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Windows 11, beneath the hood: A complete guide

September 14, 2022

When it comes to operating systems, it doesn’t get much bigger than Windows. With over 75% of all desktops worldwide using it, being familiar with the latest version - Windows 11 - is a good move, no matter your field.

In this article, we delve into the common questions around Windows 11: What does it offer, is it worth it, and how do you go about updating your system? We also share some learning resources you can use if you’re professionally working with Windows clients, or studying for your MD-100 and MD-101 exams.

Why has Microsoft released Windows 11?

Back in 2015, a Microsoft employee famously claimed “Windows 10 is the last version of Windows.” Media outlets touted it as “Windows Forever” - a version where users would never have to purchase a new upgrade every three years. Instead, it would use a subscription model, and the OS would be constantly up to date.

Six years later, Microsoft announced the release of Windows 11. Understandably, this has caused some confusion. Even though Microsoft never officially stated they would never release a new version of Windows, many people thought the buy-update-upgrade model was dead. 

So why have we got a new version? The big reason: Security.

Since the release of Windows 10, we’ve seen a massive uptick in ransomware, phishing, and malware attacks. In a Windows Insider blog post on system requirements for Windows 11, security is listed as the first guiding principle for delivering the best experience, now and in the future. 

It is noted that a combination of Windows Hello, Device Encryption, virtualization-based security (VBS), hypervisor-protected code integrity (HVCI), and Secure Boot have been shown to reduce malware by 60%.

To support these features, the PC requires certain hardware, which means changing the system requirements. However, you don’t exactly want to up and change these requirements on an OS everyday people are already using like Windows 10. 

That’s why, even though many of the cosmetic features of Windows 11 could have been rolled out as a Win 10 update, Microsoft has opted for a major upgrade instead.

What is the status of the Windows 11 rollout?

Because Windows 11 hasn’t been out very long, it can be hard to get accurate, official information on the rollout status.

According to Statscounter, Windows 11 isn’t seeing the same level of adoption as Windows 10 did at the same time after release. 

As of August 2022, Windows 11 accounts for only 13% of the market share of Windows Desktop operating systems, while Windows 10 is still sitting strong at 72%. Compare this to the 10-month mark after Windows 10’s release, where it had a 26% share compared to Windows 7 at 49%.

Another report by AdDuplex paints a nicer picture for Windows 11, showing the worldwide adoption of Windows 11 sitting at 23% in June 2022. This is up from 16% at the start of the year.

That said, Microsoft is known for playing the long game. As more machines are built and distributed with Windows 11 preinstalled, these numbers will only rise. It’s also likely Microsoft will invest more into feature development and marketing.

Should I upgrade to Windows 11?

This is one of those questions that I love to annoy people with the consultant’s answer of “It depends.” But before you start cursing at me, let’s unpack that a bit!

First, a blanket statement: If your current Windows PC meets the hardware requirements, I’d strongly encourage you to upgrade for the security enhancements alone, even if you don’t plan on leveraging any other new features or functionality.

I consider myself a power user of the Windows desktop, and the more I use Windows 11, the more features and enhancements I find that improve my productivity and workflow. Compared to Windows 10, there are improvements with the multiple desktop feature and external monitor support, new snap layouts, a better widget section, focus assist integration with notification center, improvements to the Snipping Tool, and so on.

If cosmetics are important to you, Windows 11 certainly comes with a new lick of paint. The Windows 11 theme of rounded corners is pleasing to the eyes, giving it a much softer look. Built-in apps like Media Player, Photos, Paint, and even Notepad have had a facelift and new functionality introduced. 

If you’re a gamer, some features that might pique your interest are Auto High Dynamic Range (HDR) color and the new DirectStorage feature. The latter allows games to load directly into memory on the graphics card for faster load times, bypassing the CPU.

At the end of the day, Windows 11 is a notable change from Windows 11. There’s a lot that’s familiar, but there’s also a lot that’s not - and really, that’s true of almost any Windows upgrade. In this case, I would say the new style and processes are overall for the better, and I’m enjoying the experience. 

How to upgrade to Windows 11

Microsoft had to make the upgrade process to Windows 11 as easy and user-friendly as possible to get widespread adoption, and that’s what they achieved. 

I feel we’ve been spoiled with the ease of upgrading to new versions of software on our mobile devices and tablets. Tap a few buttons, wait a few minutes, and the device is now running the newest version of the operating system. Microsoft learned from this pattern and mirrored this behavior with the upgrade path from Windows 10 to Windows 11.

There are several ways to upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11, but the preferred and easiest method is using Windows Update, which is built into Windows 10. Windows Update will automatically check to see if your device is compatible with Windows 11, and if so, you’ll see the option to apply the upgrade to Windows 11. All you need to do is approve the upgrade, and Windows Update will handle the rest, including keeping all your files, applications, and settings.

If you’re running an older version of Windows such as 7 or 8, there is no direct in-place upgrade to Windows 11 allowing you to keep all of your apps and data intact. You’ll need to go down the path of performing a clean install of Windows 11 on your device, and then reinstalling your applications and copying your data back. Alternatively, you can first perform an in-place upgrade to Windows 10, followed by an in-place upgrade to Windows 11.

While the in-place upgrade will bring across your files, applications, and settings, before performing any major change like a Windows Operating System upgrade, you should always take a backup of your important data, ensuring it is stored on a device that is not connected to the machine during the upgrade. There are built-in tools in Windows to perform ad-hoc backups, and if you’re storing your files in a cloud storage solution like OneDrive, you’ve already got an offsite copy of your data.

Tips for upgrading a workplace to Windows 11

Needless to say, you need to approach things differently when thinking about your home PC versus deploying Windows to a fleet of machines at your workplace. 

