Microsoft is getting ready to announce the biggest update to Windows since Windows 10’s debut in 2015. Even though the company hasn’t officially revealed much about this update, all signs -- including a major leak of an early Windows 11 build -- point to it offering a significantly different experience.
Though Microsoft hasn’t confirmed the name change, it has strongly hinted at it, both in the artwork for its June 24 press event and in its 11 a.m. starting time. And, the leaked Windows 11 build shows Windows 11 as the official name in the system information menu. In
What follows is everything we know so far about the Windows 11 update.
When Will Windows 11 Be Announced?
Microsoft started teasing Windows 11 on June 2 with an invitation to a digital event called “What’s Next for Windows” scheduled for June 24 at 11 a.m. ET. The invitation featured a GIF showcasing a redesigned Windows logo that defies the laws of physics by casting just two shadows that, if you squint, look a bit like “11.”
Join us June 24th at 11 am ET for the #MicrosoftEvent to see what’s next. https://t.co/kSQYIDZSyi pic.twitter.com/Emb5GPHOf0June 2, 2021
What Does Windows 11 Look Like?
Right now, there are no official screen shots, but a leaked build that appeared on June 15, 2021 offers a lot of information on at least some of the UI changes. Windows Central recorded a detailed hands-on video with the leak, which we've embedded below. Keep in mind that this is an alleged leak so may not be real and, even if it is, it would be an early build with a ton of features missing.
Some of the key takeaways from this leak include:
- Taskbar: the default icons, including the Start button and search button are in the middle, a position which reminds us a lot of Chrome OS. However, you can tweak the location in settings so that the icons appear on the traditional, left side of the taskbar.
- Start menu: It's a new Windows so, of course, there's a new Start menu design. This one eschews live tiles for simple icons that show your pinned apps, along with recommended apps and files. A menu button that says "All apps" lets you see more icons.
- Start menu options: There seems to be an option to have the Start menu, Taskbar, and other interface elements appear on the left side of the screen if you prefer, which should make the transition to Windows 11 a bit easier for long-time Windows users.
- Search box pops up: Instead of having a search box within the task bar, there's only a magnifying glass icon, which you click to get a search menu.
- File explorer icons: The folder icons are more colorful, particularly for standard folders like Documents and Pictures.
- Snap assist menu: If you hover over the minimize / maximize button, Windows 11 gives you a list of choices for snapping your windows to either side of the screen or into quarters.
- A redesigned Ink Workspace: Windows 11's new Ink Workspace panel appears to offer more customization than its predecessor thanks to support for additional software—the Windows 10 version was limited to the first-party Snip & Sketch and Microsoft Whiteboard apps—as well as some user interface tweaks.
- Rounded corners on windows: Windows and menus appear to have slightly rounded edges.
- New system sounds: Some of the sounds like the Asterisk, which sounds a lot like the tone you hear when some elevator doors open, are new.
- Touch gestures: You can now use three finger swipes to minimize / maximize an app. Tapping with four fingers lets you switch among virtual desktops.
Microsoft appeared to confirm the veracity of the leak on June 17 when it issued a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) complaint against Google for including a link to a website hosting this build of Windows 11. The company said in the complaint that the website in question "is distributing Windows 11 ISO (copyrighted to Microsoft). Please remove their article from the search. It is a leaked copy of the unreleased Windows 11." That complaint all but confirms that the leak is legitimate and that the next version of Windows will indeed be called Windows 11.
Why Do We Think It Will Be Called Windows 11?
Before the leak pretty-much confirmed it, there were many reasons to believe the new Windows would be called Windows 11. Those shadows in the Tweet picture probably would have been enough to inspire speculation about Windows 11 on their own, but scheduling the event for 11 a.m. ET also helped. Many of Microsoft’s events are held later in the day — especially since the pandemic forced those events to be online-only — because the company is based on the West Coast. The working theory is that Microsoft wouldn’t have scheduled an event so early in the day without a good reason; synchronicity with the new version number would qualify.
A screen shot of the system information page from the leaked build shows the version as Windows 11 Pro.
As for why everyone thinks Microsoft is moving on from Windows 10 even though it was supposed to be “the last version of Windows”? Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at the Build 2021 developer conference in May that the company plans to “share one of the most significant updates to Windows of the past decade,” which he called “the next generation of Windows,” some time “soon” after the conference. So the speculation is supported by more than just a GIF and an event’s start time.
Microsoft accidentally revealed that it’s working on a new version of Windows in a support document, too, with Windows Latest reporting on June 9 that the document offered to teach readers ”about managing applications in Windows 10 and Windows Sun Valley.” That mention all but confirms Microsoft is planning to release a new version of Windows in the near future and will continue to support Windows 10 in the meantime.
