Everything to know about Microsoft’s new Windows 11 software
A new version of Microsoft Windows is coming this holiday season.
Microsoft presented the new software, Windows 11, during an online event on Thursday. The update represents a major overhaul of its flagship operating system for personal computers.
While Microsoft’s fortunes increasingly hinge on its cloud computing business, Azure, Windows remains a crucial product for the tech giant. Windows accounts for a sizable chunk of the $48.3 billion in revenue—a third of the total—that Microsoft’s personal computing business unit brought in over its most recent fiscal year.
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Microsoft used its public unveiling of Windows 11 as a way to distinguish itself from rivals such as Apple, Google, and Facebook, which are all facing intense scrutiny from regulators about anti-competitive business practices, among other issues. Several of the new Windows features make the system more compatible with competing services. That cooperative strategy, set by CEO Satya Nadella, is a departure from the go-it-alone approach pursued by his predecessors, Steve Ballmer and founder Bill Gates.
“Today, the world needs a more open platform, one that allows apps to become platforms in their own right,” Nadella said. Still, some of Microsoft’s new Windows 11 features, particularly those involving its Teams work-chat app, could be perceived as being anti-competitive, especially by rivals like Slack. There is a limit to Microsoft’s self-professed magnanimity.
Read on for a rundown of some of the biggest Windows 11 announcements.
Windows 11 gets a makeover
The most immediately noticeable changes are cosmetic. The revamped Windows now displays the “start” button—the primary way Windows users open apps and interact with the system—at the bottom center of the screen, instead of the bottom left. Microsoft’s chief product officer, Panos Panay, said that doing so, “puts you at the center,” making it easier for users to launch apps and get to work more quickly.
Microsoft took cues from the competition. Windows apps now have rounded corners, a design aesthetic that follows Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android software. People will also be able to use the new Snap Layout feature to run multiple apps at the same time. They can be displayed on the screen in different combinations: Two apps can appear side by side, or four apps can be laid out in a square-like grid, for example.
Microsoft’s memory is getting better with age. People who connect their laptops to external monitors have a new Windows 11 feature intended to help them work more efficiently. When they undock their laptops from their monitors and then eventually reconnect their computers, Windows 11 will remember how all their apps were laid out on the external monitors so they can more easily pick up where they left off.
What’s this about widgets?
Windows 11 debuts “widgets,” informational slide-displays that let users to quickly view snapshots of their online calendars, weather and traffic conditions, and to-do lists. People can resize their widgets or change their locations on the screen.
The widgets are imbued with smarts. They can send users a stream of news stories in a personalized feed. Microsoft’s Panay said the tech was “powered by A.I.,” implying that people may receive local news stories based on their location, among other factors. It’s unclear which news sources and publishers will be included.
Microsoft Teams gets some Windows love
Microsoft’s Teams is getting a boost. The Zoom-rivaling app, which lets people chat or make video calls, will now come embedded into Windows.
“Now, you can connect with one touch, the icon, front and center on the taskbar,” Panay said of the pre-installation.
The service works across different device types. People will be able to chat on Teams with people who use Apple’s iOS devices, like the iPhone, or Android users, Panay said, underscoring Microsoft’s attempt to make its products more interoperable with competitors’ products.
Microsoft’s decision to pre-load Teams into Windows will likely cause rivals consternation. Slack previously accused Microsoft in Europe of anti-competitive behavior, particular for Microsoft’s decision to bundle Teams into its Office suite of business software. Slack said Microsoft was “reverting to past behavior,” such as when it bundled its Internet Explorer browser into Windows—a move that triggered a major antitrust case in the ’90s.
In a statement to Fortune in response to Microsoft’s latest Teams announcement, Slack criticized the company for not being “open.”
“Our reaction is simple: choice is better than lock-in, open is better than closed, and fair competition is best of all,” a Slack spokesperson said. “Unfortunately, Microsoft has never seen it that way.”
Microsoft talks a big game about an open app store
Microsoft’s Windows app store is getting a makeover as part of the Windows 11 update too.
Developers who create Windows apps that generate sales “will keep 100% of your revenue,” Panay said. The apparent generosity—a bid to attract more developers to its platform—contrasts with the controversial policies of competing app stores by Apple and Google.
Unlike Microsoft Windows’ no-fee offer, Apple takes up to a 30%—and sometimes 15%—cut of transactions from third-party apps distributed via its iOS marketplace. Google reduced its 30% commission fee to 15% for all Android apps that generate sales. “We keep zero,” Panay said.
The Windows store will also include Android apps. The compatibility is made possible with help from the Amazon App store and Intel technology, Panay said. It’s a big deal because Windows users will now be able to access Android apps, like TikTok, and integrate them into the Windows taskbar, he said.
“We love that the Microsoft Store continues to be more open, inviting our developers in, inviting more apps into the store, inviting you as our customers to use any app that you love,” Panay said.
Microsoft wants Windows to be fun and games
Teams isn’t the only service getting the pre-install treatment. Microsoft’s video game subscription service, Xbox game pass, will now be “built right into Windows 11,” said Sarah Bond, Microsoft’s corporate vice president.
Microsoft recently said that it planned to make it easier for people to play Xbox video games from third-party televisions without needing to own new Xbox hardware. The company’s video game consoles are currently in limited supply due to shortages across the semiconductor market.
Another feature Microsoft is debuting, auto HDR, aims to improve the visual quality of games played on Windows 11. Video games will also be able load faster thanks to “direct storage,” yet another feature Microsoft developed for its Xbox consoles, Bond said.
Direct storage uses a computer’s graphics card to “quickly load assets” from video games, thereby reducing the load on a computer’s central processing unit, Bond said. It’s unclear how this direct storage feature will function if a person’s laptop doesn’t contain a graphics processing unit, or GPU.
Update, June 24, 2021: This article has been updated with a comment from Slack.
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