Microsoft's Windows 11 announcement: All the free upgrades coming this fall
Microsoft's next major software update, Windows 11, is designed to work with as many apps as possible. It'll also include Xbox technology and Android apps.
Updated June 25, 2021 8:09 a.m. PT
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Reviews ethics statement
Ian SherrFormer Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
When you choose a computer or smartphone to buy these days, you have to pick between several factions. There's Apple world, which includes the Mac computer, iPhones and iPads, all designed to work together to help you share files, video chat and watch TV as easily as possible. There's also Google land, whose Android software powers an array of phones, tablets and computers. But with Windows 11, Microsoft wants to break that mold.
The software giant said Thursday that its next major version of Windows will launch as a free upgrade this fall, offering a host of new features that in some ways appear designed to position Microsoft as the company whose products work with ones from Apple, Google and pretty much anyone else.
"With Windows 11, we have a renewed sense of Windows' role in the world," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said while announcing the new software Thursday. "Today, the world needs a more open platform, one that allows apps to become a platform in their own right. Windows is a platform where things that are bigger than Windows can be born, like the web."
Microsoft's move to upgrade Windows comes at a time when demand for computers is higher than it's ever been. Over the past year, the pandemic upended billions of lives and forced many people to work from home. That meant many of them needed new computers, better internet connections and peripherals like large monitors to display their work. Now, as vaccines allow some countries to begin reopening, workers are pushing for hybrid work options, effectively making their home office experience permanent.
Well, Microsoft believes its answer will be with its Teams software. The first way it'll do that is by building Teams into the Windows 11 taskbar -- so, essentially, no need to install Teams separately anymore. With Teams available on Apple and Android devices already, that goes a long way toward helping Teams become a bit more competitive.
That's not all, Microsoft also said it'll allow developers on its Microsoft Store for Windows 11 to keep all the money they make, rather than the industry standard practice of charging up to a 30% commission for app purchases.
The tech giant also said developers can use any commerce technology they want, which again is a shift from Apple and Google's policies of requiring app developers use their payments processing service, which automatically deducts their commission.
Microsoft is making your computer more like an Xbox
[11:38 a.m. PT]
One of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's newest mantras is that Microsoft is "all in" on gaming. With Windows 11, Microsoft's folding in features like "Auto HDR," which uses computer intelligence to enhance the visuals in a video game. "The difference is stunning," said Xbox ecosystem exec Sarah Bond said during the event.
Microsoft has an interesting history with live demos. Famously, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates had a major crash in a live demo of Windows 98. Now, it appears Microsoft's having the problem again. Just as Microsoft was about to announce the name of its new Windows 11 software, the company's livestream dropped.
Microsoft's big event is about to begin. In the meantime you can enjoy that apparently someone found reference to the name Windows 11 in one of Microsoft's code bases in the Github service it runs, according to Bleeping Computer. So, there you have it. But honestly, with all the speculation about the name and all the hints, if Microsoft doesn't call this Windows 11, most people will probably think the last few weeks were an elaborate prank by the company's marketing team.