Windows 11 is here – so what do you need to know?

Microsoft’s shiny new operating system is free, but may not run on your old machine

Windows 11 is officially available and ready to download – but you may have to wait your turn. Microsoft’s shiny new operating system was officially launched on October 5th, becoming available in countries as the clock ticked over to midnight in different time zones.

As you might expect, Microsoft is quite excited about the whole thing.

"Windows is a driving force for innovation. It's an enduring platform for each one of us to create," said Panos Panay, chief product officer for Windows and devices in a blog announcing the availability of the new operating system.

“We’re pumped to be launching Windows 11; the entire user experience brings you closer to what you love, empowers you to produce and inspires you to create. Windows 11 provides a sense of calm and openness. It gives you a place that feels like home. It’s secure and everything is designed to be centred around you.”


Big talk for what some have considered a non-essential upgrade. But it has been six years since Windows 10 rolled out to the masses, the first time that Microsoft had offered a free upgrade of its operating system. Users on Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 could install Windows 10 free of charge – provided their machines could support it. According to Microsoft, it has shipped 1.3 billion Windows 10 devices in five years.

Things have changed considerably in the years since Windows 10 was released, and the new operating system reflects that. What you’ll get with Windows 11 is a fresh coat of paint, some gaming-focused performance enhancements and improved multitasking capabilities, among others.

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 – something that isn’t available at launch but is coming down the track.

Should I upgrade now?
It's not imperative that you upgrade your system to Windows in the next couple of weeks, or even months. Your old Windows 10 devices will still work. According to Microsoft's own lifecycle website, Windows 10 Home, Pro and Enterprise editions will continue to be supported by Microsoft until October 2025; your device will get essential security updates for another four years. For many people, that's about the time to upgrade to a newer device, one that will come with Windows 11 already installed.

Regardless, once Microsoft withdraws support – a full 10 years after Windows 10 launched – it is a good idea to upgrade your system or the laptop if necessary to make sure your computer stays secure.

There is something to be said for waiting a few weeks or months to see if there are any issues with the upgrade. As with any new software, bugs could emerge and require an update to sort out; perhaps it’s best to let the early adopters be the ones to suffer through those, leaving the rest of us to jump on board when things are running smoothly.

That may not be a choice you have anyway, though, as Microsoft is rolling out the update in its own way – and the words “measured and phased” have been used.

If you aren’t seeing a notification that you have a Windows update available, you may have to wait a few weeks to get to the top of the queue. Microsoft said it would offer the upgrade to eligible new devices before pushing it out through the Windows update service.

“Over time, we will make Windows 11 available to existing (in-market) devices based on hardware eligibility, reliability metrics and other factors that impact the upgrade experience,” said John Cable, vice-president of programme management, Windows servicing and delivery.

“We expect all eligible Windows 10 devices to be offered the upgrade to Windows 11 by mid-2022.”

That key phrase there is “all eligible Windows 10 devices”. Because not all devices that support Windows 10 will be capable of running Windows 11.

If you are buying a new PC, it will more than likely come with Windows 11 already installed. Microsoft has a range of its own devices that were built to run the new operating system, from the Surface Pro 8 and the Surface Go 3 to the updates to the new Surface Studio laptop. Other computer makers such as HP and Dell have also got Windows 11 devices ready to go. They all cost money, however, and could be out of the price range of many potential Windows 11 users.

What about my existing laptop?
Many people found themselves investing in new technology in a hurry as home working and home schooling was thrust upon us by the pandemic.

The good news is that your old Windows 10 machine may be capable of running Windows 11. Even better news: the update, like Windows 10 before it, will be free for many users. As long as you are running Windows 10 (and have updated to version 2004 or later) you’ll get the update free of charge.

However, not all machines will be capable of running the software well. To figure out which camp your device falls into, you’ll need to compare the minimum system requirements with your own machine.

So what are those system requirements?
To run Windows 11, you'll need a 1GHz or faster chip that has at least two cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or system on a chip. You'll also need at least 4GB of RAM, which is the bare minimum you'll see in many machines sold these days. The software requires 64GB of storage at a minimum, and the system needs to be capable of secure boot.

There are more requirements, around Trusted Platform Module, graphics cards and display.

If all that leaves you a bit baffled, you can download a tool from Microsoft to check if your PC is compatible with the updated operating system. The Windows PC Health Check app will scan your system and give you either the green light to download Windows 11, or tell you why your computer is not suitable for the new operating system.

You might be surprised about what fails the health check. My three-year-old Surface laptop doesn’t make the grade, because the Core i5 chip is unsuitable. Everything else gets the green light. But that doesn’t mean that it is incapable of running Windows 11. Microsoft has hard requirements and soft requirements, and the list of supported chips recognised by the Health Check app has a bit of wriggle room, apparently.

How do I get the update?
Before you run any update, it is a good idea to back up your important files – if you haven't already. It's unlikely that, if your PC meets all the requirements for Windows 11, the update will harm your system, but it is not worth taking the risk.

If your laptop or desktop meets the minimum hardware requirements, go to the Windows Update settings by selecting Settings >Update & Security >Windows Update, and check for updates there. Microsoft says it will become available here once your turn for upgrade has arrived – assuming your device is eligible.

But what if the update doesn't appear?
You can either wait, or you can go another route – although we should point out that Microsoft recommends that you wait until the upgrade is offered through the Windows Update channel. Proceed with caution on any other methods, as it could go wrong and you may not be able to recover your data if it does.

You can use the installation assistant to get the new software, but the assistant won’t allow you to install Windows 11 unless you alter your machine’s registry to allow it to bypass checks of the TPM or a supported processor. Microsoft provides instructions on how to modify the registry on this page (, but also slaps warnings all over it so consider what you’re getting into.

Another option is to create installation media on a USB key and install the operating system using that. A final option is to download a Windows 11 disk image to create a bootable installation media such as a USB stick or DVD, or create a virtual machine to install the new Windows software. See Microsoft's guide here for more details.

However, you may have to do the same manual install for any subsequent updates to the software as the Windows Update tool may not push the usual security and bug updates to your machine.

As for my Surface laptop, I took the risk and installed Windows 11. On paper it met the specs, despite the Health Check app and the Installation Assistant rejecting it. So far, it is still working perfectly.

And then all you have to do is get used to the new Windows 11 and the changes it brings. Including that decision to shift the Start button to the centre of the taskbar.