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Windows 12 FAQ: Is it coming in 2024? (Plus some surprising predictions)

Microsoft isn't talking, but I've collected rumors, speculation, and wild-ass guesses about the next version of Windows in this FAQ to help you get ready.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor
Qi Yang/Getty Images

Well, Windows as a Service was fun while it lasted. Microsoft buried that idea once and for all with the release of Windows 11 in 2021. And judging by the latest crop of rumors, it appears we're now back on a schedule that includes a new major version of Windows every three or four years. Next up: Windows 12.

At the end of last year, it looked like Microsoft was ready to ship Windows 12 sometime in 2024. That might still happen, especially if Microsoft follows the playbook they used for Windows 11: Announce in June, ship in October. 

Also: When Windows 10 support runs out, you have 5 options but only 2 are worth considering

Microsoft is being more close-mouthed than usual about its plans for the next version of Windows, of course. The rumor mill was working overtime at the end of 2023, helped along by some (perhaps strategic) leaks from partners that suggested we would indeed get yet another "big bang" release in 2024, roughly three years after the launch of Windows 11. 

Now, at the end of the first quarter of 2024, the Windows 12 radar screen has gone completely dark.

What can you expect from Windows 12?

I've got some predictions based on more than 30 years of experience with the operating system everyone loves to hate.

Seriously, Windows 12?

OK, I guess that's technically a question, so the judges will allow it.

Windows 11 was a (more or less) complete surprise from Microsoft. With that as precedent, though, the idea of a major new release is considerably less surprising. A new version number offers some marketing possibilities that Redmond can exploit along with its hardware partners (HP, Lenovo, and Dell, primarily). It also offers an excuse to rev up consumers and business customers. But Microsoft appears to be putting much more of its messaging and marketing money into its AI efforts. You're more likely to see TV ads pitching AI features like Copilot than a new Windows version number.

Will Microsoft include AI features in Windows 12?

Oh, this one's easy. Of course Windows 12 will be chock-full of AI features because that's what Microsoft is doing with everything now. The Copilot feature is already available as a preview in Windows 11 and Windows 10, and there's no doubt it will continue to expand its capabilities over time.

Will Microsoft's customers find those features valuable or useful? Will they generate enough revenue to satisfy Microsoft shareholders? Those are still open questions.

Also: Windows 10 PCs will get Copilot AI chatbot after all

One thing you can reasonably expect is that new PCs designed for Windows 12 will include hardware features, including custom neural processing units, that are optimized for the AI features in Windows. Microsoft has already included this support in its Arm-powered Surface Pro, and the company has built its own Arm-based processors to make Azure better at handling AI-related tasks. I expect to see some of those silicon features trickle down to the Surface PC line in the Windows 12 era.

Will the hardware requirements change for Windows 12?

One of the most turbulent changes in Windows 11 was a new set of hardware requirements that essentially locked out older hardware. I'm betting that Microsoft won't make major changes to that hardware baseline with Windows 12. All of those PCs should be fully capable of running what will probably be a minor upgrade in the form of Windows 12.

Also: Intel spotlights AI in new Core Ultra, 5th-gen Xeon chips

Don't be surprised, though, to see some new hardware requirements for specific AI-based features (speech and image processing, for example), but any PC that meets the requirements for Windows 11 should perform acceptably on Windows 12.

Is Microsoft going to get more serious about Arm-based PCs?

Yes. I expect the next generation of Windows PCs to be a huge step up in performance, battery life, and manageability. Intel has every right to be nervous about what's coming, as I noted earlier in this article. Qualcomm couldn't deliver its SoCs in time for the fall 2023 cycle, but they will certainly be ready for Windows 12.

If the Nuvia acquisition delivers for Qualcomm, that device should have performance and battery life that are close to Apple's devices and could pass the "good enough" test, especially at lower price points. That launch might even be accompanied by a preview of Windows 12, with some Arm-specific enhancements.

Qualcomm's long-rumored Snapdragon Elite X chip was officially announced in October, and should be available by mid-2024. The company says its new chip can match the performance of Intel's fastest laptop CPU while using nearly 70% less power. AMD and Nvidia are also reportedly working on Arm-based designs that will be ready in 2025. Most observers expect the Surface devices that Microsoft will announce in May will be Arm-powered, with custom NPUs. Samsung is also reportedly working on a new Arm-based notebook powered by Snapdragon Elite X. Will those new devices ship with Windows 11, or will Microsoft roll out its big Arm push and Windows 12 at the same time?

Also: Windows on Arm redux: Can Microsoft deliver a silicon surprise before year's end?

What changes can we expect in the Windows 12 user experience (UX)?

I don't expect to see any major UX changes in Windows 12. Everything that was introduced in Windows 11 feels like a baseline. It's reasonable to anticipate that we will see refinements to those Windows 11 UX features, specifically addressing some complaints of longtime Windows users, including the capability to move the taskbar to the top or side of the primary display.

Several veteran Windows watchers have speculated that Windows 12 will add a floating search bar and move some elements of the taskbar to the top of the screen, making the Windows experience more Mac-like. More than a year ago, Windows Central's Zac Bowden spotted those elements from a design prototype of Windows 12 in a Microsoft presentation at its Ignite conference. It's also possible that these changes will appear as user-configurable options alongside the more familiar Windows 11 UX.

Will Windows 12 run all my old Windows apps?

One of the core selling points of Windows through the years has been its relentless focus on backward compatibility with apps and services. I predict that won't change in 2024.

However, I do expect to see Microsoft ratchet up its security over older apps, which represent a perennial security threat to anyone who uses a Windows PC. The company has been quietly running virtual PCs in its own cloud, under the Windows 365 moniker, for several years. On local hardware, it's invested a ton of resources in virtualizing core Windows functions so they're less vulnerable to traditional attacks.

Also: The best Windows laptop you can buy: Dell, Samsung, Lenovo, and more

You can expect both of these efforts to step up big time in Windows 12. On Arm-based PCs, in particular, don't be surprised to see features that run legacy Win32 apps in virtual sessions that are sandboxed to prevent them from tampering with the operating system. That will annoy malware developers, but it should be a net positive for anyone using a Windows PC.

What will be the official name of the next version of Windows?

I suppose it's possible that someone in Redmond could convince the powers that be to go back to doing dumb names instead of version numbers (Me, XP, Vista). But since Windows 7 in 2009, it's been all numbers, and that's where the smart money is placing its bets. If you're looking for a longshot bet, put a few bucks on Microsoft including the word Copilot in the product's official name.

When will Windows 12 be available to the public?

For the official public release, I've carved out a three-month window in my calendar, starting in late July and extending to late October. Those are the traditional H2 dates when Microsoft releases a new Windows version. If Microsoft hits the brakes on Windows 12 and doesn't ship it before the end of the year, all bets are off. Insider builds should appear roughly three months before the final release, maybe a bit longer.

Will Windows 12 expand support for running Android apps?

Microsoft has officially killed off the Windows 11 Subsystem for Android, and Amazon has closed the meager app store it ran for the project. That's not surprising. Without access to the Google Play Store, this Android subsystem was nearly useless. The Windows Subsystem for Linux has a bright future, however, especially with developers and tech-savvy administrators.  

Also: This Windows app could turn your Android phone into a webcam

How much will Windows 12 cost?

Historically, most people buy Windows on a new PC and never pay Microsoft directly. I don't expect that fact to change in the Windows 12 era, nor do I expect Microsoft to raise its prices in this economy.

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