Windows 11 cheats Microsoft doesn’t want you to know about

It’s now exactly four months since Microsoft launched Windows 11, the latest iteration of an operating system that is now older than half the people who use it.

Windows 11 makes new demands on your system
Windows 11 makes new demands on your system

But unusually, there has been none of the marketing hype that accompanied previous versions. And it’s only now that the company is getting around to rolling out upgrades to existing users of Windows 10.

There are three reasons for this: first, the new product is not compatible with most machines more than a few years old; second, it’s a free upgrade so the profit margin is slim; and finally, it’s not really a new version at all.

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In fact, you don’t need to look very far beneath the minor cosmetic makeover to see that many of the built-in apps and dialogue boxes are still badged as Windows 10 – identical in every way to those that went before.

So it’s an update, not an upgrade. And for that reason, the “get ready” notification that may soon be dropping onto your desktop is nothing to get excited about.

Nevertheless, there are a few differences you should know about. The first is that for the first time, Microsoft has imposed certain requirements on the firmware of your computer, the basic system that controls what comes in and goes out of the various ports and sockets. This is known as the BIOS, or Basic Input/Output System, and every PC has one. It’s what flashes up on the screen for a split second before Windows starts to load. It’s strictly for geeks and no-one who doesn’t work in a computer shop wants to tinker with it – but you might have to if you don’t want Windows 11 to freeze your machine.

The details are different for every BIOS so you will need to search online for your make and model, but the crucial setting is the one that controls the way your PC boots up. There have been countless accounts over the last few months of Windows 11 refusing to load because “secure boot” mode hasn’t been enabled in BIOS. Changing it is as easy as pressing a single key – but if you don’t feel confident doing that, the safest option is not to install Windows 11 until you’ve had a teenager check over your system.

There are other BIOS requirements, too, but Windows does at least check them before telling you whether your computer is a suitable candidate for installation.

If you do manage to get the new version up and running, you’ll notice at once that the search function on the start menu – which was slow and inaccurate at the best of times – has been rendered more so because it now scans the entire internet, not just the files on your PC. Worse still, the results are provided by Bing, Microsoft’s own search engine, and delivered via its new, half-baked browser, Microsoft Edge.

You can disable this behaviour but it’s surprisingly difficult to do so. There is no menu option to turn off web search; instead you have to look for online instructions to change settings in the “registry editor” which lists the thousands of commands and settings within Windows. Even installing a better browser like Google Chrome is made as difficult as possible, with Microsoft requiring you to dismiss warnings of dire consequences if you go ahead.

All this means that even for a free update, Windows 11 isn’t worth the trouble. Wait instead until the next time you buy a new computer that has it pre-installed. And if it doesn’t, there’s one more under-the-bonnet adjustment that Microsoft doesn’t publicise – the ability to migrate your old Windows to a new PC without the need to buy a new £100 licence. You simply deactivate your outgoing machine and type the licence number into the new one. It only works if you bought the old version at the retail price, but it’s a trick worth knowing if a shop tries to charge you all over again for a spurious “upgrade”.

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