Microsoft bets on democracy (and new features) with Windows 11.

No one brags about running Windows. Unless you have some pre-release copy of the operating system months before it comes out, no one has ever used the fact that their PC runs on Microsoft’s desktop operating system as a reason to show off to their friends. At least, I’m unaware of someone ever doing this.

I don’t think this will change with Windows 11, Microsoft’s new version of the OS that’s used by billions of devices. The company’s approach with new features is flashy and eye-catching, and you might impress your friends if you show them the new Start menu in the middle of the screen. But taking a step back, what Microsoft wants you to focus on is its democratized outlook on the purpose of Windows and the opportunities one is afforded by using the operating system.

On stage during the keynote yesterday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said Windows has been a “democratizing force for the world. Windows has created entirely new categories for both consumers and businesses. It’s led to many of the world’s most successful software categories from communications and productivity to design and business applications, each of which has created their own ecosystems. The web itself was born and grew up on Windows.”

This is the vision Microsoft wants to continue with Windows 11. The company’s renewed focus on the OS targets the crowd that wants Windows to blend into the background while they work. It doesn’t have to be the flashiest, it doesn’t have to be the most hip, it just has to work.

“Windows has always stood for sovereignty for creators and agency for consumers,” Nadella continued. “With Windows 11, we have a renewed sense of Windows’ role in the world.”

That role focuses on personal agency in personal computing, making Windows the stage for the world’s creation, and positioning it as a platform for platform creators. And Microsoft stresses how it’s ready to provide the platform for the next platform that’s “bigger than Windows” to be born, further emphasizing the company’s commitment to the democratization of Windows and the idea of personal choice.

So much of what makes Windows 11 a unique version of Windows is how it balances that choice. For instance, if you want, Microsoft will let you run Android apps. If you want, you can sell an app or service through the new Microsoft Store and the company won’t take a cut. If you want, you can buy devices from a bunch of different manufacturers and still have a consistent experience across all of them.

The company’s positioning of Windows 11 as the platform of “choice” comes at a time when monopolies and regulation are on shaky ground. Apple is being put through the wringer for its alleged anti-competitive behavior in the Epic Games v. Apple trial, and new leaders of the FCC have positioned themselves as protectors of competition and corporate regulation. With these defining moments in tech history unfolding seemingly daily, it’s obvious Microsoft is signaling how it wants no part of it, so it’s making Windows 11 as equal and pro-competition as possible with these announcements.

Of course, the challenge then becomes convincing people to use the new version of Windows, which Microsoft will take a stab at with a lineup of new features.

Obviously, Windows 11 looks a lot different compared to past versions of Windows. It’s all thanks to the new UI which adds a ton of glassy, frosty, and deeper design elements that add definition and elegance to the general aesthetic. Everything looks a bit cleaner, more friendly, and much more modern.

Both the light and dark modes have been redesigned, and there’s a suite of fresh wallpapers to boot. Microsoft is also adding a ton of new icons to Windows 11 that take on looks that feel more defined and sculpted. Even File Explorer looks better now.

As I mentioned before, there’s also a new Start menu which is positioned in the center of your screen. Microsoft has done away with Live Tiles in favor of an Android-style app launcher, complete with a search field. It’s a lot cleaner and simpler and definitely feels like macOS.

Task View is also updated with a fresh UI and window grouping for desktops, and Windows 11 is now smart enough to remember where your windows were on a second monitor after you disconnect it. The maximize/minimize has also seen improvements with a new menu that lets you select multiple different layouts for split-screen apps.

For touch screens, there are some new gestures and a widget panel to the left that contextualizes information an AI engine thinks you’ll want/need. You also get a new keyboard that feels more like your phone, according to Microsoft.

With Windows 11, Microsoft will integrate its Teams communication software into the core of the OS to power video calls and messaging. Xbox Game Pass is also seeing this kind of integration with support for xCloud and DirectStorage for speeding up game load times.

Then there’s the integration of Android apps on Windows 11. As a part of the company’s “people’s choice” style of messaging, you now have the choice of running Android apps on your PC natively. They’ll obviously be presented the way they were intended by the developer in either phone or tablet layouts. This also means apps like Instagram and TikTok which aren’t native to Windows will finally be able to run without a third-party or browser-based workaround.

