Microsoft has been teasing a “next generation” of Windows for several months now, but new tips suggest that the company is not only preparing an update to its existing Windows 10 software, but a new, numbered version of the operating system: Windows 11.
The software giant announced a new Windows event for June 24 yesterday, promising to show “what’s next for Windows.” The event invitation included an image of what looks like a new Windows logo, with light shining through the window in just two vertical bars, creating an overview that looks very much like number 11. Microsoft followed up with an animated version of this image makes it clear that the company deliberately ignored the horizontal bars.
The event is also invited 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 in the last 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 toward Windows 11, we expect to see major visual changes to reflect that. Microsoft has been working on something codenamed Sun Valley, which the company has referred to as a “sweeping visual rejuvenation of Windows.”
Many of these visual changes come from the work Microsoft completed on Windows 10X, a lightweight version of Windows designed to compete with Chrome OS, before it was scrapped. It includes a new Start menu, new system icons, File Explorer enhancements, and the end of Windows 95 time 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.
Significant changes are also on the way for Windows outside the user interface. Microsoft seems ready to fix many lingering issues, with fixes planned for a multi-screen app reorganization, an upcoming Xbox Auto HDR feature, and Bluetooth audio support enhancements.
Perhaps the biggest lingering problem waiting to be solved is the Windows Store. Microsoft has been working on a new app store for Windows in recent months, and rumors suggest that there will be a significant deviation from what exists today. Nadella has promised to “unlock greater financial opportunities for developers and creators” with Windows, and the Windows Store seems like the obvious way to do it.
Microsoft is reportedly monitoring its Windows app store to allow developers to submit any Windows application, including browsers like Chrome or Firefox. This will significantly improve the store, but Microsoft may also consider allowing third-party trading platforms in apps. This means that Microsoft will not take a cut from developers who use their own in-app purchasing systems.
So far, Microsoft has only announced a 12 percent commission cut for PC games in the Windows Store, but allowing developers to circumvent Microsoft’s cuts would be a significant change.
Moving to the Windows 11 brand will 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 use jumped as workers and students around the world turned to laptops and PCs to work from home. PC shipments have also increased in the last year.
After cutting Windows in two parts back in 2018, Microsoft moved parts of the Windows development back under Panos Panay’s control last year. The move was a clear admission that Microsoft’s Windows split did not work, after months of messy development experiences for Windows 10, delayed Windows updates, lack of major new features and many Windows update issues.
Moving to Windows 11 will still be a surprising move for Microsoft. The company previously referred to Windows 10 as “the latest version of Windows” in its heavy pressure to position the operating system as a service that is constantly updated. While there are monthly updates to Windows, the more significant changes are usually delivered twice a year.
Microsoft has struggled to name these updates, though. We’ve seen the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Fall Creators Update, and simple dates like the November 2019 update. Microsoft has also adopted another naming plan recently, citing updates such as 20H1 or 21H1 to denote both the release year and part of the year the update was released.
A move to Windows 11 would not necessarily clean up Microsoft’s problems naming updates, but if the company also adopted point releases like Windows 11.1, it would certainly help both consumers and IT administrators to quickly understand which version is the latest.
OEMs would also like to see a Windows 11 release. A new version of Windows is always driving new hardware sales and renewed interest in the operating system. If Microsoft supports it with a new user interface and a new look for Windows, it will be the typical gamebook we’ve seen for Windows for decades.
It’s not long before we find out if Microsoft is ready to call the version number of Windows up to 11. Windows student (as I now call it) starts at 11:00 ET June 24, and The Verge will cover all the news live when it happens.