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The most exciting features in Windows 11

Microsoft's new OS features native Android apps, direct Teams integration, and more

Windows 11, the latest iteration of Microsoft's flagship operating system, started rolling out on 5 October.

It's being deployed in phases, so you'll need to check whether it's available for your PC Settings before you can install it. If not, Windows 11 could be worth waiting for, with its revamped design, central start menu, dedicated Microsoft Teams button and much more.

Central Start Menu

Windows 11's new central start menu

The first change most users will see is the new central Start menu, which has been repositioned to add a "sense of calm and ease", according to Microsoft. 

On first impression, it does appear less complex than the Start men of old, especially with the 'Start button' sitting in a more accessible place on the toolbar. The operation seems very similar to the macOS toolbar and this is likely to be the first new feature to come under user scrutiny.

Snap Layouts

Windows 11 new Snap Layouts

Like with most changes these days, Windows 11 looks like it has the hybrid workforce in mind. This is most apparent with the Snap Layouts, Snap Groups and Desktop features.

The idea is to turn (or snap) into other apps that Windows 11 supports without clogging up your screen space or plugging in an external monitor. All this will be organised via Snap Groups where you can view which apps you still have running and which ones you can exit. 

Microsoft Teams integration

Microsoft Teams has gone from strength to strength during the pandemic and Microsoft hopes to solidify those gains by natively integrating the collaboration tool into Windows 11.

What's unclear is how much Microsoft will push Teams on users of rival services like Slack or Facebook Workplace, although recent efforts to promote its Edge browser to Windows users suggest pop-up style adverts may be on the way.

Microsoft Teams directly integrated into Windows 11

"This innovation is well-timed for the COVID world, which has (re)established the centrality of the PC to the future of work and to digital life," said J.P. Gownder, VP and principal analyst at Forrester. "Whether these features pop for employees remains to be seen, but they're directionally aligned to the new world of hybrid work."

Faster updates

Another great innovation for Windows 11 is the promise that updates will be 40% smaller than those pushed to Windows 10, which, in turn, should significantly speed up the update process and make it less of a burden for users. Updates will also happen in the background, which potentially means a PC will update without the need for constant user interaction or interruptions to work.

Same code base as Windows 10

Speaking of updates, Microsoft has clearly learned its lesson when it comes to OS upgrades, and is keen to avoid the debacle that was Vista and its many incompatible drivers. It's why many people still clung to Windows 7, long after Windows Vista and Windows 8 had come and gone.

Windows 11 has been built on the same code base as Windows 10, meaning that when the time comes to upgrade, the process should be relatively painless for users.

"That's good news," said Gownder. "It means that the application and driver 'breakage' that famously plagued OS releases like Windows Vista is unlikely to occur. And Win32 apps will still be able to run natively on Windows 11."

Android apps

The TikTok app on Windows 11
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Android apps will run natively on Windows 11 for the first time and you can access them through the Microsoft Store, although the apps won’t be available at the launch of the OS.

This is because of a partnership with Intel and Amazon which allows Microsoft to use the former’s Bridge technology. This tech is a runtime post-compiler that enables applications that were originally designed for different hardware platforms to run natively on x86 devices.

Microsoft also said that this was part of an ongoing XPU strategy, so it is probable that in the future the tech giant might introduce more than just Android apps to Windows 11.

Developer policy change

Windows 11 will also introduce a brand new store to users and, maybe more importantly, the store will also bring in a fairly significant policy change for app developers.

From 28 July, developers will be able to utilise their own third party payment systems within their apps, and Microsoft will allow them to keep 100% of the revenue, with the only exception to this rule being gaming apps.

The intention of this policy is to attract more developers to the Microsoft Store, although there is a suggestion the tech giant is firing a shot at companies like Google and Apple for the way they aggressively implement app payment policies.

Cortana ousted from the boot-up

During the initial setup of a new Windows machine, you'd have to search far and wide to find someone that found Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant, helpful during this process. In Windows 10, the assistant is programmed to automatically begin speaking when you open a laptop for the first time, and it can be troublesome to switch off. Thankfully, Windows 11 has scrapped this feature entirely.

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