Windows 11 – A Big Little Change

What is Windows 11?

Windows 11 is the newest major upgrade to the Windows operating system.[1] It features a significant visual refresh, while of course most core elements remain the same or similar, and the backend retains the same high compatibility of the last several versions of Windows. There should be no major concerns about compatibility with your older applications in this upgrade.[2] Windows 11 will be a free update to Windows 10 users with compatible PCs, and will roll out starting in late 2021/early 2022.[3]

I thought that Windows 10 was “the last Windows”!

Microsoft’s big promise back in 2015 was that Windows 10 marked the coming of “Windows as a service”[4], and in large part that last bit remains true, but sometimes marketing just demands a name change.

What does Windows 11 offer that Windows 10 does not?

First is a fairly strong visual update[5] that offers a new frosty-glass look in many areas of the new OS, rounded corners, and a few tweaks and tucks to iconography and layout. More classic functionality (such as the Control Panel) has been deprecated even further and moved into modern controls, and the taskbar and Start menu have been revamped into a more unified, and hopefully more “helpful” form.

Many user-friendliness features have been added to the UX, including improvements to window management and snapping, multi-desktop/layout support, multi-monitor support, touch and inking for tablet and 2-in-1 devices, and even the ability to run Android apps [6], which may interest some.

Windows 11’s security will feature major improvements that should further reduce the need for “antivirus” software (which we already don’t recommend, outside of the integrated Windows Defender features), and added native support for neat hardware tricks like Direct Storage.  Most of the behind-the-scenes tweaks won’t affect the performance or user experience for most average users, but gamers [7] and business professionals [8] may notice improvements.

Finally, there’s some hardware support improvements for non-traditional CPU architectures, which means Windows should see better performance and battery life on the growing-in-popularity big.LITTLE CPUs that we’ll see in more computers in the coming years.[9]

I hate all these changes all the time, though!

You should probably stop using computers, then. No, seriously, we get it – it can be annoying when an action or button or location you’re used to suddenly changes, but that’s computing in the modern world. Whether you’re using MacOS[10], Windows[11, 12], Linux[13], Android[14], or iOS[15], there’s changes happening all the time as design conventions evolve and new software tricks or hardware improvements are put into use. It’s unavoidable, so you’re going to have to get used to coping with the constant change.

Thankfully, most of the changes moving from 10 to 11 are reasonably easy to acclimate to. A few can be tweaked (you can move the centered taskbar icons back to the left in a menu, for example)[16]. A few are genuinely stupid (you can only have the taskbar on the bottom of the screen, not the top or sides)[17], though the rationale behind it kind of make sense (Microsoft wants to unify the experience for simplicity’s sake.)

Based on the current beta we’re testing, I can promise that with a bit of patience and common sense, nobody’s going to get lost when they make the transition. And as we understand it, nobody is going to get a “surprise” upgrade they didn’t authorize this time[18] (we’ll see.)

Can’t I keep using Windows 10?

You can; in fact, you’re expected to, if your PC doesn’t meet the system requirements for Windows 11. Windows 10 will reach end-of-life in October 2025[19], which gives you a good four years to ride before a more or less mandatory upgrade. While Windows 10 won’t stop working (well, it shouldn’t, but given that Windows is now a “service”, it very well could!) when it hits EOL, it will stop receiving security updates, which means your internet safety will be basically up for grabs as new security holes are discovered and exploited[20].

In short, if you can’t upgrade at or shortly after release, you’ve got about three years to make a plan to move forward. After EOL, the services we offer for Windows 10 will be drastically limited.

What about these system requirements?

This has been a point of much ire: Microsoft has set a seemingly arbitrary cutoff for what hardware will be supported on Windows 11. Basically your system must have TPM 2.0 support (more on that in a minute) and Secure Boot, and is officially supported only on Intel Core series CPUs from the 8th generation or later and AMD Ryzen CPUs from the 2000 series or later.[21]  Microsoft is reportedly investigating whether slightly earlier CPUs may also be supported.[22]

The good news is that any CPU from these generations will have TPM 2.0 support integrated.  TPM is, in the most basic of terms, a security module (either physical or virtual) that handles certain cryptographic and “trust” matters related to your data. TPM support is required in order to better keep your data secure.[23] It’s a line in the sand not because older PCs won’t run Windows 11 well (it’ll actually “run” just fine on anything that’s running Windows 10 [24]), but to help Microsoft tighten up Windows security.

