Windows 11 is getting its first big update. Here’s what’s inside.

Windows 11 is getting its first big update. Here’s what’s inside.

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Fortunately, the same cannot be said for your computer.

After releasing Windows 11 last fall, Microsoft is polishing it up with the first of many regular “feature updates” the operating system will receive over its lifetime.

Panos Panay, director of products for Windows and devices at Microsoft, said the update was designed to make our PCs “easier and more secure to use,” and that the new software began rolling out to users in more than 190 countries on Tuesday. But what really awaits you on the other side of that update? And what if your computer is not compatible with it?

Here’s what you need to know about how Windows is changing.

People who already use Windows 11 on their PCs can install this new update for free. Some people who are still using Windows 10 on their PCs can also upgrade to this updated version of Windows for free. To check, open the Settings app on your PC, click Windows Update, then click Check for updates.

Lots of little tweaks and tweaks, many of which you’d have to be a real power user to notice. But some of the changes Microsoft made here are a bit easier to spot, and perhaps more impactful, than others. Here are a few you might want to keep your eyes peeled for:

  • Live captions throughout the system. Videos, podcasts, live radio broadcasts – if you’re meant to listen to it, Windows 11 will try to transcribe it on the screen for you. Features like these, which can be a boon for the hearing-impaired and people who leave captions on all the time, are more common on smartphones than computers, but thankfully that’s starting to change. (A similar feature is coming in Apple’s macOS Ventura software update in October.)
  • Customizable start menu. Right now, the Windows 11 Start menu shows you a mix of files and software you think you should see, plus apps you might have “pinned” there for quick access. But in this update, you’ll be able to tell Windows which one you’d like to see more of.
  • Voice control for your PC. Technically, this feature isn’t finished yet (Microsoft refers to it as a “preview”), but Voice Access was created to help people control their computers with spoken words, not keystrokes or mouse clicks.
  • New touch gestures. If your computer has a touch screen and/or turns into a tablet, these new gestures, like swiping up to open the Start menu, can help you navigate Windows a little faster.
  • Built-in camera effects. Not all PCs will support this, but some of you will be able to use new “studio” effects to customize your appearance in video calls and streams without having to rely on tools built into third-party apps. (Think about blurring your background, for example, or adjusting your video to make it look like you’re making eye contact.)

Not all new features in Windows 11 are as easy to access as others.

Some, like an intelligent app control feature that uses AI to determine whether an app you just installed is legitimate or malicious, require you to do a clean install instead of refreshing your PC like you always have. That means having to wipe your PC’s storage and install Windows 11 from scratch, or buy a new computer with the updated software already installed.

Meanwhile, you won’t find other features Microsoft has discussed including in Windows 11 if you install the update too soon. Additions like a new Photos app and tabs in Windows File Explorer, which should make jumping between different folders on your PC much faster, won’t be available to use until sometime in October.

How can I get the update?

If you’re already using the most up-to-date version of Windows 11, you should be able to get the update pretty quickly; just check the Windows Update section in your computer’s Settings app. And don’t worry if the update prompt doesn’t appear for a while; Microsoft says its “measured, staged deployment” process could take a bit of time, and sometimes comes down to when the company thinks your computer is “ready.”

But what if your computer is still running on Windows 10?

First of all, there is no shame in that, mine is too. And if your PC supports this new software, there’s a good chance the Windows Update section of your Settings app will let you know.

Windows 11 is now available, but not everyone will find it easy to upgrade

But here’s the hard truth: Not all PCs running Windows 10 can be upgraded to Windows 11. (For many people, myself included, it’s due to more stringent hardware security requirements.) And judging by how Microsoft likes to check the name of new PC models when announcing big upgrades like these, it’s pretty clear they’d like you to pay for a new PC.

If that’s something you were thinking of doing anyway, sure, go for it. But if your current PC still does everything you need, don’t feel pressured to buy new hardware just to use new software. Microsoft has said it will continue to support Windows 10 until October 2025, and that includes regular updates with new features, not just security patches. (In fact, the Windows 10 equivalent of this update will be available next month.)

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