The most exciting features in Windows 11

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

Windows 11, the next 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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Also running natively on Windows 11, for the first time, will be Android apps, which will be accessible through the Microsoft Store, although they won't be available at the launch of the OS. 

This is due to a partnership with Amazon and Intel which lets Microsoft use the latter's Bridge technology, a runtime post-compiler that allows applications that were originally designed for different hardware platforms to run natively on x86 devices.

What's more, Microsoft said this was part of its ongoing XPU strategy, so it's likely we might see more than just Android apps on Windows 11 in the future.

Developer policy change

The new OS will also bring with it a brand new store, but, perhaps more importantly, that store will also introduce a significant policy change for developers.

Starting on 28 July, developers will be able to use their own third party payment systems within their app, and Microsoft will let them keep 100% of the revenue - the only exception being gaming apps.

The aim is to entice more developers to the Microsoft Store, but there is a suggestion that the tech giant is firing a shot at the likes of Apple and Google for the way they aggressively implement app payment policies.

Cortana ousted from the boot-up

You'd have to search far and wide to find someone that found Cortana, Microsoft's voice assistant, helpful during the initial setup of a new Windows machine. In Windows 10, the assistant is set to automatically start talking when you open a laptop for the first time, and it can be a pain to switch off.

Thankfully, Windows 11 will scrap this feature entirely.

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