Microsoft made its newest operating system, Windows 11, publicly available on October 5, 2021 — a little over six years after Windows 10 debuted. Windows 11 offers several updates and new features, including a simpler design intended to increase productivity, ease of use and creativity, ways to connect to people faster, better PC gaming experiences, faster ways to get information you need, an all-new Microsoft Store, and a more open ecosystem that unlocks new opportunities for developers and other creators.
This Microsoft Windows 11 cheat sheet details the operating system’s main features, lists system requirements, explains how and when to get it, and more. We’ll update this Windows 11 guide as new information is released.
- What is Windows 11?
- What is the Windows 11 version timeline?
- What new features come with Windows 11?
- What new features come with Windows 11 22H2?
- What new features come with Windows 11 23H2?
- What do developers need to know about Windows 11?
- What are the system requirements for Windows 11?
- What are feature-specific requirements for Windows 11?
- Is Windows 11 free?
- Is Windows 11 worth it?
What is Windows 11?
Windows 11 is Microsoft’s newest major release of its operating system and the successor to Windows 10. The OS features an all-new simplified, yet modernized, interface designed to inspire productivity and creativity.
Windows 11 released
Microsoft Windows 11 is available as a general release to the public. Assuming your personal computer meets the prerequisite requirements including installation of Windows 10 1909 or later, you can upgrade to Windows 11 by navigating to the Update & Security settings screen.
Users may also take advantage of the Windows 11 Installation Assistant to bypass the Windows 10 Update & Security screen and upgrade to Windows 11 directly.
While the March 2022 Windows 11 Patch is not classified as a “feature update” to the operating system by Microsoft, the patch did contain a few unannounced features. For example, if you run Windows 11 with Widgets turned on, you will notice a new icon in the lower left corner of the desktop that provides a summary of your local weather conditions. Microsoft has also updated Notepad and rebranded the Groove media player.
In September 2023, Microsoft began rolling out a new Windows 11 update to eligible computers. Known as Windows 11 23H2, this latest major update adds new features, applications and security protocols to the operating system, including Windows Copilot, File Explorer enhancements, Windows backup app, taskbar improvements, new volume mixer, 7-Zip and RAR support and RGB peripheral customization.
SEE: Discover everything you need to know about Microsoft Copilot in this TechRepublic cheat sheet.
In September 2020, Microsoft began rolling out a new Windows 11 update to eligible computers. Known as Windows 11 22H2, this first major update added new features, applications and security protocols to the operating system, including hypervisor-protected code integrity security, sync status of OneDrive displayed in File Explorer, Windows Studio Effects, and streamlining changes for future Windows 11 updates and patches.
Pre-release updates of Windows 11
On July 29, 2021, a preview version of Windows 11 was available for review to members of the Windows Insider Beta Channel; before that date, preview versions of Windows 11 were only available to members of the Dev Channel. So to install Windows 11 Version 22000.100 or better on a valid Windows 10 PC, users needed to activate the Windows Insider Beta Channel on the Update & Security Settings screen in Windows 10 and then click the Check For Updates button.
SEE: Learn how to install Windows 11 on a virtual machine.
On August 23, 2021, Microsoft has released an ISO file for the Windows 11 Insiders Preview. Previously, users needed to upgrade Windows 10 to Windows 11 through Microsoft’s Windows Insider program. To download the Windows 11 ISO file, navigate to the Windows Insider Preview Downloads page, and sign in with your account.
What is the Windows 11 version timeline?
The original version of Windows 11 was released to the public in October 2021. This version, also referred to as version 21H2 and codenamed “Sun Valley,” was made available as a preview build to Windows Insiders in the development channel in June 2021. During its approximately one year of existence, Windows 11 version 21H2 was updated and patched over two dozen times.
The Windows 11 2022 Update, often referred to as 22H2 and codenamed “Sun Valley 2,” was the first major update to Windows 11. The first preview of version of Windows 11 22H2 was released to Windows Insiders in the Dev Channel on September 2, 2021. The update began rolling out to the public on September 20, 2022.
The Windows 11 2022 Update included several feature updates, improvements and enhancements. Since its release, Windows 11 22H2 has been patched and updated numerous times. The Windows 11 2022 Update is the most current version of the Microsoft operating system.
SEE: Check out these Windows 11 22H2 enterprise features you need to know.
The Windows 11 2023 Update, often referred to as 23H2, was released to the public on September 26, 2023. The 23H2 update will arrive to Microsoft Windows customers via the standard Windows update process. However, once the 23H2 update is released, you can force the update’s installation by downloading and running the Windows 11 Installation Assistant.
The Windows 11 2023 Update includes several feature updates, improvements and enhancements. When necessary, Windows 11 23H2 will be patched and updated for improvements and security. The Windows 11 2023 Update is the most current version of the Microsoft operating system.
What new features come with Windows 11?