The document previously referred to "Windows Sun Valley," but that's since been removed. Windows 11 seems like the most likely name for the update, but it’s not like Windows Sun Valley would seem outlandish compared to other platforms’ version names.
Windows Latest spotted another support document, this time for the Microsoft Azure cloud service, that contained a reference to Windows 11 on June 21. The now-deleted update to that document appeared to confirm the Windows 11 branding and suggested it will co-exist with Windows 10 for the foreseeable future.
A more intentional teaser for the next generation of Windows arrived on June 10 when Microsoft published a "slo-fi remix" video of the OS' startup sounds.
"Having trouble relaxing because you’re too excited for the June 24th Microsoft Event?" the video description reads. "Take a slow trip down memory lane with the Windows 95, XP and 7 startup sounds slowed down to a meditative 4,000% reduced speed."
The resulting video is—of course—exactly 11 minutes long.
Microsoft published another video teaser on June 21. Unlike its predecessor, which paid homage to Windows' legacy while effectively teasing the upcoming release, the only connection this video had to the company's announcement was a reminder that it's happening on June 24. The rest of the video showed a man looking into the distance while the camera got closer and closer to his ear. See:
The Microsoft Event is getting closer. Join us on June 24th at 11 am ET. Set a reminder 👉 https://t.co/CFxi6l6BZj pic.twitter.com/VrnJDORIGnJune 21, 2021
Microsoft also updated the lifecycle documentation for Windows 10 Home and Pro to say it will officially drop support for the Home, Pro, Pro Education, and Pro for Workstation versions of the operating system on October 14, 2025. (It didn't say how long the enterprise-specific versions of Windows 10 will continue to be supported.)
Continued support for individual versions of Windows 10 will vary. Microsoft said the Windows 10 May 2021 Update will stop being supported on December 13, 2022 but also said it "will continue to support at least one Windows 10 Semi-Annual Channel until October 14, 2025."
Regardless of the specific timeline, publicly announcing that Windows 10 support will come to an end is the surest sign yet that Microsoft is planning to leave that branding behind with the update arriving on June 24.
Also, consider that changing the name of Windows is a great way to generate interest and even spur more PC sales. Everytime there's a new version of Windows, shopppers want to buy computers with that OS pre-installed, even if upgrading is easy.
How Windows 11 Could Change the User Experience
Reports indicate that Microsoft has been planning many changes to the Windows 10 user experience for a while now. Windows Central reported in October that the company was looking to “update many top-level user interfaces, such as the Start menu, Action Center and even File Explorer with consistent modern designs, better animations and new features” via a project known internally as “Sun Valley”—the same codename used in the aforementioned support document.
Sun Valley wasn’t supposed to replace the Fluent Design language Microsoft introduced at Build 2017 and expanded to iOS, Android and the web in 2019, Windows Central said, but was instead meant to expand the design language to additional parts of Windows. This would likely result in a more cohesive user experience than the hodgepodge of design languages present in Windows 10.
User Interface Tweaks
Some of these small-but-notable design problems were pointed out by Microsoft program manager Yulia Klein in the public GitHub repository for WinUI in November 2020. Klein said that “XAML controls are inconsistent with how web and mobile apps are evolving” and that her proposed changes were “part of the work to refresh Xaml UI to align with other platforms while looking familiar on Windows.”
The proposal included changes to toggle switches, sliders and rating controls used throughout Windows. These user interface elements are nearly ubiquitous; changes would likely have a greater-than-expected effect on the OS' design. Klein’s post also made it clear that Microsoft was indeed looking to update Windows’ design, lending credence to the Windows Central report from a month prior.
Microsoft’s plans to modernize the Windows user experience were all but confirmed by a job listing in January that said:
“On this team, you’ll work with our key platform, Surface and OEM partners to orchestrate and deliver a sweeping visual rejuvenation of Windows experiences to signal to our customers that Windows is BACK and ensure that Windows is considered the best user OS experience for customers.”
Another job listing seeking a Senior Program Manager was posted in April. Microsoft said whoever it hired would be “building new parts and modernizing existing parts of the Windows UX” and that it was “looking for someone who will work with design, research, and prototypers to envision how people will interact with Windows devices in the future.” The company is no longer accepting new applications for the position, which suggests it either found the right candidate or is late in the interview process.
Looking for Clues from Windows 10X
It wasn’t hard to connect the dots between Sun Valley and that job listing. As for what this “sweeping visual rejuvenation of Windows” might look like? Well, those also came from Microsoft itself.
