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Microsoft unveils Windows 11 with new Start menu and Android compatibility

Image credit: Dreamstime

Microsoft has unveiled Windows 11, the latest version of its desktop operating system, which features a new, centred Start menu, the ability to run Android apps, and various gaming features.

It’s been nearly six years since the release of Windows 10, which Microsoft originally said would be the last version of the operating system. While it has received regular feature and security updates, Windows 11 introduces a more significant visual refresh, although it will remain a free upgrade to owners of the previous version.

One of the most obvious changes is shifting the Start bar to the centre for the first time since it was introduced in Windows 95. It now includes the ability to access recent files from the cloud and show any files the user was viewing earlier, even if they were originally accessed on an iPhone or Android device.

The Microsoft Store has also been rebuilt and now supports Android apps on Windows for the first time. However, instead of teaming up with Google, as one might expect, it will be using Amazon’s Appstore to bring apps developed for the mobile OS to Windows.

Android apps can be integrated into the Start menu, pinned onto the taskbar, and support Windows 11’s upgraded Snap features for some side-by-side action.

Amazon’s app store, which recently reduced the cut it takes from smaller developers, has a smaller app selection than Google’s, housing just over 460,000 apps compared to more than 3.4m for the Google Play Store.

Microsoft distanced itself from that process, saying the Microsoft Store would allow apps to use their own “commerce engine” if they chose it, and would allow them to keep “100 per cent” of the revenue generated.

The added functionality to run smartphone apps follows Microsoft’s abandonment of its own Windows 10 Mobile in 2017, with the final update for the platform released early last year.

Windows 11 will also integrate the Teams video conferencing and communications app in place of Skype – it has enjoyed runaway success during the pandemic as people moved to homeworking arrangements. The number of daily active users of Microsoft Teams has almost doubled in the past year, increasing from 75 million users in April 2020 to 145 million as of April 2021.

Snap multitasking has been updated from Windows 10 with a series of new snap functions, known as Snap Layouts, Snap Groups and Desktops. These are designed to better organise desktop clutter and optimise the space on screen.

Widgets have been introduced giving users a new personalised feed of news and information that will be made available in a standalone panel, powered by AI.

Lastly, Microsoft is shifting over some of the underlying tech from its Xbox gaming platform to Windows including DirectStorage, which takes greater advantage of high-speed SSD drives, and Auto HDR functionality.

Speaking during the unveiling, Microsoft’s chief product officer Panos Panay said the aim of the latest update was to help people do more with their computer while also making things simpler.

“At a time when the PC is playing a more central role in our lives, Windows 11 is designed to bring you closer to what you love,” he said.

“We’ve simplified the design and user experience to empower your productivity and inspire your creativity.”

Industry expert Geoff Blaber, chief executive of analyst firm CCS Insight, said the update “was not a revolutionary step” but was a “logical step” forward.

“The simplification of the Windows interface will be well received,” he said.

“Windows users and their requirements have grown so broad and diversified that Microsoft had to figure out how to introduce new functionality, hide complexity and bring the features that matter to the fore. This is a journey, but Windows 11 is a good start.

“In the face of a heightened competitive threat from Apple’s M1-based Macs, Microsoft is emphasising its philosophy of openness and connecting ecosystems by supporting Android apps and the Amazon App store.

“The contrast with Apple is becoming ever sharper, giving customers a clear choice.”

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