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Windows 11 is getting its first big update. Here’s what’s inside.

Your PC is may soon pick up some new tricks -- though some will arrive before others.

Microsoft’s latest software update brings new features to Windows 11, but some of them come with caveats. (Microsoft)

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Thankfully, the same can’t be said for your computer.

After launching Windows 11 last fall, Microsoft is polishing it up with the first of many regular “feature updates” the operating system will get during its life span.

Panos Panay, Microsoft’s chief product officer of Windows and Devices, said that the update was designed to make our PCs “easier and safer to use,” and that the new software began rolling out to users in more than 190 countries on Tuesday. But what’s actually waiting for you on the other side of that update? And what happens if your computer isn’t compatible with it?

Here’s what you should know about how Windows is changing.

How much does it cost?

People who are already using Windows 11 on their PCs can install this new update free. Some people still using Windows 10 on their PCs may be able to upgrade to this updated version of Windows free too. To check, open the Settings app on your PC, click Windows Update, then click Check for Updates.

What’s in the update?

Lots of little tweaks and modifications, many you’d have to be a real power user to notice. But some of the changes Microsoft made here are a little easier to spot — and perhaps more impactful — than others. Here are a few you may want to keep your eyes peeled for:

  • Systemwide live captions. Videos, podcasts, live radio streams — if you’re meant to hear it, Windows 11 will try to transcribe it on-screen for you. Features like these — which can be hugely helpful to the hard of hearing and people who leave subtitles on all the time — are more common on smartphones than on computers, but that’s thankfully starting to change. (A similar feature will arrive in Apple’s macOS Ventura software update in October.)
  • Customizable Start menu. Right now, Windows 11’s Start menu shows you a mix of files and software it thinks you should see, plus apps you might have “pinned” there for quick access. But in this update, you’ll be able to tell Windows which you’d like to see more of.
  • Voice control for your PC. This feature technically isn’t finished yet — Microsoft refers to it as a “preview” — but Voice Access was built to help people control their computers with spoken words, not keystrokes or mouse clicks.
  • New touch gestures. If your computer has a touch screen and/or transforms into a tablet, these new gestures — like a swipe up to open the Start menu — may help you get around Windows a little faster.
  • Built-in camera effects. Not all PCs will support this, but some of you will be able to use new “studio” effects to customize your look on video calls and streams without having to rely on the tools built into third-party apps. (Think blurring your background, for example, or tweaking your video to make it look like you’re making eye contact.)

What’s the catch?

Not all of Windows 11’s new features are as easy to access as others.

Some, like a Smart App Control feature that uses AI to determine if an app you’ve just installed is legit or malware, require you to perform a clean install rather than update your PC the way you’ve always done. That means having to erase your PC’s storage and install Windows 11 from scratch — or buying a new computer with the updated software already installed.

Meanwhile, you won’t find some other features that Microsoft has discussed weaving into Windows 11 if you install the update too early. Additions like a new Photos app and tabs in Windows’ File Explorer — which should make jumping to different folders on your PC much faster — won’t actually be available to use until some time in October.

How can I get the update?

If you’re already using the most up-to-date version of Windows 11, you should be able to get the update pretty quickly — just check the Windows Update section in your computer’s Settings app. And don’t worry if the notice to update doesn’t appear for a while; Microsoft says its “measured and phased rollout” process could take a little while, and sometimes boils down to when the company believes your computer is “ready.”

But what if your computer is still running on Windows 10?

First off, there’s no shame in that — mine is too. And if your PC is compatible with this new software, there’s a decent chance the Windows Update section of your Settings app will let you know.

Windows 11 is available now, but not everyone will have an easy time upgrading

But here's the hard truth: not every PC out there running Windows 10 can upgrade to Windows 11. (For many people, myself included, it's because of more stringent hardware security requirements.) And judging by how Microsoft likes to name-check new PC models when it announces big updates like these, it's pretty clear they'd like you to shell out for a brand-new computer.

If that’s something you were thinking of doing anyway, sure, go for it. But if your current PC still does everything you need it to, don’t feel the pressure to buy new hardware just to use new software. Microsoft has said it will continue to support Windows 10 until October 2025, and that includes regular updates with new features — not just security patches. (In fact, the Windows 10 equivalent of this update will become available next month.)

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