Windows 10 is on course to have the longest lifespan of any Microsoft operating system to date, remaining the latest version almost six years after it first launched. This hasn’t come as a huge surprise – Microsoft’s Jerry Nixon described it as ‘the last version of Windows’ at the time.
That doesn’t mean Windows 10 now is identical to a version as in 2015, though. Microsoft releases new feature updates twice a year, negating the need for a whole new version.
However, this hasn’t stopped many people speculating about a potential Windows 11. These amounted to nothing more than concept videos until recently, when Microsoft began teasing ‘the next generation of Windows’. This felt more significant than a feature update, even if the 21H2 update is rumoured to bring about wholesale changes.
With Microsoft announcing a Windows-themed event for 24 June, there’s a growing feeling that we could finally see Windows 11 officially launch. Here’s everything you need to know.
When will Windows 11 be announced?
We can’t be sure that Microsoft will ever launch Windows 11, but a 24 June event is subtitled ‘Join us to see what’s next for Windows’. It will begin at 11am ET/4pm BST/5pm CET, with presentations from both Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Chief Product Officer Panos Panay.
Understandably, many people have speculated that this is when we’ll see Windows 11 unveiled. However, there’s a real chance that it’ll just be for Windows 10’s 21H2 update, codenamed ‘Sun Valley’.
That’s not expected to officially roll out until October 2021 at the earliest. If Windows 11 does arrive instead, we’d probably be looking at a similar timeframe before people can start downloading it.
The Windows Insider Program opens the possibility of earlier access, although these are typically early builds and so usually have more bugs. Most people shouldn’t install them on their main PC.
How much will Windows 11 cost?
We’ve grown accustomed to free feature updates since Windows 10 launched, but it might be a different story if Windows 11 launches. As it’ll be a whole new version of the operating system, expect to pay a fee to get it on your existing device. For context, here’s how much it currently costs to upgrade to Windows 10:
Windows 10 Home – £119.99/US$139
Windows 10 Pro – £219.99/US$199.99
Windows 10 Pro for Workstations – £339/US$309
Of course, that won’t be your only way to start using Windows 11. Shortly after it launches, expect plenty of new laptops and PCs to be running the operating system out of the box, negating the need or a separate purchase.
Will Windows 11 be available on the same devices as Windows 10?
Should Windows 11 launch, it will likely have a similar range of compatible devices to Windows 10. However, Microsoft may use this opportunity to drop support for older hardware – we’re talking devices that already struggle to run the latest version of Windows 10.
With dual-screen devices likely to increase in popularity over the next few years, it’s likely Microsoft will focus on optimising Windows 11 for these new form factors.
What new features will Windows 11 have?
If Microsoft does bring Windows 11 to market, it’ll likely have plenty more features than those which are rumoured for Sun Valley. However, that’s all we have to go on for now.
We have a dedicated article on what was expected to be Windows 10’s 21H2 update. To avoid duplication here, we’ll just summarise some of the key expected features.
Sun Valley is expected to revamp the Windows user experience, making it more in keeping with Microsoft’s ‘Fluent UI’ design language. This means more floating windows and rounded corners, with many Windows stock apps being redesigned.
These are expected to include the likes of File Explorer, Settings and Alarms & Clock. File and Copy dialog boxes are also likely to be updated.
Elsewhere, Sun Valley will have a brand-new Action Center, splitting Quick Settings, Notifications and a music controller into separate sections. Its design is expected to be inspired by Windows 10X, making it easy to navigate using touchpad, mouse, pen or finger.
Image: Windows Central
Talking of touch input, Microsoft is also expected to update the on-screen keyboard. This will allow you to customise the colour, size and transparency of each key and its border. The separate tablet mode will also now support gestures.
Various new multitasking features have also been mooted. These include separate virtual desktops for each display you’re using, alongside the ability to remember which apps are connected using Snap Assist when connecting/disconnecting a monitor.
There will also be the option to reduce clutter, with Microsoft allowing you to delete many system apps which aren’t necessary for the day-to-day running of the device. It’s not clear exactly which these will be, though.
Managing external cameras looks set to get easier, while dedicated battery usage graphs will make it easier to extend battery.
As alluded to above, Microsoft’s approach to future versions of Windows will also likely be inspired by Windows 10X, despite the spin-off operating system being cancelled before it launched. Windows 10X was intended to be a web-first, stripped-back version of Windows, offering a simpler alternative to the regular version of Windows.
Windows 11 may also be in for a brand new theme tune, judging by a recent video. The official Windows YouTube channel uploaded a compilation video of previous startup sounds, at 4000% reduced speed:
The rationale behind the video is explained in its description – the sounds supposedly have a meditative effect, allowing you to tame your excitement for the 24 June event. At exactly 11 minutes long, it only adds fuel to the fire that Windows 11 is on the way,
The rumoured Sun Valley features are far more significant than anything we’ve seen on Windows 10 in recent years, but they don’t quite justify the ‘next generation of Windows’ description. Should Microsoft bring another major version of Windows to market (be it Windows 11 or something else), expect plenty more changes we haven’t heard about yet.