Although Microsoft is committing to application and device compatibility, it would be prudent to go through a testing process to ensure critical applications and devices in your workplace are compatible with Windows 11. You’ll also want to ensure your frontline support team has been using Windows 11 themselves for some time, to be in a position to support end users.

The upgrade to Windows 11 should typically be rolled out in phases or rings, starting with a small pilot group, and gradually including more and more devices and users as time goes on. This gives your support team time and resources to respond to any upgrade issues without being overwhelmed by the entire workplace being upgraded at the same time.

Depending on the tooling you are using to manage your Windows fleet of devices in the workplace, from the end user perspective you can make the upgrade experience similar to upgrading their machine at home. When my workplace rolled out Windows 11 to our devices managed by the organization, it just appeared as an optional update in Windows Update that I could approve and install as a self-service option. 

If you’re using tooling such as Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager, there’s a lot of control around rolling out the Windows 11 upgrade to your managed devices, including scheduling the upgrade if you have a particular deadline to work towards.

If anyone has the upgrade process worked out for a large organization, you’d expect that to be Microsoft. They were able to roll out Windows 11 to 190,000 devices in five weeks and provided some insights into their rollout planning and strategy.

Are there any downsides to Windows 11?

No operating system is flawless, and Windows 11 is no exception. Here are some of the things you should be aware of.

Hardware requirements

When planning the upgrade to Windows 11, one of the first things you might come across is that your machine may not meet the minimum system requirements to run Windows 11. 

The resource requirements themselves are pretty low, such as 4GB of memory, a 64GB or larger storage device, and a dual core processor running at 1 gigahertz or faster. Most of these requirements will be met by most machines manufactured in the last three to five years. 

However, if your machine doesn’t support secure boot or lacks a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0, these compatibility issues are going to be a problem.

These features themselves are fantastic from a security perspective. However, they also stop a lot of older devices from being able to run Windows 11. If your device falls into this category, you might need to look at getting a new PC to be able to run Windows 11's minimum hardware requirements.

Forced online login

Another requirement that’s causing waves is users being forced to log in with a Microsoft Account when going through the initial setup process. In previous versions of Windows, you could easily create a local account on the PC and sign in with a local username and password. The benefit? You don’t need to have the device connected to any online services.

Not so with Windows 11 Home (and personal use of Windows 11 Pro). Whether you want to or not, you’re forced to get online and have an account as a condition for use.

Now, there are upsides to logging in to Windows 11 with a Microsoft Account, such as getting access to features and functionality that simply won’t work without it (Microsoft Store, OneDrive). However, users are frustrated at Microsoft for forcing their hand rather than giving them an option.

Subjective UI changes

With any new version of the Windows OS, there are visual and UI changes.  The Start Menu and the Taskbar are two notable core components of Windows that have had an overhaul in Windows 11. 

Some like the changes, and some will dislike the changes. That said, the first annual feature update for Windows 11 is due in September 2022, and there will be notable changes to both the Start Menu and the Taskbar, showing Microsoft is listening to feedback.

Can I downgrade from Windows 11 to Windows 10?

Here’s some good news if you want to try out Windows 11 without committing: You can easily roll back to Windows 10 after upgrading to Windows 11. However, you’ve got to do it within ten days of upgrading to Windows 11. 

If you wait any longer, and you want to go back to Windows 10, you’ll need to do a clean installation. While this is doable, it’s more time consuming.

What will I lose from Windows 10 if I upgrade to Windows 11?

It’s fair to think that when you upgrade to a new version of software, you’ll be getting new features and functionality, but it’s important to assess if there’s anything you’ll lose by going through with the upgrade. 

Microsoft publishes a list of features that are deprecated or removed, and this is the first place I’d recommend you look at to see if anything you use or rely on is either removed or deprecated. This list may change as new feature updates are released for Windows 11, so it’s important to check in on this when you’re planning your upgrade.

Some other questions you might be pondering are “Will my applications work on Windows 11?”, or “Will this device I use every day work after the upgrade?”. Microsoft made a commitment with application and device compatibility when upgrading to Windows 10, and that same commitment is being carried through to Windows 11. The goal of Microsoft is to ensure your applications and devices will work after the upgrade, with no changes required on your behalf.

If you follow one of the processes to perform an in-place upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11, the upgrade process will keep your applications, settings, and data all intact, ready for you to use post-upgrade, so there’s no need to reinstall your applications and copy your data to another storage device. 

With that said, it’s always recommended to ensure you have backups of your system before making any major change, which includes an upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11.

How long will Windows 11 stay as a free upgrade?

At the time of writing, buried down in the FAQs on the Windows 11 landing page, Microsoft stated the upgrade to Windows 11 will be free until at least the 5th of October 2022. 

Microsoft may choose to extend this, which I think is likely given the uptake rate. However, they may also choose to end the free upgrade offer and start charging. I’d imagine Microsoft would want to give some notice if they do intend to end the free upgrade offer, to give some of the stragglers a push to update their systems.

Microsoft will continue to support at least one release of Windows 10 until October 14, 2025. So if you’re happy with the functionality of Windows 10 and aren’t enticed by the new features, or if your device doesn’t support Windows 11, you’ve got some time before you need to decide.

What Windows 11 training resources are there?

Are you involved in Windows Desktop administration (or want to get into this field)? If so, we’d strongly suggest the following Windows 11 courses, which go into deeper detail about working with this new OS:

If you’re studying for MD-100 or MD-101, or another form of Windows 11 certification, I’d strongly recommend giving these a look. You can also check out the following learning paths which will help you prep for specific Microsoft desktop certifications: