Windows 11 hardware requirements solidified
In this summer-ending episode, Brad and Aaron bid each other farewell – Brad is moving on to another position in the Windows app space, and Aaron will be continuing the Enterprise Dish podcast with another host at a time yet to be determined. I never spoke to Brad myself, but I’ve certainly enjoyed this pair’s discussions as well as the various technological tangents they’ve led to, and we certainly wish Brad well in his future endeavors.
Release date announced
They had plenty to discuss with Windows 11, as a great deal of information came out during August. First off, we finally have an official release date: October 5th, 2021, just a few weeks from now. This is well in time for an assortment of new Windows 11-supporting devices to come out for the holidays – devices which have certainly already been in the pipeline for much longer, as Microsoft’s evolving hardware requirements for Windows 11 have only just been solidified:
Intel 8th Generation or newer, or AMD Zen 2 or newer
4GB RAM, 64GB storage, UEFI secure boot, and TPM 2.0
Those are the broad strokes, although Windows Central got into a bit more detail, about which requirements are “hard” and “soft”, the handful of Qualcomm Snapdragon processors supported, and links to three separate lists of every single supported processor. Brad and Aaron noodled a bit on what these requirements will mean in practice, especially given that Microsoft has also issued the somewhat confusing (and potentially legally base-covering) language that Windows 11 can be installed on hardware that does not meet these requirements, but that they cannot guarantee these endpoints will get any Windows Updates.
In the past, Microsoft has generally erred on the side of supporting as many PC models as possible for as long as possible. Even as older device drivers have fallen away from inbox support, they have often stuck around via Windows Update in some form or another. In fact, when it has been in the best interests of the PC ecosystem, Microsoft has even released security patches for operating systems whose support had officially expired – their most recent patch for Windows XP, a 19-year-old OS whose support expired more than seven years ago, was released in May 2019. I’m inclined to agree with Brad and Aaron that Microsoft is probably just hedging here, reserving the right to drop support for older devices when they become too impractical or uncommon to support.
- Intel 8th Generation processors are already 4 years old this month and new (and otherwise in-stock) PCs saw a massive spike in sales during the pandemic…
- Microsoft’s commitment to support Windows 10 Semi-Annual Channel builds (including the upcoming – presumably final – build, Windows 10 21H2) for 18-30 months from release date…
- Microsoft’s commitment to support Long Term Servicing Channel builds (including the upcoming LTSC 2021) for at least 5 years…
…the hardware restrictions seem likely to have minimal impact in practice for most large organizations.
Speaking anecdotally, the Windows 11 Beta is a mixed bag, like early releases tend to be. It shows off the new (geometrically centered) taskbar, and new navigation features like Snap Navigator (the latest incarnation of Aero Snap, now accessible via a dropdown menu from the Maximize button). I’ll say what I always say in this situation: I hope the keyboard shortcuts keep working. Every addition to this otherwise excellent feature (which started in Windows 7) has felt like a hat on a hat to me, and this new menu feels the same way.
Testing Windows 11 on non-production machines
As for other bits of beta-bound oddity, one of my colleagues installed Windows 11 on a test machine and found that it dragged his corporate VPN connection to a crawl – apparently not an isolated phenomenon, according to a thread on the Cisco Meraki forum. I’m not worried about things like that in the long run, but it is a helpful reminder that it is always a good idea to test your updates on non-production machines and see how they behave in the real world.
There has always been some grousing about Microsoft’s customers becoming unpaid beta testers but working in software support has given me sympathy for the complex task at hand. To wit, software diligence goes in both directions. Microsoft has a responsibility to make sure that its updates don’t break things for large numbers of people, but anyone installing those updates has an equal responsibility to ensure the same outcome by maintaining backups of known-good versions of all critical systems and engaging in diligent testing before rolling updates out.
The credit that I freely gave to Microsoft for continuing to support a broad array of legacy hardware comes with strings, and one of those strings is that it’s going to create some issues that even a company with Microsoft’s resources would never see in their testing, even if they kept every update in a closed beta for months before releasing it. And such a release cycle would create other problems, since most Windows Updates these days are intended to resolve unpatched vulnerabilities being actively exploited in the wild. There is no greater laboratory than the real world, and you’re always going to find some issues that rely on highly specific initial conditions.
Plenty of time to plan for Windows 11
Fortunately, the rollout for Windows 11 only feels sudden if you’re attuned to the holiday hype cycle for new devices. For corporate IT departments, it’s an opportunity to take a thoughtful look at their ordinary hardware and staff turnover rates, application compatibility, and take their time with a Windows 11 upgrade plan that is minimally disruptive, knowing that existing Windows 10 systems will continue to be fully patched in the meantime.
That’s all for this month – and for a while yet, until the team figures out how the podcast will continue. But this series will continue in some form.