Microsoft just unveiled Windows 11 during a 45-minute virtual event today, June 24. As expected, company officials talked about some of the new features, revealed rollout plans, and communicated what IT pros can and should expect in terms of Windows 10's future. Microsoft also is sharing more about what developers can and should expect from Windows 11 and the updated Microsoft Store.
Spoiler alert: The biggest surprise today was how Microsoft plans to bring Android apps to Windows via the new Store. Intel and Amazon are both playing a role.
With this next release, Microsoft has a formidable task ahead of itself. Many IT pros don't want Windows to change much because of user retraining and increased help requests. That means tweaks need to be made in ways that don't cause the kind of pushback and, ultimately, failure, that happened with Windows 8. At the same time, Microsoft is looking to compete with both Apple and Chromebook makers with this release, and the needs and desires of users running those two types of devices are quite different. (Windows 10X was going to be Microsoft's ChromeOS-compete platform, but Microsoft has tabled it, seemingly indefinitely.)
Ahead of the June 24 event, here's what we know (and don't) so far about Windows 11:
When is the big Windows 11 reveal and how can I watch?
Microsoft's virtual event, headlined by CEO Satya Nadella and Chief Product Officer and Windows client head Panos Panay, is scheduled for 11 a.m. ET on June 24. Anyone can tune in and watch the What's Next for Windows here. There's also a virtual developer event which we expect to be focused on Windows 11 happening at 3 p.m. ET, which anyone can watch here.
Wasn't Windows 10 supposed to be the "last" version of Windows?
It depends on how you interpret various Microsoft spokespeople's comments. Developer evangelist Jerry Nixon infamously said during an Ignite presentation that Windows 10 would be the last version of Windows. Microsoft officials never really corroborated -- or denied -- his words (at least not in my view). But Microsoft's new servicing model, introduced alongside Windows 10, definitely made it feel as if the company planned to keep rolling out Windows 10 updates rather than introduce yet another new Windows version. Bottom line: Why are we even talking about this?
I'm more intrigued about Microsoft's reasons for deciding to move to 11 now. Think this through: One of the best ways to try to entice users, especially consumers, to buy new PCs is to be able to claim there's something new and better powering them. Many users have been content to keep using their existing Windows PCs with incrementally updated versions of Windows 10 over the past few years. Microsoft and its OEM partners are counting on a "new" Windows campaign to help sell brand-new PCs this holiday and beyond, from what I've heard.
Is Windows 11 really just Windows 10 with a new UI/UX?
Microsoft is expected to try to make the case that Windows 11 is new and different enough from Windows 10 to merit a new version number. In addition to delivering a new UI with more consistency, rounded corners and fancier icons, Windows 11 also will support better touch controls and a new Store, according to previous leaks.
A build of Windows 11, dating back to the end of May, which leaked to the Web last week, has led many to assume that the "Sun Valley" UI/UX tweaks to Windows 11 are the bulk of what will be new in the Windows 11 release. The new UI looks largely like what Microsoft had planned for the now-cancelled Windows 10X, with a centered Start menu and dock.
What else did those who downloaded the leaked Windows 11 build discover?
Microsoft looks likely to allow users to move the Start menu to the left so it won't look too different for users who don't like or need that more centered UX. The News & Interests pop-up that Microsoft has been rolling out to Windows 10 users is expected to become the first of a number of "widgets" in Windows 11. There is a new way to snap apps more easily, based on the FancyZones feature Microsoft has been working on as part of Power Toys.
It's also looking like Teams Chat could replace Skype and the Skype "Meet Now" feature in Windows 11. That's not too surprising, given Microsoft seems to be intent on getting more consumers to use the personal chat/video/calendaring and other features in Teams.
Will Windows 11 be a free upgrade from Windows 10?
We don't know yet. But I'm assuming it will. I also believe Microsoft will continue to roll out a number of additional Windows 10 feature releases for some period of time, including a Windows 10 21H2 release, to the relief of much of the enterprise/IT pro set. Microsoft officials already have said there will be a Windows 10 Enterprise Long Term Servicing Channel (LTSC) release out in the latter half of this year, which the company will support for five years.
Microsoft watcher Albacore (@thebookisclosed) on Twitter said s/he thinks Microsoft is readying two 21H2 branches: One based on the old "Vibranium" code base and another on the newer "Cobalt" one. The former will be the 21H2 update to Windows 10, which will likely be yet another very minor release delivered via an enablement pack, while the Cobalt one will be Windows 11, which will be primarily aimed at consumers this calendar year.
How long will Microsoft continue to support Windows 10?
Six years ago, officials said they planned to support Windows 10 until October 2025. The LTSC release coming later this year will be supported until 2026. That's all we know right now.
How and when will Microsoft roll out Windows 11?
So far, officials haven't said. But rumors indicate that Microsoft is going to make Windows 11 available in a two-step process. PC makers and Windows Insider testers are expected to get the first, largely incomplete version of Windows 11 this summer (maybe even this month). And Microsoft is expected to make it available to mainstream users this fall.
We aren't sure how much (if any) of Windows 11 will be delivered via Windows Feature Experience Packs in addition to Windows Update channels. Former Microsoft Principal Program Manager Michael Niehaus discovered there are some new items in the Windows 11 Feature Pack, including some composable shell and search UX elements, plus files supporting a new "Get Started" app.
What do we know about the alleged new app Store?
Last week's leaked build didn't include a new app Store. But since the Store is just a Universal Windows Platform app, it could be introduced and updated separately rather easily, I'd assume.
Windows Central has published a variety of sourced information on what the coming new Store experience will likely include. It could support the ability for developers to offer in-app purchases and to submit unpackaged Win32 apps. There are rumors that the new Microsoft Store app could offer mini app stores (like a Google store or an Amazon store) right inside the app.
I'm hoping Microsoft sheds some light tomorrow on how it plans to support non-UWP apps in the Store. Officials have hinted that Microsoft was working on some sort of app certification/trust mechanism that would guarantee any apps users download from the Store or not would get the Microsoft seal of approval.
What about the rumored ability to run Android apps on Windows (Project Latte)?
Again, the leaked Windows 11 build didn't provide any new hints about Android apps running on Windows (an effort codenamed "Project Latte"). Microsoft may be planning to make Android apps available via the new Microsoft app store. Some think this will require the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), which now can run Linux GUI apps (and allows them to be pinned to the Start menu). I've heard from one source Latte is likely an early 2022 thing at this point.
Will Panos have his "one more thing" moment on June 24?
Maybe. If he does, I'm going out on a limb and saying he could show a glimpse of the revised/updated, dual-screen Surface Neo running Windows 11 instead of Windows 10X. I'm doubtful Microsoft will want to distract from the OS with a new device. But, on the other hand, what better way to hammer home the point that you need a new version of Windows than by showing off a brand-new form factor optimized for it....