Microsoft’s first major operating system in 6 years, Windows 11, launches Oct. 5

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Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., speaks during the Windows 10 Devices event in New York on Oct. 6, 2015. Microsoft Corp. introduced its first-ever laptop, three Lumia phones and a Surface Pro 4 tablet, the first indication of the company’s revamped hardware strategy three months after saying it would scale back plans to make its own smartphones.
John Taggart | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Microsoft said Tuesday it will start offering free upgrades to Windows 11, the next version of its desktop operating system, to eligible PCs on Oct. 5.

Windows, originally released in 1985, remains a key piece of Microsoft’s business. In its fiscal fourth quarter, Windows delivered $6.6 billion in revenue, representing 14% of the software and hardware company’s total sales. A successful release of Windows 11 could further secure the franchise’s future, which can also benefit other parts of Microsoft’s business, such as Azure and Office.

As it has for past updates, Microsoft will use on-device data and other factors to determine which devices will get the offer to upgrade first, Windows marketing general manager Aaron Woodman wrote in a blog post.

On PCs running Windows 10 that have the necessary components to run Windows 11, the Windows Update feature will notify people when the upgrade is available. People can also go to “Settings > System > Windows Update” in their computers to manually check if the upgrade is ready.

Woodman pointed to a variety of Windows 10 PCs that people can buy now and upgrade to Windows 11 later, including Dell’s XPS 13, the HP Spectre x360 and Lenovo Yoga Slim 7i Pro, as well as Microsoft’s own Surface Pro 7.

Windows 11 brings a modern look, with rounded corners and app icons displayed in the center of the taskbar. New sounds are designed to be less jarring. Microsoft redesigned the Start menu, the app store and the Settings app, and it’s easier to arrange multiple app windows on screen. And Android apps will be available, by way of Amazon’s Appstore. The refresh comes as Microsoft faces rising competition from Chromebooks running Google’s Chrome OS, and Chromebooks are capable of running Android apps.

There’s also no guarantee everyone will want to upgrade to the new OS given its predecessor’s massive popularity. Microsoft released Windows 10 in 2015, making this the longest time period a version of Windows has been in market before a replacement. It has become the world’s most popular PC operating system, boasting 1.3 billion monthly active devices. Microsoft will continue to support Windows 10 through 2025, and the company suggests people stick with it if their PCs can’t run Windows 11 and they don’t want to buy a new PC.

On June 24, Microsoft announced Windows 11 as the successor to Windows 10 and made it available to testers enrolled in the Windows Insider program four days later. Since then, Microsoft has rolled out seven incremental updates containing feature changes and bug fixes. Now the company is preparing to make a final version Windows 11 available to many more customers and have device makers start selling new PCs that run the operating system.

Microsoft said last week it will support Windows 11 when it’s running on a variety of PC processors, including Intel chips manufactured as far back as 2016. The company expects all devices that meet the Windows 11 requirements to receive the free upgrade by the middle of 2022, Woodman wrote.

WATCH: How Microsoft is creating a new ‘cloud PC category’ with Windows 365

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