What’s new in Windows 11 – and what’s still old about it

Those of us with long memories can well remember the near hysteria induced around the world by the launch of Windows 95, just over a quarter of a century ago. It’s a sign of the times that when the latest incarnation was released a couple of weeks ago, in the same week as Facebook and WhatsApp went down, hardly anyone even noticed.

The new Windows 11 start menu

Windows 11 is an iteration of the venerable operating system we thought we would never see, Microsoft having announced a few years ago that version 10 would be the last. It’s a relic for sure, with a few more bells and whistles added to the familiar old interface – but Windows remains the core component of most desktop and laptop computers, so an upgrade will be inevitable sooner or later.

The good news is that if you already have Windows 10, you will get the new product for free. The bad news is that your computer might not run it – although Microsoft is already backtracking on its stated minimum requirements.

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The company announced back in the summer that machines running Windows 11 would have to be compatible with the second version of a protocol called Trusted Platform Module, or TPM, an international standard for combating hackers by way of hardware, not software. The problem has been that even relatively powerful machines made more than two years ago do not meet this requirement – a state of affairs that has prompted Microsoft to publish a complicated workaround.

The upshot is that whether you get the new Windows or not depends on whether an algorithm determines that your PC is up to the job of running it. If it makes the grade, you will get a notification between now and next year to begin an upgrade process that could take the best part of a day. If not, you can continue running Windows 10 for four more years before support for it is withdrawn.

The noticeable differences between the two versions are largely cosmetic. Windows 11 has a more attractive start menu and comes with built-in support for Microsoft Teams – the video calling service which replaces Skype – and the Xbox games console. If you use neither, you may wonder why you bothered upgrading at all.

Other promised improvements, such as the ability to run Android phone apps on your PC, have yet to materialise, and Microsoft’s Edge browser also remains a work in progress. On the plus side, several much-touted but ultimately pointless additions to the previous version have been removed or sidelined. The voice assistant Cortana is chief among these.

Windows 10 was itself a free upgrade for users of the versions which immediately preceded it, but the window of opportunity for downloading it has long passed – at least officially. But if you are still struggling along with Windows 7 or 8, you may yet be able to catch up without paying the £100-plus retail price.

That’s because Windows 10 remains available on Microsoft’s website and the requirement to enter a unique licence number before installing it is often not enforced. If you want to try your luck, search Google for “download Windows 10” and look for the option to “create installation media”. Follow the prompts, and when the upgrade is complete you should see a digital license for Windows 10. If not, you can still buy a licence from several online retailers for between £10 and £20 – a considerable saving on the official price.

The bottom line is that when you upgrade Windows you are changing only the underlying system on which your apps and programs rely – not the apps themselves. That means that once the novelty has worn off, usually within the first few minutes, the whole process will seem like a huge anti-climax. We discovered that all those years ago with Windows 95, and it’s pretty much the only aspect of computing never to have been improved.

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