a virtual event on Thursday last, Microsoft showed off its vision of the future for its operating system. Windows 11 will be a more open platform, Microsoft promised, and a simpler one too.

It hasn’t been an easy few years for Windows. Although the operating system still has a sizable market share, it has had its fair share of struggles. First there was Windows 8, which was meant to be Microsoft’s revolutionary new approach to the desktop, mixing the touch interface and the more traditional desktop. But it was met with mixed opinions, forcing an earlier launch of Windows 10.

Meanwhile, the company has been battling competition from Apple with its iPads, and ceded some ground to Google’s Chromebooks during lockdown, when cheaper, easy-to-manage devices were appealing to parents faced with multiple children who were learning from home.

But still, Microsoft has held its own. In the PC and laptop market, research firm IDC puts its market share at greater than 80 per cent, and it remains strong in the corporate market.

There are about a billion Windows 10 devices in the wild, giving Microsoft a decent presence in the market.

Windows 11 is expected to land later in the year, around October, and is aiming to take over from its predecessor as quickly as possible.

What’s new?

The new version of Windows will play to some of the strengths of its rivals. Both Apple and Samsung have made much of the integration between their respective mobile devices and their desktops; Microsoft, it seems, is going for everything.

While there has been a lot of talk about the visual changes to Windows 11 - it moves the Start menu from the corner to the centre, rounds out the edges and generally cleans it up a little – Microsoft has paid attention to what works and what doesn’t.

Gone are the Live tiles, in favour of a cleaner Start menu, more similar to the launcher in Google’s Chrome.

Microsoft has also taken a leaf out of Google’s book with regards to updates. The intrusive security updates will be a thing of the past, with Microsoft promising updates that are 40 per cent smaller and that will run in the background.

The biggest change will be the introduction of Android apps to the Windows ecosystem. At the launch event, Microsoft demonstrated TikTok and other Android apps running alongside Windows apps on Windows 11, using Intel Bridge technology. Expect more on this in the coming months.

Windows 11 also brings widgets that not only allow content creators to highlight their products, but will also facilitate tipping, opening up new streams of revenue to publishers.

“Think about the size and scale of the Windows platform and the opportunity to open up to local content creators and global brands alike,” Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay said at the virtual unveiling. “It’s good for creators, it’s good for consumers. We are just at the beginning of opening up new real estate within Windows.”

There is also a move towards tighter integration for certain Microsoft features, such as Xbox and Game Pass, echoing moves from Apple that has linked its various services throughout its mobile and desktop platforms.

But in some respects, Microsoft is still willing to strike out away from the competition. The company is to allow its Windows store developers to keep their revenue, using their own payments systems instead of using Microsoft Commerce and paying 15 per cent of the revenue to the company. Game developers will not have the same option, but will share only 12 per cent of revenue.

“Windows has always stood for sovereignty for creators and agency for consumers,” said Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive.

It’s an important move at a time when the relationships between app stores and developers are in the spotlight. Apple is currently fighting a court battle with games developer Epic over its charging of commission on in-app transactions, which ranges from 15 per cent to 30 per cent. Apple does not currently allow other methods of payment inside apps on its system.

Google, meanwhile, may be facing legal action in the US over its requirement that some apps use the company’s payment tools to sell subscriptions and content and pay Google as much as 30 per cent of sales.The lawsuit may be brought by a group of state attorneys general, accusing the company of violating antitrust law.

Epic Games has also filed legal action against Google, accusing it of having anticompetitive app-store rules. It is expected to go to trial in 2022.

“I believe this will be problematic for Apple in its antitrust dealings,” said tech analyst Patrick Moorhead. “Apple charging 30 per cent in its store and Microsoft charging 0 per cent and 15 per cent if you use its commerce engine. Global antitrust units are currently scrutinising Apple on this very point.”

The future of Skype

With a nod towards the current shift towards hybrid working, Windows 11 also includes a number of features to ease the way. That includes little things such the ability to mute the microphone across all apps via the taskbar, to more complex things such as snap guides that allows users to snap windows into certain modes and groups, helping out those who use more than one monitor on a regular basis. Windows 11 will also include the ability to more seamlessly undock a computer connected to an external monitor to take a call in a quieter room and then return to the docking station afterward.

Microsoft may be setting itself up for a battle in the remote work field too. The company launched Teams in 2017, setting itself up as a competitor to upstart Slack. Four years on, the software is now an integral part of remote working and home learning for many people, built into Office 365.

But Windows 11 is set to integrate that even further – and Microsoft’s own software may be the loser on that front.

When Microsoft bought Skype 10 years ago, it was an $8.5 billion purchase that was expected to add to the tech giant’s telephony services. Skype brought millions of paying customers to the table, an attractive option for the Redmond giant.

But in recent years the software has fallen off in popularity as rivals gain ground, from WhatsApp and FaceTime to Duo and Zoom.

The new version of Windows will integrate Teams chat software directly into the operating system, even for the consumer version of the software. That could cause conflict with Slack, which has filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft in the European Union.

But love it or loathe it, Teams is here to stay. And the company recently announced a number of new features for the software that would make it easier to use and more suitable as a collaboration tool.

How do I get it?

The good news for consumers is that for many of us it will be a free upgrade. The majority of computers running Windows 10 should be capable of running Windows 11 too. Microsoft had released a tool that will check your system to see if it is compatible with the new software, the PC Health Check app, but as of the time of writing, it had been removed after causing some confusion.

“The intention of today’s post is to acknowledge and clarify the confusion caused by our PC Health Check tool, share more details as to why we updated the system requirements for Windows 11 and set the path for how we will learn and adjust,” Microsoft wrote in a blog post.

“PC Health Check app was intended to help people check if their current Windows 10 PC could upgrade to Windows 11. Based on the feedback so far, we acknowledge that it was not fully prepared to share the level of detail or accuracy you expected from us on why a Windows 10 PC doesn’t meet upgrade requirements.”

So it’s a bit up in the air. The PC Health Check app will be back in a few weeks, ahead of the software’s autumn launch.

But on paper at least,the requirements have been laid out. You’ll need a compatible chip – Intel eighth-generation chips and newer have been confirmed as compatible, along with AMD Zen 2, and Qualcomm 7 and 8 Series; Microsoft is investigating compatibility with Zen 1 and Intel seventh-generation devices. You’ll also need a minimum of 64GB of free space, at least 4GB of RAM and Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0, which is a secure chip.

Not every computer running Windows 10 will fulfil those requirements. Don’t panic though; you don’t have to rush out and upgrade your computer straight away. Windows 10 will continue to be supported until 2025, when it will be a decade old.