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Microsoft announced Windows 11 on June 24, 2021.
Why? I have no idea why.
I watched the briefing online and I didn’t hear anything that represented more than what might have been pushed out in one or more “routine” Windows 10 feature releases. New icons? Mildly new look? A couple of cute and maybe even helpful UI enhancements? Those don’t sound like concepts that generate major versions given the similar feature updates we’ve seen creep into Windows, Edge, and Microsoft 365 over the past couple of years.
And remember, Microsoft said when they launched Windows 10 that it would be the last version of their operating system. Afterwards they would move to an online OS where the personal computer became a dumb client and all computing was done online – “in the cloud”.
So far they have mostly done that with Office 365, which is an enhanced version of the Office applications that come with a Microsoft email account. But a WHOLE operating system for the world to use? That’s a tall order since most people still want to keep their personal computing – well – personal.
So what’s going on?
The US Government’s General Services Administration (GSA) has specific procurement schedules, just like major corporations, but on more of a tight schedule. For most software, GSA contracts specify an initial five-year procurement period followed by a second five-year support period. That’s ten years in which a software company must maintain a software product. Windows 10 was introduced on April 29, 2015; we’re just over six years in. That alone might make Microsoft want to “reboot” the system and start a different set of clocks running.
It sounds a bit silly. Microsoft has been on the wrong side of this twice, once with a two-year extension of Windows XP support and then again with extended service agreements for Windows 7.
There are several extremely significant parts of this announcement, however, all bad news for Windows users.
The event itself
I’ve been watching Microsoft’s events in all their forms for the last few years. This “What’s next for Windows” event was, without question, the worst I have seen. That doesn’t make sense; if Windows 11 is so significant, so new, so fresh, where are the marching bands and fireworks? Microsoft never comes close to the Hollywood polish of Apple, but it has done far better in the past.
My conclusion is that Microsoft did not want to do this event at this time but was forced to do so — and thus did it in haste. Microsoft alerted everyone to the event several weeks ago, right around the time that a Windows 11 test build leaked. While I can’t prove any connection between the leak, or where it came from, the timing is suspicious.
Haste is what I saw in the construction of the event. Panos Panay’s presentation lacked the passion for which he has become known; I consider him the most forceful proponent of Microsoft since Steve Ballmer. It wasn’t evident this time. If Panay isn’t excited, I consider that a signal that we shouldn’t be terribly excited, either.
Satya Nadella’s brief participation was also less than inspiring. Nadella is a superb executive and a strong leader, but his stage presence leaves something to be desired. After watching his talk, I wasn’t shaking in anticipation of a great new software advance. He said the words “re-imagining everything” and called Windows 11 a “democratizing force for the world,” but these statements are so broad as to mean nothing and, as seems to be typical for him, were backed up by nothing.
From all the other presenters, I got next to nothing — except for what I think might have been a tiny slip (or was it?) from Steve Dispensa when he mentioned “device hardware readiness.” Turns out that’s big.
This is another reason why I think the event was patched together quickly. No specific dates were given. Even the general availability date was mentioned only as “holiday,” which typically means by Thanksgiving in the US. Insider releases are coming, but nothing specific about them was offered. We don’t really know when.
In a five-minute presentation given to media prior to the public event, corporate vice president of communications Frank Shaw pooh-poohed the leaked version of Windows 11, calling it an “incomplete release,” and urged those of us who write about computing not to discuss features until they showed up in the early insider releases. What?
Shaw’s mere mention of the leaked release seems to me a major slip. Why recognize it at all? Why bother? Why is that leak so important? And what’s with trying to muzzle writers? Microsoft distributed a picture of the new, centered start menu, but I’m not supposed to talk about it until I see it in the flesh? Well, that isn’t happening. By now everyone has seen pictures of it. There is no side panel with the app list, nor the fancy square tiles. It’s just a box slap dab in the middle of the screen. Ho hum.