New Start layout
In Windows 11, the newly centered Start button uses the cloud and Microsoft 365 to show recent files, no matter what platform or device they were being viewed on previously, including an Android or iOS device.
Snap Layouts, Snap Groups and Desktops
A new set of features to Microsoft Windows 11 will be the introduction of Snap Layouts, Snap Groups and Desktops. These offer a “powerful way to multitask and stay on top of what you need to get done,” according to the Microsoft’s press release. With these Windows 11 features, users can organize windows and optimize screen real estate for a cleaner visual layout (Figure A). Users can create and customize separate Desktops for each part of their life — like one for work and one for personal use.
Chat from Microsoft Teams
In Windows 11, Microsoft is integrating Chat from Microsoft Teams into the taskbar, so users can instantly connect via text, chat, voice or video with personal contacts regardless of which platform or device is being used across Microsoft Windows, Android or iOS. Through Microsoft Teams, users can now instantly mute and unmute or start a presentation directly from the taskbar in the new OS.
DirectX 12, DirectStorage and Auto HDR
For gamers, Windows 11 “unlocks the full potential of your system’s hardware, putting some of the latest gaming technology to work for you,” according to Microsoft. Windows 11 will offer DirectX 12 Ultimate to enable immersive graphics at high frame rates; DirectStorage for faster load times and more detailed game worlds; and Auto HDR for a wider, more vivid range of colors. Microsoft Windows 11 will still support users’ favorite PC gaming accessories and peripherals.
Windows 11’s new Widgets are a personalized feed powered by artificial intelligence and Microsoft Edge. Instead of using a phone to check news, weather or notifications, now users can open their Windows 11 desktop to see a similarly curated view (Figure B). Widgets offers new opportunities within Windows 11 to deliver personalized content for creators and publishers.
Microsoft Store overhaul
The Microsoft Store is getting a major overhaul; users will have one safe location for apps and content to watch, create, play, work and learn. According to Microsoft, the Store “has been rebuilt for speed and with an all-new design that is beautiful and simple to use. Not only will we bring you more apps than ever before, we’re also making all content — apps, games, shows, movies — easier to search for and discover with curated stories and collections.”
Soon, leading first- and third-party apps such as Microsoft Teams, Visual Studio, Disney+, Adobe Creative Cloud, Zoom and Canva will be available in the Microsoft Store.
Through its partnership with Amazon and Intel, the Microsoft Store allows users to discover Android apps, which can be downloaded via the Amazon Appstore. Microsoft is enabling developers and independent software vendors to bring apps to the Microsoft Store, no matter what app framework is used to create them.
SEE: Learn how to get the preview version of Windows 11.
What new features come with Windows 11 22H2?
The first major content patch, known as Windows 11 22H2, added several new features and applications to the operating system.
For enterprise users, Windows 11 22H2 improved File Explore functionality to integrate OneDrive status, which improves team collaboration and cooperation. The update also added a new feature called Windows Studio Effects, which will improve virtual meetings with AI-powered processing efficiency.
At the user level, Windows 11 22H2 added new quality-of-life features like voice activated navigation, Start Menu feature improvements, additional personalization themes and the Clipchamp app. Further, Windows 11 22H2 added new live captioning features for automatically transcribing virtual meetings.
What new features come with Windows 11 23H2?
The latest major content patch known as Windows 11 23H2 adds several new features and applications to the operating system.
The highlight of Windows 11 23H2 Update is the addition of Windows Copilot, which integrates an on-demand generative AI feature directly into the operating system. Windows Copilot will be accessible to users as they work with Mail, Paint, Notepad and any other Windows app.
Windows 11 23H2 includes an often asked for ability to control RGB peripherals natively through Windows settings instead of relying on third-party software and utilities. The update also supports several common open-sourced archiving protocols, including 7-Zip and RAR. The 23H2 update includes quality-of-life improvements for Windows File Explorer and the taskbar.
What do developers need to know about Windows 11?
Windows 11 features the new PWABuilder3, so developers can build a PWA from their web app in minutes (Figure C). WebView2 runtime is included with Windows 11, which makes it easier to take advantage of its web platform as a secure way to build hybrid web apps. Offerings like Windows Terminal and the new Microsoft Edge DevTools can still be used, as they are now included in Windows 11.
Windows App SDK
Released March 29, 2021, the Windows App SDK (previously known as Project Reunion) will make it easier to integrate Windows 11 features into apps, but it still allows developers to reach more than a billion users on Windows 10.
Windows on ARM
Developers can build apps that run natively on Windows on ARM with the new ARM64 Emulation Compatible ABI. Using the ARM64EC, native ARM and emulated x64 code can be mixed in the same process or module. This interoperability means developers can optimize apps to run on Windows on ARM — even if the app has x64 dependencies or loads x64 plugins they don’t control.
