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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.

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Windows 11 will be available this holiday as a free upgrade.

Microsoft

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.

The company's expanding its support for the Android app for example, allowing people to more easily run phone apps on their computer. Microsoft's building its Teams software into Windows in a similar way as Apple's FaceTime is built into Macs -- except Microsoft doesn't want it to be exclusive. There's already a Microsoft Teams app for Mac, iPhones and Androids. (Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella even told a reporter he'd be happy to accept FaceTime onto Microsoft computers.)

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"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.

For tech companies, that's meant a boom in demand that's helped lead to chip and other supply shortages across the industry. Still, analysts estimate laptop and desktop computers may see their highest-ever sales this year.

Below are all the details we learned during Microsoft's event Thursday.

Windows 11 will be a free download for Windows 10 users this holiday

[12:03 a.m. PT]

Windows 11 may be a big update to Microsoft-powered computers, but the company says it'll still be a free update for existing users when it arrives this holiday season.

Additionally, Microsoft said companies will begin selling "Windows 11-ready PCs" before launch.


Teams is taking on Apple's FaceTime and App Store

[11:47 a.m. PT]

One of the biggest complaints about FaceTime is that it only runs on Apple devices. And even though Apple announced that this fall, Apple users can invite Android and Windows people into FaceTime calls, it's not like they have full access to the app.

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.

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CNET

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.

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Microsoft example of auto-HDR vs standard.

Microsoft

Windows 11 is official

[11:10 a.m. PT]

Microsoft officially announces Windows 11 (The name is real!). There's a bunch of new features, such as a Mac-like look, Microsoft Teams built in kinda like Apple's FaceTime, and widgets.


Windows 11 starts out buggy

[11:05 a.m. PT]

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.

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That loading circle? That's the dropped livestream.

Microsoft
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More livestream bugginess.

Microsoft

About to begin

[10:53 a.m. PT]

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.