In that regard, these newer CPUs are required because of how well they handle virtual machines – basically a fake computer running inside the computer – thanks to their advanced hardware.  Historically, a lot of people think of virtual machines (VMs) in the concept of emulating an older machine (say a Windows 95 instance) within a window or “sandbox” on their modern machine, and this is still a thing of course, but where it comes into play here is that Windows uses sandboxed VMs transparently to protect various applications from each other, in order to minimize the potential risks of malware or other security flaws.[25]  When it’s working right (and this is a feature that is supported in Windows 10, too), you won’t even notice it.

If your computer features a CPU that is on the supported list, or you bought it new within the last few years, you should be good for Windows 11. Some laptops may require tweaks to the BIOS, and possibly a full-blown Windows reinstall to get 11 working after said tweaks, but don’t make any changes just yet – we’re still a ways away from launch, so let’s wait and see what the actual requirements are before making a mess. If you have a desktop PC, you almost certainly do not need to buy a separate TPM module.[26]

Should I buy a new computer?

If your computer is less than seven years old and is still in good working condition and serving your needs adequately, then of course not! Even if it doesn’t support Windows 11, you still have a fair bit of time left on Windows 10. If you were considering getting a new computer for any reason anyway, then sure, go ahead. Anything you buy new today will support Windows 11 in the future. 

If you buy refurbished, keep an eye on the specifications, but don’t shun a computer if it’s not compatible – we’re still selling machines that won’t be Windows 11 compatible, because a refurbished machine should only be expected to last 2-4 years, not a lifetime. They’ll still be good computers until they age out.

On the importance of backups.

One critical thing to mention is the importance of backups. The tech world has been harping on how vital backing up your data is for decades, and y’all have been ignoring that advice for decades, too. Of course, it’s important to back up your stuff before a major software upgrade, but even more important is regular, iterative backups during regular use: TPM and full-disk encryption can drastically complicate data recovery if your computer fails, to the extent that it may be impossible.[27] Once you’re on Windows 11, it is more important than ever that you develop and maintain good backup practices.

Unfortunately, one area Microsoft continues to fall short is in not providing a backup solution integrated into the OS. The Windows 7-style Backup and Restore is completely gone, and File History is more or less hidden and kind of broken.[28] If you want a good backup, you’ll need third-party solutions. Our current recommendation for backup software is Acronis TrueImage (for full system backups that can be restored to a same-or-similar device.) You may also wish to do a manual backup of sorts, copying the contents of important folders to another device.

Your data should always be in at least three places: two in your home (or business) and one off-site.[29] This is sometimes referred to as “3-2-1” or “Rule of Three”. Some people keep all of these physical (on a USB-connected backup drive or a networked-based device like a NAS), and some use cloud-based solutions; either the relatively simple (Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive), or the full-featured (Carbonite, BackBlaze, etc.) Not every person will find every solution right for them, and all have their drawbacks and benefits. You’ll want to research your options, check out some guides, and then implement what fits your use case and abilities.

We are working on being able to offer further guidance on backup solutions in the future.

Should I switch to some other OS?

Like what? If you switch to Apple, you have to buy an expensive Mac that has more or less zero repairability. If you switch to Linux, you’ll have to be a bit of a masochist, as even the simplest distros will require you to dip into the terminal for some command line trickery from time to time. ChromeOS is actually pretty great, if your use case is very basic and mostly browser-based. For the vast majority of us who desire a broad variety of hardware choices, a massive array of productivity software, or gaming, Windows 11 will be the way to go.

Conclusion

There’s nothing to fear here, but Windows 11 will bring some changes that will take some getting used to – and not every machine will be able to run it. While the improvements in computers from 2011 to 2021 have not been quite as drastic as say, the improvements from 1995 to 2005, it’s still rarely a great user experience to be using 10-year-old hardware. We don’t necessarily know what changes the years leading up to the 2025 Windows 10 EOL may bring, as well.

It’s easy to be bitter when some sort of hard limit feels forced upon us to “upgrade or die”, but at least we have plenty of warning, and the reasoning is not entirely without merit.

Of course, as always, The Computer Cellar will be here to help answer your questions and ease the pain of any transition.