To rejuvenate app designs, developers can use WinUI3 in Windows 11, which offers built-in UI updates such as rounded geometry, refreshed iconography, new typography, fun micro-interactions like Lottie animation and refreshed color palette. The Snap layouts feature will helps with maximum productivity in Windows 11.
Reunion Windowing allows developers to easily manage and create app windows. The feature works with existing app codes, simplifies common operations and brings new functionality to desktop apps like Light-Dismiss Behavior, Picture-In-Picture mode and easier titlebar customization.
Microsoft Store commerce availability
Along with the major changes to the Microsoft Store, Microsoft is taking steps to unlock greater economic opportunity for creators and developers. Microsoft plans to enable developers and independent software vendors to bring their apps regardless of whether they’re built as a Win32, Progressive Web App, Universal Windows App or any other app framework. This will allow developers to reach and engage a larger audience.
The revenue share policies will be changing, too, according to Microsoft. App developers can now bring their own commerce into the Microsoft Store and keep 100% of the revenue — Microsoft takes nothing. Developers can still use Microsoft’s commerce with competitive revenue share of 85/15.
What are the system requirements for Windows 11?
- Processor: 1GHz or faster with two or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip.
- RAM: 4GB.
- Storage: 64GB or larger storage device.
- System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable.
- Graphics card: Compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver.
- Display: High-definition (720p) display that is greater than 9″ diagonally, 8 bits per color channel.
- Internet connection: Windows 11 Home edition requires internet connectivity and a Microsoft account to complete device setup on first use. Switching a device out of Windows 11 Home in S mode requires internet connectivity.
SEE: Here’s how to tell if your PC can run Windows 11.
What are feature-specific requirements for Windows 11?
Some features in Windows 11 have increased requirements beyond those listed above. Here are additional details regarding requirements for key features per Microsoft.
- 5G support: Requires a 5G-capable modem.
- Auto HDR: Requires an HDR monitor.
- BitLocker to Go: Requires a USB flash drive (available in Windows Pro and above editions).
- Client Hyper-V: Requires a processor with second level address translation capabilities (available in Windows Pro and above editions).
- Cortana: Requires a microphone and speaker and is currently available on Windows 11 for Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, the U.K. and the U.S.
- DirectStorage: Requires an NVMe SSD to store and run games that use the Standard NVM Express Controller driver and a DirectX12 GPU with Shader Model 6.0 support.
- DirectX 12 Ultimate: Available with supported games and graphics chips.
- Presence: Requires a sensor that can detect human distance from device or intent to interact with device.
- Intelligent Video Conferencing: Requires video camera, microphone and speaker for audio output.
- Multiple Voice Assistant (MVA): Requires a microphone and speaker.
- Snap: Three-column layouts require a screen that is 1920 effective pixels or greater in width.
- Mute and Unmute from Taskbar: Requires video camera, microphone and speaker for audio output. App must be compatible with feature to enable global mute and unmute.
- Spatial Sound: Requires supporting hardware and software.
- Teams: Requires video camera, microphone and speaker for audio output.
- Touch: Requires a screen or monitor that supports multi-touch.
- Two-factor authentication: Requires use of PIN, biometric (fingerprint reader or illuminated infrared camera), or a phone with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth capabilities.
- Voice Typing: Requires a PC with a microphone.
- Wake on Voice: Requires Modern Standby power model and microphone.
- Wi-Fi 6E: Requires new WLAN IHV hardware and driver and a Wi-Fi 6E capable AP or router.
- Windows Hello: Requires a camera configured for near infrared imaging or fingerprint reader for biometric authentication. Devices without biometric sensors can use Windows Hello with a PIN or portable Microsoft compatible security key.
- Windows Projection: Requires a display adapter that supports Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) 2.0 and a Wi-Fi adapter that supports Wi-Fi Direct.
SEE: Explore the system requirements and the security benefits of Windows 11.
Is Windows 11 free?
Windows 11 is available through a free upgrade for eligible Windows 10 PCs and on new PCs as of October 5, 2021. To see if your Windows 10 PC is eligible for the free upgrade to Windows 11, download the PC Health Check app. Microsoft said it is working with its retail partners to “make sure [the] Windows 10 PCs you buy today are ready for the upgrade to Windows 11.”
Is Windows 11 worth it?
According to Microsoft’s current support plan, Windows 10 will lose support for future feature and security updates on October 14, 2025. After that date, any business, regardless of size, will incur a significant risk of liability for using Windows 10. With that in mind, upgrading to Windows 11 is obviously necessary and entirely worth the time and effort.
Windows 11 is designed to take advantage of the latest in both hardware and software security protocols, something Windows 10 is not able to do. These security measures help the operating system fend off various cyberattacks and malware including software viruses and ransomware. Because Windows 11 is a free upgrade to Windows 10, for most businesses and individuals there is little reason not to upgrade.
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