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Windows 11: Is this the last ever version?

Microsoft has launched a new version of its operating system, but there’s more to it than an improved user interface.


At first glance, Windows 11 is Microsoft taking aim at Apple’s Mac OS, with a clean, simple and more elegant design aesthetic. It brings a new UI that centralises the start menu and main apps on the taskbar, and has more rounded corners and tile transparencies; Snap layouts, which remembers how you like to have different windows open when multitasking; and virtual desktops to improve access to different workloads, such as setting up different work and home desktops, for example. It also features a new app store that enables Android apps to operate on PCs, an improved gaming integration with Xbox, and better integration with Teams. Microsoft has said that the pandemic brought about a great deal of change, which of course it has, especially for those of us still able to work from home. “We went from fitting the PC into our life to trying to fit our whole life into the PC,” reads the launch page. Windows 11 was developed as a response to how Microsoft sees the hybrid workplace of the future.

That’s all good and well, but wasn’t Windows 10 supposed to be the ultimate version of the long-serving operating system?

“When Windows 10 was launched in 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said it was the last edition of Windows; there would be no Windows 11, so it's interesting that there has had to be a Windows 11,” says Ranjit Atwal, senior research director at Gartner.

Things move quickly in technology; networks have changed, as has the way we access services, says Charlie Luis, research manager, Security and Software, IDC SSA. “Microsoft needed to upgrade and the only way of doing that was to do a major release.”

More than meets the eye

Reading between the lines, one of the major reasons for a new version of Windows is less about the superficial UI changes and integration with Xbox and Teams, and more about tightening security.


Luis says security is a priority for Microsoft, and while it is the last listed factor on the release information, there does seem to be an understated significance. Its launch release reads: "Windows 11 is also secure by design, with new built-in security technologies that will add protection from the chip to the cloud, while enabling productivity and new experiences. Windows 11 provides a zero trust-ready operating system to protect data and access across devices. We have worked closely with our OEM and silicon partners to raise security baselines to meet the needs of the evolving threat landscape and the new hybrid work world.”

Gartner’s Atwal also believes there’s more to the new OS than meets the eye.

“My question is, what’s in Windows 11 that's so different? On the face of it, there's very little that needs an update to the whole OS,” he says. “Microsoft hasn’t revealed what's going on underneath, so I assume behind the scenes, it was decided a step change was required, whether that's in terms of security or the virtual PCs, and the best thing to do is to start building it out in Windows 11.”

As with any new version of an operating system, the requirements for the underlying hardware generally evolve too. In addition to the usual RAM, disk space and CPU specs, one hardware element that aligns with the enhanced security vision is the need for a TPM (trusted platform module). “It’s a chip on the motherboard and it enables full disc encryption and that's where the security comes in. A lot of older PCs won't be compatible,” says Luis. He adds that the upgrade for existing Windows users will be free, providing they have compatible hardware.

There’s an online tool available to check that can be found to determine the compatibility of a PC.

Good news for the channel

“I think PCs around five years old will probably need upgrading,” says Atwal. And while Windows 10 will be supported until 2025, the need for more modern hardware to run the new OS will provide opportunity for the channel – one that seemed to have vanished with the feature updates introduced with Windows 10.

Charlie Luis, IDC Charlie Luis, IDC
“There wasn't reason to upgrade older hardware previously. If they’re upgrading now on Windows 11, that would no doubt be one way of driving those upgrades as well, a future-proofing move,” says Atwal.

“I don't think Windows 11 was ever meant to be a big splash, in terms of being something completely different and new, but Microsoft has to get it out there. The channel is probably better off having a new and different operating system than having to look from the outside in in terms of the upgrades that were happening on a regular basis. At least this gives the channel the opportunity to get their hands around something new.

“By its very nature, it requires management, servicing and support, education and training and all the rest of it, so when there's a change, there will at least be a short-term opportunity,” he says.

>> WINDOWS 365 – THE CLOUD PC

In addition to Windows 11, Microsoft also recently launched its cloud PC model Windows 365. It will allow enterprises and organisations to provision a fleet of virtual PCs through the cloud, specifying the amount of resources available for users, and priced accordingly.

Gartner’s Ranjit Atwal says that during the various lockdowns across the world, a lot of people with Windows 7 PCs in the home upgraded to Windows 10. “Suddenly, all these PCs that had been sitting around unused were being turned on.” Windows 365 addresses that need for enterprises to provision the latest secure operating system, by enabling users to access an, always up-to-date version of Windows from any device running a web browser.
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