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What We Know About 'Windows 11,' Microsoft's Next-Gen Client OS

Ahead of a June 24 Microsoft presentation about the future of Windows, a pre-release build of Microsoft's next client operating system -- apparently named "Windows 11" -- was leaked this week.

Multiple media outlets, including The Verge and Thurrott.com, posted screenshots and observations of the leaked OS. The consensus seems to be that the leaked build is genuine: Former longtime Windows deployment expert Michael Niehaus described it as "a production-signed build" from May that is "close" to being a released version.

Niehaus ran Windows 11 hosted on a virtual machine to avoid possible malware attacks. People generally shouldn't install this OS, since it apparently wasn't released directly by Microsoft. However, Niehaus noted that "if you wanted to download it from sketchy websites to try it out, you could."

Upgrading to Windows 11 on machines lacking a Trusted Platform Module 2.0 chip seems to involve some extra steps, as described by this BetaCollector Twitter post, although performing an upgrade with bits not controlled by Microsoft would seem to be ill-advised.

A New Shell
Windows 11 has a new shell user interface with rounded corners that's said to reflect Microsoft's code-named "Sun Valley" Windows development efforts, according to this Born's Tech and Windows World post. Pundits aren't finding it too different from Windows 10's interface.

The Windows 11 interface "looks like Windows 10 to me," opined Mark D. Anderson, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, in this Twitter post.

One difference is that the Start button in Windows 11 has been moved toward the center of the task bar, along with other program icons, which display with a flatter appearance. However, users have the option to re-orient the Start button back to its original position on the left. Windows 11 includes a setting for reverting to the "classic" Start menu, if wanted, Niehaus noted.

Clicking the start button brings up a box with "Pinned" and "Recommend" apps,  plus an "All Apps" link, but this box is centered on the screen, instead of popping up on the left. The pinned apps list appeared to be hard-coded by Microsoft, according to Niehaus.

Testers aren't finding notable functional changes in Windows 11 versus Windows 10, although the ability to snap multiple windows on a screen has a new preview function offering display options. Windows 11 users are getting a lot of the same Windows 10 components, including "screen clipping, text input, iris service, etc.," Niehaus noted. He didn't spot any changes to the included Windows Store, Mail, Calendar and Calculator apps beyond icon changes, but they may be coming.

Windows 11 has a new Search user interface, which lets users select the source via icons for things like the File Explorer, Settings and Mail. It also has a new "Get Started" app to guide the out-of-the-box Windows 11 setup experience, according to Niehaus.

The "News and Interests" widget, which recently popped up on the task bar of many Windows 10 systems as a weather icon after the June updates, has a new look in Windows 11.

Microsoft recently acknowledged a blurry text display issue with the News and Interests widget on Windows 10 version 2004 systems. Windows 10 users can simply turn off this widget, if wanted, according to a video by Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Susan Bradley. The News and Interests widget also can be removed by IT pros using Group Policy, Niehaus noted in this post

Other Observations
Windows 11 will get more frequent feature updates via so-called Windows Feature Experience Packs. This approach is already a part of Microsoft's Windows Insider testing program, aiming to "deliver new feature improvements to customers outside of major Windows 10 feature updates," according to Microsoft's Windows Insider description.

Niehaus found a beefed-up Start Menu library file, new search library files and "composable shell files" in the Windows 11 Feature Experience Pack. The composable shell files was a concept, dating from 2017, to make Windows 10 easily scale across different device form factors, Niehaus explained.

Other testers of the leaked Windows 11 OS are finding that it plays well with deployment and management tools, such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager (formerly "System Center Configuration Manager"), per this Twitter post by Configuration Manager expert Mike Marable.

So far, there aren't notable Windows 11 artifact changes for penetration testers to track, according to an observation by Eric Zimmerman, a certified SANS instructor, in this Twitter post

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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