Windows 11: How to get Microsoft’s free operating system update

What is Windows 11?

Windows 11 is the latest release of Microsoft’s flagship operating system and the successor to Windows 10.

Windows 11 brings major changes to the Start menu and taskbar, a comprehensive rework of the Settings app, and a widgets pane designed to deliver news and reminders.

SEE: Windows 11 FAQ: Our upgrade guide and everything else you need to know

Windows 11 is a major feature update that includes the much-hyped Sun Valley update of the Windows user interface and a renewal of core Windows apps that fall into the Windows Inbox app category, such as the new video-compatible Media Player and Calculator, the cutting tool and Mail and Calendar. There are a host of changes under the bonnet, including the reintroduction of the iconic Blue Screen of Death error warning (for a brief period, Microsoft played around with making it black for some reason).

Microsoft released Windows 11 to the general public in October, and now the company is rolling it out to more PCs if they meet Microsoft’s minimum hardware requirements for Windows 11.

What are the hardware requirements for Windows 11?

A more disruptive shift is Microsoft’s controversial minimum hardware requirement for Windows 11. So while Windows 11 is a free upgrade for Windows 10 users, it will not necessarily be available to all Windows 10 users.

To upgrade, your device must be running Windows 10, version 2004 or later.

The requirements include a 1 GHz or faster processor with two or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC). You will need 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB or more of storage space. Your PC must be UEFI, Secure Boot compliant, support Trusted Platform Module version 2.0 and have a graphics card compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver and a high definition monitor larger than 9 “diagonally, 8 bits per color channel.

There are also other system requirements for various new features: for example, Snaps three-column layout requires a screen that is 1920 effective pixels or more in width, while Windows Hello requires a camera configured for near infrared (IR) imaging or fingerprint reader for biometric authentication.

ZDNet’s Ed Bott has a rough estimate of how many of the world’s 1.3 billion Windows PCs will not be eligible for the Windows 11 upgrade. Spoiler alert: more than half of them will not be eligible.

This means that it is likely to be a slow upgrade path for most of the world’s Windows 10 users, so they are not willing to give up their warranty.

Microsoft will continue to support Windows 10 with security fixes until October 2025, and it assumes that it can sweep a massive, global hardware upgrade into the company during that period. Enterprise IT asset management firm Lansweeper estimates that about 55% of the company’s PCs do not meet Microsoft’s Windows 11 requirements.

SEE: Windows 11 upgrade: Five questions to ask first

Microsoft has not clarified an exact end date for the free upgrade offer, but its new hardware requirements cover Intel and Arm CPUs and require at least 4 GB of memory and 64 GB of storage plus TPM version 2.0.

Microsoft’s minimum hardware requirements also apply to virtual machine platforms such as Microsoft HyperV, VMware and Oracle VM Virtual Box. TPM 2.0 can prove to be difficult in the enterprise as less than 1% of virtual machines have it enabled.

Microsoft advises consumers to look for branding on PCs that indicates they are eligible for the free Windows 11 upgrade.

“We are also working with our retail partners to ensure that the Windows 10 PCs you purchase today are ready for the upgrade to Windows 11,” the company said.

How do I get Windows 11?

Microsoft has not been fully aware of when Windows 11 will actually reach all eligible Windows 10 PCs. However, it has released the PC Health Check app to help users self-assess whether their hardware is up to the mark.

The PC Health Check app lets you see if your current PC meets the requirements to run Windows 11: If it does, you can get a free upgrade at some point after it’s rolled out.

You can also go to ‘Check for Windows Updates’ on a Windows PC or select the Start button and then go to Settings> Updates & Security> Windows Updates

All we know is that Microsoft is happy with their rollout so far – at least for Windows 10 users on hardware that meets the minimum requirements.

“In our first phases of Windows 11 rollout, we consistently see a high degree of positive update experiences and user feedback for qualified devices, identified using our latest generation of machine learning model,” Microsoft said this month.

SEE: Microsoft Windows 11: How to Get It Now (or Later)

Historically, Windows launches have been rolled out gradually. For Windows 11, this may take a number of months: Microsoft said that this process is likely to “continue into 2022”, and in general it is the newer PCs that get the upgrade first. When it arrives on your PC depends on a number of factors.