The major glitch — hardware
Remember, Steve Dispensa’s “slip” was his use of the phrase “device hardware readiness.” It was the only mention of hardware other than Panay’s comments about working closely with Intel, Qualcomm, and ARM and using the word “silicon.” There was a passing mention of 10th- and 11th-generation Intel chips, but not as requirements — only as a good platform for Windows 11.
The “readiness” phrase set off sirens and red flashing lights among most all of the writers I’ve read.
Hardware turns out to be a huge deal or a huge deal-breaker, depending upon your perspective. Here are a few very important links to Microsoft resources that should help you understand this better.
- Main Windows 11 page, with hardware requirements and a compatibility checker
- Windows 11 specs, features, and computer requirements
- Trusted Platform Module Technology Overview — aka TPM
- Windows 11 Supported Intel Processors
- Windows 11 Supported AMD Processors
- Windows 11 Supported Qualcomm Processors
- Lifecycle FAQ – Windows — note release cadence and support term, especially for the Home edition
There are three key hardware requirements from this morass of information:
- Windows 11 requires a 64-bit CPU;
- Windows 11 requires TPM 2.0;
- Windows 11 requires at least an eighth-generation Intel processor or an AMD processor from no earlier than 2019.
This is an earthquake. I know that many have long-standing complaints about version-to-version problems with Windows, but the truth is that Microsoft has a fantastic record of running new versions of Windows on older hardware. I wonder how many of the 1.3 billion Windows users that Nadella is fond of mentioning will be able to use 11 without buying a new device?
App compatibility and features
I was totally confused about the part of the presentation that discussed application compatibility between Windows 10 and Windows 11. What caught my attention was the note that 99.7 percent of all apps would be compatible. Stated another way, 0.3% will not be compatible. So why bring it up?
One thing not mentioned during the event was the removal of some Windows 10 features. A list of them can be found on the Windows 11 specs, features, and computer requirements page; scroll down a bit. Quite a list, actually. And well worth your time to look through.
All I really got from this event was that the Windows 10 to Windows 11 upgrade would be similar to a Windows 10 feature update. Except for that hardware thing, of course.
All the UI and appearance changes? Who cares? We can’t do anything about it anyway. It’s happened for every version of Windows, and it generates some noisy complaints, but then one of three things happens.
- Folks get used to it (for better or worse) and stop complaining;
- Third parties step in with solutions to restore a desired feature;
- Microsoft comes to its senses, which these days seem to be a rare event.
We will be getting a new start menu icon, though. And it’s slap dab in the middle of the screen. Woo Hoo.
Did I like anything?
There is one part of all this that rings true and may well be the entire underlying reason for the incremented version number — security.
Since the event, Microsoft has been furiously updating its hardware specification and compatibility pages, removing ambiguity about whether TPM 2.0 was required or not. It is. And TPM 2.0 alone eliminates hundreds of processor models. (Microsoft also updated its compatibility app so that it says why the tested system won’t run 11.)
There’s no question that TPM is important. So, what if Microsoft had tried to add the 64-bit and TPM requirements to a routine Windows 10 “feature” release? You don’t have to think very hard to realize what a disaster that would be. The only way to make it work is a new, distinct version. And the only thing that makes it palatable is that the Windows 10 lifecycle hasn’t come to an end yet.
Unfortunately, this put Microsoft in the uncomfortable position of drawing that line in the processor sand. It must have been a very difficult decision to make. No matter how discomfiting it will be to us average folk, I’d have to say it was the right decision.
This may also have been the reason for what I’m sure was an early announcement, and why the leak was so important. It would not have taken long for testers to realize the new hardware requirements and talk about them. Microsoft needed to get ahead of that.
So why the less than highly promoted announcement? After all, Microsoft could have had Nadella trot out and say “security is everything.” Instead, we got hype, platitudes, and attempted muzzles.
The 1.3 billion of us deserve better.
Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!
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