Microsoft announces Windows 11 with redesigned UI, third-party app payments, and more

Microsoft CEO jabs Apple with “openness” rhetoric

Microsoft's new Windows 11 OS on a tablet

Microsoft has officially announced its next major operating system, Windows 11, which promises a slew of features targeting hybrid workers and developers alike.

Openness was the key talking point for CEO Satya Nadella when unveiling the new operating system, which will ship later this year. "Windows recognizes that there is no personal computing without personal agency," he said. Nadella added, "We want to remove the barriers that too often exist today and provide real choice and connection."

The new operating system will feature support for Android apps purchased from Amazon's app store. In a swipe at Apple, the company also revamped the Microsoft Store, allowing developers to use their own payment systems when charging for apps. This lets developers keep 100% of the revenue.

"Windows has always stood for sovereignty for creators and agency for consumers," said Nadella, who highlighted its multi-marketplace support as a key differentiator from Apple in an interview with the Wall Street Journal today. "Operating systems and devices should mould themselves to our needs and not the other way around."

Openness didn't seem to be the central theme in at least one Windows 11 feature announcement, though.

In a move sure to worry other collaboration and video conferencing application providers, Microsoft has integrated Teams more closely into the operating system. This integration creates an interface that places contacts into the start bar and makes it easier to enter Teams video calls.

One welcome feature the company revealed in preview versions of Windows 11 is a universal mute button. This allows you to mute all video calling systems, so you can rest assured your mic isn't hot.

Windows 11 will also feature some user interface (UI) changes. Users will arrange their application windows into pre-configured layouts. The operating system will retain these layouts when you switch between external monitors and laptop displays. This feature, called Snap Layouts, is one of several enhancements designed to make the keyboard-free experience more intuitive when using Windows in a tablet format.

Windows 11 new Snap Layouts

The new UI will also include new visual cues for resizing windows and a start menu that’s centered on the screen rather than off to the side. Windows 11 will also feature a redesigned on-screen keyboard with swipe-to-type features and emojis.

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Other new features integrated directly into the start menu will include Windows Widgets, which will be tabs of content, including news tailored to users’ content viewing habits. One intriguing feature will be the ability to tip content creators through the widget platform.

Alongside other cosmetic changes, like rounded corners, the system will also feature some under-the-hood changes. Updates will be 40% smaller and will happen in the background, so people can keep working through them.

On the gaming side, Microsoft will bring across a few features from the Xbox platform. Games that support HDR for better contrast and more vibrant colors will now benefit from that feature on Windows 11. The operating system will also offer Direct Storage, which will use the graphical processing unit (GPU) to load data without burdening the CPU. The company will also integrate the Xbox Game Pass system directly into the desktop operating system.

There was a notable lack of talk about privacy during the launch, which is a theme Apple has continually promoted in its products. Instead, Microsoft seems to differentiate itself from Apple by emphasizing its platform’s openness and willingness to relinquish control.

Microsoft's support for Android apps might also give it some traction over Google's Chromebook platform, which has enjoyed meteoric sales in recent months.

"Throughout its history Windows has been a democratizing force for the world", Nadella said in the announcement wrap. Microsoft settled with the DoJ on monopoly charges in 2001 for giving preferential treatment to its Internet Explorer browser. In the same year, It also called open source software "a cancer," though it apologized for the statement in 2020.

Microsoft has since built support for Linux directly into the operating system. An analysis of leaked Windows 11 code suggests it might be able to run graphical Linux apps on the Windows desktop.

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