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Why (and How) to Upgrade Your PC Operating System to Windows 11

Newer computers can benefit from better accessibility tools, faster load times

two laptops showing windows 11 and windows 10 operating system screens
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Windows 11 is a free update for Microsoft’s Windows 10 users that is also installed on any new PCs you buy going forward.

This new operating system isn’t a radical shift from what you’re used to, unless you’ve been dragging your feet and are among the nearly 6 percent of users who still have Windows 7. But it does offer several improvements to design and functionality.

An operating system (OS) is the core software that runs your computer. It manages all other software — also called programs, applications or apps — on the machine and talks to connected hardware, such as a keyboard, monitor and mouse, and hardware connected through your Wi-Fi, such as a printer and router.

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New operating systems debut every couple of years, but not everyone installs the latest right away — or at all. For you to take advantage of the upgrade, your computer will probably need to be no more than three years old.

Microsoft says it will continue to support Windows 10 until Oct. 14, 2025. It has ended all-important updates to security and functionality for Windows 7 and the unpopular Windows 8. On Jan. 10, 2023, the company will stop supporting Windows 8.1, which about 2 percent of U.S. PCs still use.

Can my computer run Windows 11?

The easiest way to see if your existing Windows PC can be upgraded to Windows 11 is to run a quick PC health check. This Microsoft tool will automatically verify whether your computer can install and run Windows 11.

Alternatively, you can read the minimum hardware specifications, such as a processor that’s 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster, 4 gigabytes (GB) of RAM (system memory), at least 64GB of storage and so on. For those on Windows 10, free updates are available through Windows Update. Go to Start | Settings | Update & Security.

Not sure about your present version of Windows? If you think it’s:

• Windows 10, click or tap Start | Settings | System | About. Scroll to Windows specifications and click to see what you have. Under Device specifications | System type, you’ll be able to tell whether you have a 32-bit or 64-bit processor; 64-bit is more powerful.

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• Windows 7, hit Start. Type Computer in the search box, right-click on Computer and select Properties. Under Windows edition, you’ll find the information.

If you find that you’re running Windows 7, your hardware probably won’t support a Windows 11 upgrade because of its age. If you don’t want to shop for a new laptop just now, consider updating to Windows 10 because that operating system still gets security updates.

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Tip: Backing up important files to the cloud, a hard drive, SD memory card, solid-state drive or USB thumb drive before you install a new operating system is always a good idea. While nothing bad is likely to happen, you don’t want to risk something going wrong and files becoming corrupt or disappearing after the upgrade.

8 benefits for Windows 11 users

Some highlights of the new operating system:

1. Accessibility tools. No one is left behind with the assistive technologies built into Windows 11. Closed Captions, Magnifier, Narrator and Windows Speech Recognition support users across the broad disability spectrum. And just as curb cuts benefit people who don’t use wheelchairs, these tools can help anyone work more easily.

2. Better gaming. Computer gaming is red hot, and Windows 11 helps unlock the full potential of your system’s hardware with smart gaming tech like DirectX12 for smoother graphics performance and DirectStorage for faster load times.

3. Different desktops. Do you use your PC for work and play? Or maybe you share the computer with others in the family? Windows 11 allows you to create and customize separate desktops. To get going, tap or click the task bar icon that looks like two overlapping squares.

4. New Microsoft Store. Redesigned for speed and usability, the sleek Microsoft Store is built into Windows 11, allowing you to download thousands of free and paid apps to customize your PC.

5. Simplified design. From more rounded corners and a fresh task bar to new fonts, icons and sounds, Windows 11 offers pleasing aesthetics and a minimalist design. The design also makes it easier to find and access your favorite applications.

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6. Snap layouts. Windows 11 also makes it simpler to multitask, even with several windows open at the same time. Instead of letting items get lost under an open window, hover your mouse over the rounded square Maximize icon in the top right corner of any window and select your favorite way to arrange open apps.

7. Teams chat. Microsoft Teams is integrated into Windows 11, so you can instantly connect with others through chat, text, video or voice — regardless of the platform or device they’re on.

8. Widgets. Windows 11 is all about personalization, including widgets that glide in from the left of the screen and display customized and artificial intelligence–powered news, photos, sports scores, stock quotes, traffic and weather.

Features missing from Windows 11

While many users and tech experts give a thumbs-up to the new operating system, which was released in October 2021, you might miss a few features.

In the Start menu. Your pinned apps and websites won’t migrate during the Windows 10 upgrade, so make notes for later. The layout of the menu can’t be resized, and named groups and folders are no longer supported. Live Tiles are no longer available, but you can customize Windows 11 widgets for a similar feel.

In the task bar. You can’t move it to the side anymore; it stays pinned to the bottom of the screen. You can’t drag and drop a file onto the task bar and quickly open it later. The People icon, a shortcut to your contacts, also is gone.

Timeline no more. The popular, time-saving Timeline tool let you quickly access files and media you previously worked on. If you rely on it to find your files, you might want to hang on to Windows 10 until you learn how to navigate your folders.

Windows Media Player. This popular app is not part of Windows 11 by default, but you can add it. Right-click on the Start icon, then select Settings, followed by Apps on the left side. Next, click Optional features on the right side. In the Add an optional feature option, click View features and type Windows Media Player. Now select Windows Media Player and click Next | Install.

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