Microsoft released a Windows 10X emulator for developers at Build 2020 that showcased a few user experience changes, including a redesigned app switcher, new Start menu and Quick Settings menu for commonly used controls. Now that the changes originally meant for Windows 10X are reaching Windows proper instead, it would make sense for some of these elements to make their way to Windows 11.
The similarities between screenshots from the June 15th leak and Windows 10X are readily apparent. Simply compare this:
These user experience changes probably won’t be as stark as the jump from Windows 7 to Windows 8. It seems more like Microsoft is fully committing to the Fluent Design language it revealed 4 years ago, looking to improve the Windows experience on touchscreen devices and making seemingly inconsequential changes that culminate in a familiar, yet noticeably different, way of using Windows.
How Windows 11 Could Change the Microsoft Store
Windows 11 might not just change the way the OS looks; it could also change the way people find, purchase and install software. That seems to be what Microsoft is hoping, at least, because the company is reportedly working to make the Microsoft Store more important to Windows users and developers alike.
An Appeal to Developers
Windows Central reported in April that Microsoft plans to make three developer-facing changes to its software distribution platform: allowing unpackaged Win32 apps into the Microsoft Store, letting developers host apps and updates themselves and permitting the use of third-party commerce platforms. All three would make it easier for Windows developers to offer their products via the Microsoft Store in addition to (or instead of) other distribution options.
The company is also appealing directly to developers’ wallets. It announced at Build 2021 that it will reduce the cut of game sales revenues the Microsoft Store gets from 30% to 12%.
That change isn’t groundbreaking (the Epic Games Store offers a similar arrangement) but does make the Microsoft Store more competitive with platforms like Steam. It’s also less than the cut Microsoft takes for other apps sold via the Microsoft Store.
Microsoft currently takes a 15% cut of the revenues from many apps sold via its platform. It also takes a 30% cut from app and in-app purchases made via the “Microsoft Store for Business; Microsoft Store for Education; Microsoft Store on Windows 8 devices; or Microsoft Store on Windows Phone 8 devices” per the App Developer Agreement updated in July 2020. Maybe the new rate for game sales hasn’t been added because similar changes are coming to other apps.
An Appeal to Consumers
The Microsoft Store is also expected to receive a visual overhaul similar to the rest of Windows 11, according to the Windows Central report, as well as updates meant to provide “a more stable download and install experience for large apps and games.” Both could improve the experience of finding software via Microsoft’s storefront (even if many Windows users are likely to continue installing apps via the web or competitive platforms simply because that’s what they're used to).
This is also a symbiotic relationship. Right now Microsoft has to figure out how to get developers to ship their apps via the Microsoft Store even though it’s not popular among consumers, which means it has to get consumers to download apps via the Microsoft Store even though many developers aren’t invested in the platform. A new version of Windows (aka Windows 11) provides the perfect opportunity for Microsoft to address both of those problems without carrying the baggage associated with the store’s current iteration.
Windows 11 Release Date
This might be the biggest question mark ahead of Microsoft’s event. The company usually releases major updates to Windows 10 twice a year: once in the spring and once in the fall. The Windows 10 May 2021 Update's release last month makes a September or October launch window for Windows 11 seem like a possibility.
It can be hard to predict OS release dates, however. Microsoft announced Windows 10X in February 2020 with a planned fall 2020 release date, then announced in July 2020 that the it wouldn’t arrive until 2021, before finally saying in May that it was being shelved for the foreseeable future.
Major updates to Windows 10 have also been delayed in the past, with the Windows 10 October 2018 Update only starting its automatic rollout in January 2019.
The safe bet would probably be for Windows 11 to arrive sometime between September and December. Microsoft will likely release Preview Builds before then, however, so those curious about the future of Windows should probably sign up for the Windows Insider Program if they’re comfortable using unstable software.
After its release date is revealed, the next question would be how Windows users will be able to upgrade to it. Will it be a free update, or will it follow previous versions of the operating system by involving some kind of upgrade fee? The leaked build of Windows 11 suggests it will be the former, with configuration keys reportedly indicating that Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 users might be able to upgrade for free. (Presumably that free upgrade path would also be available to Windows 10 users.)
How to Find Out What Comes Next
Microsoft plans to reveal Windows 11 — or at least the update everyone has taken to calling Windows 11 — during the “What’s Next for Windows” virtual event on June 24 at 11 a.m. ET. Microsoft will livestream the even on its website and has designated "#MicrosoftEvent" for use on social media.