Eagle-eyed Windows enthusiasts watching Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s keynote at the recent Microsoft Ignite conference were in for a surprise. An otherwise mundane announcement of new Teams functionality suddenly cut to a version of Windows slightly different from the one we’re used to, as spotted on Twitter (opens in new tab) and brought to our attention by Windows Central (opens in new tab).
The mystery operating system appears briefly at around 42:42 in this keynote video, in the section about Microsoft Teams Immersive Meeting Experiences for Meta Quest. While broadly similar to Windows 11 (opens in new tab), it features a floating taskbar unlike any you can create in the vanilla OS. Additional features include a floating island-like area at the top of the screen and battery, date, and weather information in the top corners.
Speculation abounds. What the Windows overlords briefly showed us could be anything from a glimpse at an internal development version of Windows, an error that saw the video maker forget to turn off third-party UI mods, a mock-up that doesn't exist outside Microsoft Designer, or a weird Easter egg to see who's paying attention. It's not even clear whether we're looking at a desktop or mobile version of the OS, though the battery meter suggests it's a portable machine. The handwritten look of some of the displayed text may also point toward pen input, such as that on a Surface (opens in new tab), but the cables visible at the bottom of the frame suggest a desktop screen.
If this is the future of Windows - Windows 12, aka Next Valley - we're looking at, then its UI designers are taking inspiration from macOS, which converted its shelf-like dock into a floating flat area several versions ago, or the Gnome 43 desktop used in Linux (opens in new tab), in which you can set the Favorites bar to float at the bottom of the screen even though it's not the default. The icons in the bar are identical to those in current versions of Windows.
Next Valley, expected in 2024, will be the second major release since Windows 10 became the 'last version of Windows' in 2015. Nothing is known about it outside Microsoft's locked vaults, apart from the code name. However, Windows Central quotes 'sources' that the new look "is representative of the design goals that Microsoft is hoping to achieve with the next version of Windows".