When Microsoft first launched Windows 10 in 2015 the company said it would be the “last version of Windows,” since the goal was to continually push out incremental updates rather than revolutionary new version of the operating system.

Today Microsoft has released Windows 11. There’s no word on whether this will be the last version of Windows, but the update does bring significant changes to Start Menu, Taskbar, Microsoft Store, and a number of other areas. So I guess it’s not surprising that Microsoft decided it was time for a new name… although there’s some debate over whether we really needed some of the new things Microsoft is bringing to Windows.

Among other things, Windows 11 brings:

  • There’s a new Start Menu with access to apps, search, files, and other data. It’s centered by default, but can be moved to the side of the screen.
  • Windows Taskbar now features icons in the center rather than the left side. When using a tablet without a keyboard, the UI will also adjust with larger touch targets and more space between icons.
  • Widgets are back, but this time they’re not called Gadgets and they’re not on the desktop, but rather in a card-style feed that you can access by swiping from the edge of the screen.
  • Snap Layouts give you more ways to organize application windows on your screen. And Snap Groups let you maximize and minimize a whole set of apps together.
  • Microsoft Teams Chat is integrated in the operating system, whether you want it or not.
  • The new Microsoft Store has a streamlined design and now supports Win32 apps as well as Universal Windows Platform apps and Progressive Web Apps. There’s even support for third-party web browsers in the store now, and for third-party app stores like the Epic Games Store and Amazon Appstore.
  • Microsoft is bringing support for Android apps to Windows 11, but it won’t be available on day one. Eventually you’ll be able to download Android apps and games from the Amazon Appstore or sideload them, and run them alongside native Windows apps.
  • Auto HDR bring high dynamic range even to games that don’t natively support it when you’re using an HDR compatible display.
  • DirectStorage brings faster load times to games on systems with NVme storage and DirectX 12 graphics cards.

Microsoft first announced it was working on Windows 11 earlier this year, and for the past few months the company has been rolling out pre-release builds to members of the Windows Insider program. Eventually the company announced Windows 11 would arrive on October 5th.

But surprise, it’s already October 5th in New Zealand, so Microsoft has begun the rollout a little earlier than some folks had anticipated.

That means new PCs will begin shipping with Windows 11 just about immediately, and if you have a Windows 10 PC that you purchased recently, you may be able to update to the latest version of Windows through Windows Update starting today or very soon. Folks with older computers may have to wait a little longer – Microsoft is doing a phased rollout and says could be as late as mid-2022 before it makes the update available to all eligible PCs.

And eligible is an important word there – Microsoft is enforcing pretty strict minimum system requirements. So while you can run Windows 11 on a computer with as little as a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage, you need a PC with UEFI, Secure Boot capability, and TPM 2.0 security.

Most computers released in the past few years should qualify, but not all computers. And you’ll need a PC with an AMD Zen 2 or newer processor, an Intel 8th-gen or newer chip (or one of a handful of 7th-gen chips), or Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

Have a qualifying PC, but not sure you want to leave Windows 10 behind? The good news is that Microsoft will continue supporting Windows 10 until at least 2025, so you don’t really need to upgrade anytime soon. And at least one Windows 11 feature is coming to Windows 10 anyway – the new Microsoft Store will debut with Microsoft’s new operating system, but it’ll make its way to Windows 10 in the coming months.

Alternately, you can install Windows 11, try it out for a few days, and then roll back if you’re not happy. Microsoft will give you 10 days to change your mind, but keep in mind that this is always a slightly risky proposition, since there’s always a chance that something could go wrong and bork your backup files.

Latest Windows 11 news:

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  1. Long gone are the days when you needed to upgrade your computer hardware on a regular basis in order to run the newest software (with the exception of gaming). There are a lot of PCs out there that do not meet Windows11 requirements. It will be interesting to see if there is a big surge in PC purchases once Windows10 is retired in 2025. I am not betting on it.