Windows 11, the newest version of Microsoft's desktop OS, was released Oct. 5, 2021.
The upgrade is free for Windows 10 PCs that are compatible with Windows 11. Most Windows 10 third-party applications should work with Windows 11. Microsoft will continue to support Windows 10 through Oct. 14, 2025. However, it is unclear how many Windows 10 updates Microsoft will roll out during that time frame.
Read more information here about Windows 11 system requirements.
Since support for Windows 10 won't end anytime soon, it's not urgent for users to upgrade to Windows 11 -- unless they want to take advantage of some of its new features. One of the most significant new features in Windows 11 is Microsoft Copilot, released Sept. 26.
To help decide if upgrading is right for you and learn about the latest Windows 11 features, here are some of the differences between Windows 11 and Windows 10.
A major difference between Windows 11 and Windows 10 is in its design. Windows 11 offers an interface that's more like a Mac, with pastel colors, rounded corners for all windows and a cleaner interface than its predecessor. Microsoft simplified the UI as much as possible to create a clean space for work and play.
Start menu and taskbar
Microsoft moved the Start menu along with the taskbar to the center of the screen; however, users can move them back to the left as they are in Windows 10 if they choose.
Windows 11 also doesn't support live tiles. Live tiles display useful bits of information that users can view without opening the corresponding apps. For example, the weather live tile shows the forecast. Windows 10 is best for users who want to see information in their Start menus at a glance.
Another new feature in Windows 11 is Snap Layouts. These let users organize their apps and windows more efficiently by grouping them together -- similar to how users can group apps on Android and iOS. Snap Layouts provide different layout options to organize different windows. Snap is a productivity feature that enables users to logically arrange apps and other windows on the screen.
The Snap feature in Windows 10 requires users to arrange their windows manually by hovering to the left or right of the screen or by using keyboard combinations. Snap Layouts let users automatically arrange their open windows the way they want. For example, users can arrange their open windows as squares. Snap Layout options vary depending on the size of a user's screen. Snap Groups let users quickly go back to their Snap Layouts when they hover on the taskbar.
Microsoft has redesigned the Microsoft Store in Windows 11, making it easier for users to find apps and movies, for example. The Microsoft Store lets users download all the Windows apps in Windows 11 and Windows 10.
Since the Microsoft Store is a Universal Windows Platform app, it is updated independent of Windows 11 itself.
The Microsoft Store also includes Android apps hosted on the Amazon Appstore. Customers can use Android apps on Windows 10 with the Your Phone app. By bringing Android apps to Windows 11, Microsoft is meeting user demand to run smartphone apps on their desktops.
To run Android apps in Windows 11, users need to download the Amazon Appstore from the Microsoft Store and download the Windows Subsystem for Android.
Teams, moving from Skype
Microsoft has replaced the Windows 10 Meet Now feature powered by Skype with the integration of Teams into the Windows 11 taskbar. This aims to make it easier for users to access the communication platform.
Microsoft also replaced Skype with the Teams chat capability. This is an effort to encourage more Teams users to use the app's consumer features and eventually use Teams outside work. Microsoft retired Skype for Business Online on July 31, 2021.
Users can still download Skype for Windows and Skype for Mobile from the Microsoft Store for free.
Touch or tablet mode
In Windows 11, tablet mode is enabled by default on touchscreen and 2-in-1 devices; 2-in-1 devices are those that enter tablet mode when the keyboard is detached. The option to turn tablet mode on or off in the taskbar like in Windows 10 has been removed in Windows 11.
Windows 11 also has larger touch targets and visual cues so that users can easily resize and move windows.
Although Windows 10 included the Task View feature and let users create multiple virtual desktops, the options were limited. Windows 11 users can set up virtual desktops much like they could with a Mac. Users can toggle between multiple desktops simultaneously for work, school, gaming and personal use.
PC gaming has also improved with Windows 11. DirectStorage, one of the new PC gaming features, is also supported in Windows 10. DirectStorage takes advantage of the modern storage hardware in gaming PCs to streamline how game data is processed. Auto high dynamic range (HDR) is also baked into Windows 11, which enhances the colors in many games.
When a user plays on an HDR monitor, Auto HDR enhances the color range in many DirectX 11 and newer games -- even games where HDR settings weren't implemented. Xbox Game Pass is also included in Windows 11.
Windows 11 includes performance improvements, such as faster logins with Windows Hello, faster web browsing and faster wake from sleep mode. Windows Hello is a biometrics-based technology that lets Windows 10 and 11 users authenticate secure access to their devices, apps and networks with iris scans, facial recognition or fingerprints.
Microsoft has also said that Windows 11 updates -- which will run in the background -- will be 40% smaller, so they'll take less time to download and install. The new operating system will help users extend battery life on their laptops.
Windows Copilot is an AI-powered assistant available in Windows 11, Microsoft 365 and the Edge web browser. Some of the apps that Copilot will affect include -- but are not limited to -- Photos, Paint and Clipchamp. Microsoft Copilot became generally available Sept. 26. Microsoft 365 Copilot becomes generally available to enterprise customers Nov. 1, along with Microsoft 365 Chat. Copilot can be accessed in the taskbar or with the Windows key + C keyboard shortcut.
Learn more about Windows 10 vs. Windows 11 system requirements here.