Microsoft has been teasing a “next generation” of Windows for months, but new hints suggest that the company is preparing not only an update to its existing Windows 10 software, but also a new, numbered version of the operating system: Windows 11.
The software giant yesterday announced a new Windows event for June 24, promising to show “what’s next for Windows”. The invitation to the event featured an image of what appears to be a new Windows logo, with light shining through the window in just two vertical bars, creating an outline very similar to the number 11. Microsoft followed suit with an animated version of this image, make it clear that the company deliberately ignored the horizontal bars.
Microsoft’s Windows event also starts at 11 a.m. ET, not the usual start time for typical Windows and Surface events. After the invitation to the event, Microsoft exec Yusuf Mehdi said: he hasn’t “been this excited about a new version of Windows since Windows 95!” It’s the first time we’ve heard Microsoft specifically say that a “new version” of Windows is on the way.
The invite to the event also comes just a week after Nadella teased a “next-generation Windows” announcement. Nadella promised that Microsoft would soon share “one of the most important updates to Windows of the past decade”. Microsoft’s chief product officer, Panos Panay, also teased a “next generation” of Windows earlier this year.
If Microsoft is really ready to move beyond Windows 10 and towards Windows 11, we expect big visual changes to reflect that. Microsoft has been working on something codenamed Sun Valley, which the company calls a “stunning visual rejuvenation of Windows.”
Many of these visual changes stem from the work Microsoft completed on Windows 10X, a lightweight version of Windows intended to emulate Chrome OS, before it was scrapped. That includes a new Start menu, new system icons, improvements to the file explorer, and the end of Windows 95-era icons that drag Windows users back to the past in dialog boxes. Rounded corners and updates to the built-in Windows apps are also planned.
Also outside the user interface there are important changes for Windows. Microsoft seems poised to tackle many lingering issues, with fixes planned for a reshuffle of apps across multiple monitors, an upcoming Xbox Auto HDR feature, and improvements to Bluetooth audio support.
Perhaps the biggest problem yet to be solved is the Windows Store. Microsoft has been working on a new app store for Windows for the past few months, and rumors suggest it will be a significant departure from what exists today. Nadella has promised to “unlock greater economic opportunities for developers and creators” with Windows, and the Windows Store seems like the obvious way to do that.
Microsoft is reportedly overhauling the Windows app store to allow developers to submit any Windows application, including browsers like Chrome or Firefox. This alone would greatly improve the store, but Microsoft could also consider allowing third-party trading platforms in apps. That would mean Microsoft wouldn’t do anything about developers using their own in-app purchase systems.
So far, Microsoft has only announced a 12 percent commission cut for PC games on the Windows Store, but it would be a major change to allow developers to bypass Microsoft’s discount.
The move to Windows 11 branding would also back up Microsoft’s reinvestment in Windows. The software maker signaled a renewed interest in Windows last year, during a pandemic that has shown how important the operating system is. Windows usage increased as employees and students around the world used laptops and PCs to work from home. The number of PC shipments has also skyrocketed in the past year.
After Microsoft split Windows into two parts in 2018, Microsoft brought parts of Windows development back under Panos Panay’s control last year. The move was a clear acknowledgment that Microsoft’s Windows split didn’t work, after months of messy Windows 10 development experiences, delayed Windows updates, a lack of major new features, and many Windows update issues.
However, the move to Windows 11 would still come as a surprise to Microsoft. The company previously referred to Windows 10 as “the latest version of Windows” in its big push to position the operating system as a service that is constantly updated. While there are monthly updates to Windows, the main changes are usually delivered twice a year.
However, Microsoft has had trouble naming these updates. We’ve seen the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Fall Creators Update, and simple dates like the November 2019 Update. Microsoft has also recently adopted yet another naming scheme, referring to updates as 20H1 or 21H1 to denote both the release year and part of the year the update was launched.
A move to Windows 11 wouldn’t necessarily solve Microsoft’s naming issues, but if the company also adopted point releases like Windows 11.1, it would certainly help consumers and IT admins alike quickly understand which version is the latest.
OEMs would also like to see a Windows 11 release. A new version of Windows always brings new hardware sales and renewed interest in the operating system. If Microsoft backs that up with a new UI and a fresh look and feel for Windows, it will be the quintessential playbook we’ve seen for Windows for decades.
It won’t be long before we find out if Microsoft is ready to roll the version number of Windows up to 11. The Windows Elf (as I’m calling it now) kicks off June 24 at 11 a.m. ET, and The edge will bring all the news live as it happens.