The company plans to use “intelligence models that take into account hardware qualification, reliability, metrics, device age and other factors” to roll it out to additional PCs on the market. It will use Windows Update to notify Windows 10 users when their devices are eligible to move to Windows 11.

Microsoft continues to test new features and enhancements after Windows 11 was released. It only tests the latest version of Windows with members participating in the Windows Insider program on the Dev, Beta, and Release Preview channels. The Beta and Release Preview channels offer administrators and users a sneak peek at the end of the month with non-security updates coming in the Patch Tuesday update, which falls on the second Tuesday of each month.

Its Dev channel preview versions are not tied to a specific version of Windows 11. They are there to test, but come with no commitment from Microsoft as to when features will be released.

How do I view Windows 11?

Assuming you still want to test the latest Windows 11 preview features on a test device, you can join the Windows Insider program, which Microsoft describes as “a community of millions of Windows’ biggest fans who will be the first to see what there is next time “.

Testers can provide feedback on the builds that go directly to Microsoft engineers working on the project. To install Windows Insider Preview Builds, you must be running a licensed version of Windows on your device.

You can then sign up for the Windows Insider program or log in to your Windows Insider account. To sign up, sign in with your Microsoft account or work account in Azure Active Directory. Then you can “Start flighting” – Microsoft’s term for running Windows Insider Preview Builds on a device.

People who want to try Microsoft’s latest experiments may jump into the Dev Channel, but this channel includes bleeding updates. Other options include the beta channel. If you want something “extremely stable”, you can try the latest version of Windows, but with constantly advanced quality updates and key features in the Release Preview Channel.

Microsoft notes that if you install an Insider Preview build in one channel and you want to switch to another channel, you may need to do a clean install of Windows and reset your Windows Insider settings on that device – an indication that running previews is only for test machines and the technically set ones.

Is it a good idea to install Windows 11 yet?

All major operating system updates come with bugs. Apple often has issues with iOS and macOS updates. As more users adopt the latest version, companies have the opportunity to correct errors detected by users.

Windows 11 is no different. Although Microsoft believes that the update works well for most users with legitimate hardware, it has put a compatibility measure on releasing Windows 11 for devices with certain versions of hardware drivers for Intel Smart Sound Technology (Intel SST), causing a blue screen of Fatal Errors (BSOD).

What should happen to Windows 10?

The company released Windows 10 version 21H2 in mid-November 2021 – and it finally came to terms with its plans for future Windows 10 feature updates.

On November 16, Microsoft began rolling out Windows 10 21H2, also known as Windows 10 November 2021 Update. In a nutshell, Windows 10 feature updates will come once a year, not twice a year from the 21st half of 2012.

The next Windows 10 feature update after 21H2 will arrive in the second half of 2022. And Home and Pro editions of the 21H2 update will have 18 months of support, while Enterprise and Education editions will have 30 months.

Why are taskbar widgets a big deal?

Some of the great new features in Windows 11 include Mac-inspired consumer features as well as taskbar widgets, easier virtual desktop switching, penhaptics for sketching, and snap gestures.

The enhanced widgets are a star player now that Microsoft has decided to remove Windows 8-era Live Tiles, which was the answer to Apple’s iPad design. Also on the trash can is the Windows 10 timeline feature. And also gone is the desktop background across devices.

Apps that will not be pre-installed include Windows 3D Viewer, OneNote for Windows 10, Paint 3D and Skype. However, Windows 11 gets a Microsoft Teams chat button that replaces the Skype button.

What are Windows 11 Snap Layouts and Snap Groups?

As the ZDNet sister site CNET highlights, Snap Layouts should help multitasking by organizing apps and windows for easier access. People can group apps and sites and then open the group from the taskbar instead of minimizing and maximizing windows. This is a trend seen in browsers like Google Chrome with grouped tabs.

Snap Groups is for those who dock a computer to a monitor and struggle with app layout issues after disconnecting: it avoids the need to rearrange open apps after docking.

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