The way the feature works is really interesting. Inside the Microsoft Store is a sort of embedded version of Amazon’s app store which includes a ton of Android apps. You can search the standard Microsoft Store for whatever apps are available through Amazon and download them like normal Windows apps. When you install an Android app for the first time, you’ll be asked to install the Amazon Appstore on your machine. Afterward, you can fire up the app using Intel Bridge technology and install/uninstall apps like normal.

It’s a fascinating solution to the lack of native apps on Windows. With Windows 10, Microsoft struggled to convince developers to create completely separate versions of their apps for Windows and Windows Phone (the company’s failed smartphone operating system). By supplying Amazon’s app store directly to users, however, developers will simply need to ship their APKs to Amazon for inclusion on hundreds of millions of Windows 11 PCs.

Windows 11 seems to be a step in the right direction for the future Microsoft wants to see from the OS. While it’s not a complete rethinking of how Windows works at its core, it still seems like a solid upgrade on the user interface front.

When I wrote my article on whether Windows 11 would disappoint, I said how there was a chance the update wouldn’t earn its new name. With these changes on board coupled with the renewed focus on how Microsoft thinks of Windows as a platform, I think it’s safe to say the name is justified.

What the final version of Windows 11 is like to use will take some time to learn. Microsoft said the software won’t ship until the fall of this year. Luckily, it’ll be offered for free to all Windows 10 users.

Speaking of releasing updates, the company also said it’s switching to a once-a-year release cycle for major updates to Windows, falling in line with the rest of the industry.

Windows 11 will certainly raise a lot of eyebrows and bolster renewed interest in the operating system. It’ll be interesting to see where the OS goes over the next few years and beyond, especially with the idea of Windows being the choice-based platform and competitor’s offerings coming off as locked-down.

In other news…

Microsoft

On the same day it unveiled Windows 11, Microsoft became a $2 trillion company. It ended yesterday a little bit over that threshold at $2.009 trillion, according to CNN Business. That’s a lot of money, so I’m sure that helped make yesterday even sweeter.

Samsung Galaxy foldables

Evan Blass, a legendary leaker, surfaced an image of the upcoming Galaxy Z fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3 yesterday on Twitter. The image shows off both devices in all their glory, complete with what appear to be their final designs. A follow-up image detailed the Z Fold 3 a bit more and confirmed support for the S Pen. Expect more of these leaks over the next month as we inch closer to early August when Samsung is expected to reveal these new foldables.

Apple developer betas

After a bit more than two weeks since the first round of developer betas were released, Apple has finally dropped the second developer betas of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15. These betas usually refine the new features that debut in the first beta and introduce some new tweaks. They also have a ton of bug fixes and performance improvements, but it’s still not in a state to be installed by just anyone.

That being said, I’m probably gonna install the beta just to be an idiot on my main iPhone. I’ll let you know on Twitter if I cave.

Google

  • Google Chrome will wait until 2023 until it drops third-party cookies. Before, Google had planned to suspend support about a year earlier, but that won’t be happening any longer. It’s a complicated decision, one fueled by regulators and the United Kingdom’s competition and Markets Authority. Dieter Bohn at The Verge explains the situation well, so go read his article for more details.
  • Google Fi on iPhones is finally gaining a VPN. Android users have been enjoying a free VPN with their subscriptions to Google’s MVNO that secures their online presence, and now iPhone owners will also be able to take advantage of it. The feature can be found in the Privacy section of Phone Settings in the Google Fi app.
  • Google and Indian carrier Jio are partnering to deliver the JioPhone Next, a budget Android phone for folks in India that will offer a specialized version of Android Go with tons of optimizations and features to make it as pleasant an experience as possible. continuous feature drops and security updates will be included, and even heavier features like the Google Assistant will be supported. No launch date or price has been confirmed just yet, but I assume that’ll come in due time.

Optimum

If you’re a subscriber of Optimum’s internet service, I’ve got some bad news: they’re cutting upload speeds by a lot. According to the company, upload speeds will dip to 5Mbps from 35Mbps. You’ll feel these effects if you change your service with the provider at all, meaning whether you upgrade or downgrade your service.

Why is Optimum doing this? To bring its plans more “in-line with other ISPs” and “the industry.” That’s not a good reason whatsoever, and you have every right to call them up and scream at them if you’re mad. Ars Technica has more details on how this will affect customers.


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