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Windows 11 download: How to get Microsoft's free update now

Can't wait for the Windows 11 general release later this year? You can download an early version of Microsoft's new OS now. Here's how.

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Windows 11 will be free to download for Windows 10 users. 

Microsoft

Windows 11 is on its way. Microsoft's new operating system will start rolling out to eligible devices on Oct. 5, and the upgrade will be free if you're already a Windows 10 user. When it arrives, you'll be able to update to the new software the same way you usually update Windows 10, as long as your device is compatible and meets the minimum requirements needed. (And even if it doesn't, Microsoft will offer a workaround, though it won't be supported by the company.)

If you're a member of the Windows Insider Program and just can't wait until the final version arrives, you can download the first Windows 11 Insider Preview build today and test out some of its new features, such as widgets, snap layouts, virtual desktops and the new Microsoft Store. We'll tell you how below. Before your download, here's everything you need to know about Microsoft's new software.

First, to see if your current Windows 10 PC is eligible for the free upgrade to Windows 11, you can check in a few different ways. And if you buy a new PC between now and the general release, that computer will also be eligible for the free upgrade. 

If you haven't updated to Windows 10 yet, don't worry -- there's a trick for downloading Windows 10 free that still works. Now would be a good time to make the switch to prepare your machine for the Windows 11 upgrade. That trick will be the same one you use if you want to manually upgrade an older machine to Windows 11, though Microsoft doesn't encourage doing this as it may not be eligible for the same updates. 

Read moreAndroid apps coming to Windows 11: Everything we know right now

How to download the Windows 11 Insider Preview build

If you're a member of the Windows Insider Program (you can sign up now for free), you can download a preview build of Windows 11 now. However, it's important to note that beta versions, particularly early ones, tend to be buggy. You should never download a beta on your primary device, only on a tester device if you have one. For most people, it's best to wait for the general release starting in October. This first build also doesn't include every new feature that will eventually arrive with the general release. 

Still want to try it out? Here's how. 

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Try out new features like widgets in the Windows 11 beta.

Microsoft

1. Make sure you're running a licensed version of Windows 10 on your device, and that you're an administrator on the device. Register to join the Windows Insider Program if you haven't already. Or sign into your Windows Insider account. Click Start flighting

2. Go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Program. Click Get Started

3. Under Pick an account to get started, select + to connect the Microsoft account you registered with and continue.

4. Follow the instructions to choose the experience and channel you want to get Insider Preview builds through: the Dev channel (for developers), the beta channel (for early adopters) or the release preview channel (for those who want to get the latest version just before it's generally released). Note that this build is coming to the Dev channel.

5. Review the Privacy Statement and terms, and click confirm. Click Restart Now

6. After restarting, make sure your data settings are correct so you can download preview builds. To do this, go to Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics & feedback, and make sure the Optional Diagnostic Data switch is flipped to On

7. Go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update. Click the Check for updates button. You should see the latest Insider Preview build based on the settings you selected. 

From there, your device should update the same way it would with any other Windows update, and you'll be good to go. 

How to download Windows 11 once it's generally available

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Here's how you'll download Windows 11.

Stephen Beacham/CNET

Once Windows 11 becomes available to all Windows users with compatible computers in October, you'll download it the same way you would with any new version of Windows. Most users will go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and click Check for Updates. If available, you'll see Feature update to Windows 11. Click Download and install

However, note that the Windows 11 rollout will be slow -- it could take months before it's available on your device. New PCs will get the upgrade first, and all compatible devices are expected to receive it by mid-2022, depending on device age and hardware. 

Windows 11 features a streamlined new design, with pastel colors, rounded corners, a new startup sound and overall a more Mac-like look. The Windows Start menu has moved from the bottom left of the screen to the middle, with app icons arranged in the center next to it. You'll find lots of new desktop tools, like widgets that can give you at-a-glance information, and easier virtual desktop creation. And Android apps will be integrated into Windows and installable from the Microsoft Store -- though that feature won't be available right away. (Check out all of the best Windows 11 features and how to use them.) 

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The update marks the first major change to Microsoft's operating system since Windows 10 launched back in 2015. Rumors about a major Windows redesign have been circulating for the past year. At the Microsoft Build developers conference on May 25, CEO Satya Nadella said Microsoft was planning "one of the most significant updates of Windows of the past decade," confirming that a major change was on the horizon for the 1.3 billion users of the OS in 2021. And in mid-June, Microsoft quietly announced that it would end support for Windows 10 in 2025 as leaked images of Windows 11 spread.

For more, check out everything we wanted to see in Windows 11 but didn't, and all of the big differences between Windows 10 and Windows 11

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