Microsoft's problem child, Windows 11, is here. Will you run it? Can you run it? Do you even WANT to run it?

Hardware compatibility, testing fury... though under the hood there are things to like

Microsoft has launched a new operating system today, but whether you'll be able to run it is open to question. As is if you'll want to run it.

The Redmond-based Windows flinger has a problematic history with Windows releases. The century opened with Windows XP, shipped in 2001, which seemed OK. Then came Vista, in 2007, which was not. Then Windows 7 turned up in '09 to undo the Vista badness. And yeah, the users were happy. Right up until the monstrosity of Windows 8 was released (only partially rectified in Windows 8.1).

As of yesterday there was Windows 10, which has evolved into a pretty good platform over the years.

The pattern is clear. For every decent release there must be a duffer. And Windows 11 is not on the right side of things.

Windows Insiders have had a copy of the operating system to play with for a while and although some of the GUI decisions might cause the bile of the faithful to rise (new Start Menu, anyone?) the change from 10 to 11 is nowhere near as painfully loud as the clanger Microsoft dropped with Windows 8.

However, all is not well in the world of Windows, despite the relentlessly perky expulsions from Microsoft's social media orifices.

We fear that some gamers might disagree. PC Gamer put the OS through its paces (in pre-release form) and found a drop in average frame rate of up to 28 per cent thanks to the enablement of Virtualization-Based Security (VBS) on new kit. VBS should improve security (and is an option in Windows 10) but the penalty for gamers already forced to buy new hardware might be too much to bear.

What great timing as world+dog struggles to source components

It is difficult to discuss Windows 11 without addressing the silicon elephant in the corner: Microsoft's OEM-delighting decision to keep the hardware upgrade gravy train rolling just a little longer by taking an axe to Intel Core CPUs prior to the eighth generation (unless it happens to be a seventh-generation CPU that Microsoft uses in its own kit).

Another of the company's orifices attempted to clarify the hardware requirements, which look at first sight to be minimal. 4GB of RAM and 1GHz CPU? What is all the fuss about?

Sadly, while TPM version 2.0 was listed, a key fact was omitted. A PC using Intel silicon from a family dating back four or more years probably wouldn't work for reasons of reliability, security or compatibility.

A worthy argument, but this was slightly undermined when Microsoft hurriedly added the Surface Studio 2's Intel Core i7-7820HQ as well as an all-too-short list of other older Intel silicon.

Testy testers

And then there is the shoddy treatment dispensed to the company's loyal band of Windows Insiders. First through the hardware compatibility list and then with the company's maybe-maybe-not approach to virtual machines (VMs) – upon which many testers place the company's wares for validation. Having initially said VMs would not be subject to the same requirements, the company performed a reverse-ferret in its Dev Channel and said actually they were.

A cynic might wonder if it is payback for not shouting quite loudly enough prior to the company unleashing the file-munching Windows 10 October 2018 update.

And so it is into this furore that Windows 11 has emerged, its rounded corners satisfying fans who looked longingly at their Mac-owning chums' desktops while going strangely quiet about legacy hardware support and having to choke down some of the stranger user interface decisions (the trimming of the context menus and shunting of the Copy option to an icon springs effortlessly to mind).

The minimum hardware requirements represent an own-goal of impressive proportions, particularly when Windows 10 will continue to be supported for another five years, and Windows 11 was demonstrated running quite happily on non-sanctioned kit

Sure, not all of the promised toys have turned up (Android support) but over-promising and under-delivering have long been a thing where Windows is concerned. After all, Windows Insiders are unlikely to have forgotten the much-trumpeted and quietly culled "Sets" feature of Windows 10, nor the big dreams and grim reality of the Windows Insider programme itself as Microsoft struggled to decide how to test its Windows platform (before opting to, well, kind of not do it at all).

A slew of broken patches, and administration pain has accompanied the Windows platform while Microsoft appears to have remained deaf to the cries of anguish. You didn't really want to print anything anyway, did you? Look at those rounded corners in the new version!

There are some positives – this could have all been so different

It's a shame, because under the hood there are things to like. Windows 11 is subjectively snappier than Windows 10 (in our opinion) despite the updated GUI being mostly lipstick applied to the porker.

The changes to the Start Menu and Taskbar might annoy some (as well as a perceived shedding of power-user features, but won't overly bother others, and for most just require a bit of retrained muscle memory. Some features, such as the Windows Subsystem for Linux, can already be found in Windows 10, while others – Android app support, for example – have slipped quietly into the future. But they are on the way, according to Microsoft.

However, the infamously appalling communication skills of the Windows machine could well have put paid to a warm reception for Windows 11 from any but the company's most ardent apologists... and the sellers of new laptops.

The minimum hardware requirements represent an own-goal of impressive proportions, particularly when Windows 10 will continue to be supported for another five years, and Windows 11 was demonstrated running quite happily on non-sanctioned kit. There is a certain irony that only one of this hack's Intel-based Windows 10 PCs will accept it without tinkering, while an M1 Mac running Parallels Desktop 17.0.1 appears to have no such difficulty.

Unlike certain other vendors of locked-in ecosystems, Microsoft used to be about letting their users choose their own kit.

No more, it seems.

Despite a Microsoft drone insisting the OS was "Available on the Widest Array of Choice in Devices," the experience of users tells a different tale. And forcing users to ditch perfectly serviceable kit in order to run Windows 11 does not sit well with Microsoft's professed eco-warrior credentials or the wallets of customers faced with the requirement for new hardware amid an IC shortage.

Windows 11 is here. Perhaps it is time to consider the alternatives. ®

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