Sorry Microsoft, it'll take more than a new Copilot button to save Windows 11

Cute Conversational copilot AI robot with speech bubble, 3d rendering
(Image credit: MeshCube / Shutterstock)

If Microsoft is still pondering what its New Year resolution for 2024 should be, I have a suggestion: fix Windows 11.

Now, to be fair, Windows 11 is fundamentally a solid operating system. I run it on four PCs, and generally speaking it does the job fine – though one of my PCs crashed with a Blue Screen of Death without me actually doing anything on it at the time, giving me a flashback to the Bad Old Days when Windows PCs were less stable than a bouncy castle filled with Jell-O.

However, Windows 11’s problems run a lot deeper – and Microsoft needs to be bold if it wants its latest OS to be a success. Windows 11 may be a solid operating system, but it’s unexciting, and that means many people don’t feel compelled to upgrade from Windows 10 – which for most people does the job perfectly well. As recent statistics from Statcounter show, Windows 10 remains by far the most popular version of Windows, installed on 67.42% of surveyed devices as of December 2023.

Meanwhile, Windows 11 is installed on just 26.5%. After two years of availability, that’s a pitiful uptake – and even worse for Microsoft, that market share dropped slightly last month. It’s clear that Windows 11 remains unloved – and with rumors swirling that Windows 12 could release in the near future, Microsoft could be running out of time to change the narrative that Windows 11 is anything other than a disappointment.

But what can it do?

Copilot keyboard button

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Be bold – no more tweaking around the edges

One of Windows 11’s biggest problems is that it just does not seem like a worthwhile upgrade over Windows 10. The older – and more popular – operating system, which was launched on July 29, 2015, continues to work well and supports modern hardware. If someone is running Windows 10 on their PC without any issues, why would they want to upgrade?

Windows 10 benefitted from coming after the unpopular Windows 8/8.1, and by bringing back some much-missed features, such as the Start menu, and refocusing the OS for desktop PCs, there was a clear reason to upgrade to Windows 10.

Windows 11 doesn’t have that benefit, and when it launched, the changes it brought were relatively minor – such as centering the icons and Start menu on the taskbar, and bringing back desktop widgets. These were hardly new features worth upgrading for, and while some, such as the widgets, seem to have already been forgotten about by most people, the taskbar changes weren’t just slightly useless – they meant that some features (such as the ability to move the taskbar) were actually dropped from Windows 11.

So, to get people to want to upgrade, Microsoft needs to add some bold new features that only Windows 11 can offer. Some may point to the company’s enthusiasm for adding Artificial Intelligence features – but I don’t think that’s enough. For a start, a lot of those AI features are also coming to Windows 10 as well.

And, to be brutally honest, will people use those AI features that much? I don’t think so – and adding a dedicated button to new keyboards for the Copilot AI assistant probably won’t change that. From my time using the latest build of Windows 11, I’ve used the AI features maybe once or twice. Interesting to try out, but they do not impact my day-to-day use of my PCs. If Microsoft shows how AI can really make a difference in our daily lives, rather than just being a gimmick, then we could be getting somewhere.

CES 2024, the huge tech event that’s happening in Las Vegas next week (it runs from January 9 to January 12, and we’ll be reporting live from the show floor), could be the ideal time to do just that. With component makers such as Intel and AMD expected to show off products that emphasize AI capabilities, alongside laptop manufacturers showcasing the devices that will be running on those components, this will give Microsoft an excuse to showcase why Windows 11 is essential.

There is an issue with this plan, however. If device makers show off exciting new AI features for Windows 11 laptops and PCs that need new hardware, Windows 11 users on older hardware may feel left out. Microsoft doesn’t want to have two tiers of Windows 11 users – and strict hardware requirements for Windows 11 has backfired in the past, with the confusing TPM 2.0 debacle putting a lot of people off Windows 11 in the first place.

One solution to this would be to release Windows 12 and have that come with all the AI goodies instead. I have a feeling laptop and PC makers would prefer this option – a new version of Windows with exclusive features could give the laptop market a much-needed shot in the arm.

But that would leave Windows 11 being even more neglected. Should Microsoft just cut its losses and turn its attention to Windows 12? Sadly, that might be its best option.

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Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.