 

Citations and additional reading

  1. Microsoft, “Upgrade to the New Windows 11”, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/windows-11
  2. Marcin Zelewski (Tumblr), Windows NT 3.1 (1993) apps on Windows 11”, https://emzeciorrr.tumblr.com/post/655518695781728256
  3. Cnet, “Windows 11 Download: The Upgrade Will Be Free, and Here’s How to Get It”, https://www.cnet.com/how-to/windows-11-download-the-upgrade-will-be-free-and-heres-how-to-get-it/
  4. The Verge, “Why Microsoft is calling Windows 10 ‘The Last Version of Windows’, https://www.theverge.com/2015/5/7/8568473/windows-10-last-version-of-windows
  5. The Verge, “Here Are The UI Changes Microsoft Showed Off in Windows 11”, https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/24/22548895/windows-11-ui-visual-change-roundup-microsoft-upgrade
  6. The Verge, “Microsoft is Bringing Android Apps to Windows 11 With Amazon’s Appstore”, https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/24/22548428/microsoft-windows-11-android-apps-support-amazon-store
  7. Windows Central, “Microsoft Details How Windows 11 is Built for Gamers”, https://www.windowscentral.com/windows-11-gaming-announcements
  8. Microsoft, “New Windows 11 for Business”, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windowsforbusiness/windows-11
  9. WCCFTech, “Microsoft Windows 11 Will Boost Intel Alder Lake (And Other big.LITTLE CPUs) Performance”, https://wccftech.com/microsoft-windows-11-will-boost-intel-alder-lake-and-other-big-little-cpus-performance/
  10. Martin Nobel, “Apple macOS Evolution – 20 years later!”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11sTkVvhLzk
  11. Mgnfi, “Evolution of Windows (updated!)”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYxNs5kYJwk
  12. Tonny, “Evolution of Windows 10”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiZntpaRGrY
  13. Amal Irfan KC, “Evolution of Ubuntu Desktop”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQ4V4V5lQGQ
  14. BLASTERTECHNOLOGY, “Evolution of Android OS 1.0 to 11 2020”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=leCGI9flgbE
  15. BLASTERTECHNOLOGY, “History of Apple iOS 1-14 Evolution”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czao_iNr5ew
  16. HowToGeek, “How to Move The Taskbar Icons to The Left on Windows 11”, https://www.howtogeek.com/737830/how-to-move-the-taskbar-icons-to-the-left-on-windows-11/
  17. WCCFTech, “Windows 11 Fixes Taskbar at the Bottom – You Won’t Be Able to Dock It Elsewhere”, https://wccftech.com/windows-11-taskbar-is-fixed-at-the-bottom-you-cant-dock-it-elsewhere/
  18. XDA, “Will Microsoft Force Me to Upgrade to Windows 11?”, https://www.xda-developers.com/windows-11-force-upgrade/
  19. The Verge, “Microsoft to End Windows 10 Support on October 14th, 2025”, https://www.theverge.com/2021/6/14/22533018/microsoft-windows-10-end-support-date
  20. The Computer Cellar, “‘End-of-Life’/’EOL’, ‘Unsupported’, and ‘Out of Support’ – What Does it All Mean?”, https://www.thecomputercellar.com/unsupported/
  21. Microsoft, Windows 11 Requirements”, https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/whats-new/windows-11-requirements
  22. PCMag, “Microsoft Teases Windows 11 Support for 7th Gen Intel CPUs, First-gen AMD Ryzen Chips”, https://www.pcmag.com/news/microsoft-teases-windows-11-support-for-7th-gen-intel-cpus-first-gen-amd
  23. DigitalTrends, “Microsoft Backpedals, Explains Controversial Windows 11 TPM Requirement”, https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/microsoft-explains-windows-11-tpm-requirement/
  24. LinusTechTips, “3nm CPUs Are Coming! – WAN Show July 2, 2021” (04:05), https://youtu.be/NCYNftA4EYM?t=244
  25. Microsoft, “New Surface PCs Enable Virtualization-Based Security (VBS) By Default to Empower Customers to Do More, Securely”, https://www.microsoft.com/security/blog/2021/01/11/new-surface-pcs-enable-virtualization-based-security-vbs-by-default-to-empower-customers-to-do-more-securely/
  26. PCWorld, “Stop! Why You Shouldn’t Panic-Buy a TPM for Windows 11”, https://www.pcworld.com/article/3623812/do-not-buy-a-tpm-for-windows-11-yet.html
  27. LinusTechTips, “3nm CPUs Are Coming! – WAN Show July 2, 2021” (17:54), https://youtu.be/NCYNftA4EYM?t=1074
  28. @ComputerCellar, Tweet, https://twitter.com/ComputerCellar/status/1409956926750928900
  29. Carbonite, “What is 3-2-1 Backup?”, https://www.carbonite.com/blog/article/2016/01/what-is-3-2-1-backup

 

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