After a leak of an unfinished Windows 11 build last week pretty much spoiled the surprise, Microsoft is expected to officially unveil the next version of Windows this Thursday, June 24. The event will kick off at 11AM ET, and Microsoft continued the teasing this week with a series of tweets.
— Windows (@Windows) June 22, 2021
Like many of you, we’ve already had the chance to play with the leaked Windows 11 build, which is believed to be a close-to-final version of the new OS. The influence of Windows 10X is quite obvious with the redesigned Start Menu and centered taskbar, but there are many other noticeable changes including new animations and rounded corners almost everywhere.
In two days, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Chief Product Officer will have the opportunity to claim back the Windows 11 narrative and explain the reasoning behind this major Windows release. A new Windows version is a good opportunity for PC manufacturers to sell new devices, and Microsoft also seems to have realized the importance of Windows during this worldwide pandemic.
Microsoft recently announced that it had shelved Windows 10X to focus all of its resources on Windows, and Windows 11 will also be the first version of the OS to launch under Panos Panay’s leadership. The Chief Product Officer is now overseeing both Surface devices and Windows development at Microsoft, and this should hopefully lead to better integrations between hardware and software, something that Apple has now become very good at.
What we know so far
If you missed our latest OnPodcast episode, we discussed the leaked Windows 11 build in great detail. We invite you to watch our Windows 11 segment below where our own Arif and Kareem show footage of all the biggest changes in this leaked build, including the new Start Menu and animations, as well as the main changes regarding the multitasking experience, the touch and tablet modes, and the new ways to manage virtual desktops.
Overall, Windows 11 looks like Windows 10 with a fresh coat of paint and a more cohesive design, though the new Start Menu inspired by Windows 10X may be quite disorienting. Live Tiles are gone, marking an end to an experiment that started with Windows Phone back in 2010 and was later expanded to Windows 8 and Windows 10.
Microsoft is probably right to finally move away from Live Tiles, even though many users will likely miss them. However, Windows 11 introduces a new widget menu in the taskbar that currently looks like a revamped version of the current news and interests taskbar widget on Windows 10, and it will be interesting to see if Microsoft will eventually add support for external widgets, as the usually reliable Microsoft leaker WalkingCat recently suggested:
Windows Widgets will be 1st-party only initially, with 3rd-party support comes later. https://t.co/2qPeJq6Ydm
— WalkingCat (@_h0x0d_) June 20, 2021
There’s a lot to like in the leaked Windows 11 build we’ve played with, though some parts of the OS have been left untouched, including File Explorer or the volume pop up. This isn’t really surprising coming from a non-final build, and we hope that the Windows 11 demo Microsoft will show us on Thursday will reveal have some surprises.
Will Windows 11 be free?
Microsoft offered Windows 10 as a free upgrade to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users back in 2015, and we expect the company to do the same with Windows 11. XDA-Developers recently found Windows 11 configuration keys in the leaked build suggesting that Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users will be able to upgrade to the new OS for free.
If Microsoft still makes a lot of money by selling Windows licenses to PC manufacturers, the company now treats Windows as a service. This means that Windows users can enjoy free updates for their devices, and Windows 11 should work fine on most PCs already running Windows 10.
There are now over 1.3 billion active devices running Windows 10, and it’s in Microsoft’s best interest to get all these devices on the Windows 11 bandwagon as soon as possible. Even though Windows 10 will be supported until 2025, a less fragmented Windows ecosystem is better for everyone, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently teased big new opportunities for app developers on the next generation of Windows.
What’s still to come
It’s unfortunate that the leaked Windows 11 build prevented Microsoft to wow everyone with its new OS on Thursday, but the company probably has kept many new Windows 11 features under wraps. The redesigned Microsoft Store teased by Satya Nadella was one of the biggest thing missing from the leaked Windows 11 build.
“Our promise to you is this: We will create more opportunity for every Windows developer today and welcome every creator who is looking for the most innovative, new, open platform to build and distribute and monetize applications,” the Microsoft CEO said at the company’s Build 2021 conference last month.
With Windows 11, Microsoft has an opportunity to reboot its digital storefront and make big changes to attract the biggest apps and games. The company recently announced that it would reduce its cut on game sales to 12 percent in August (https://www.onmsft.com/news/the-windows-10-microsoft-store-is-reducing-its-cut-on-game-sales-to-12-percent), but a previous report from Windows Central suggested that Microsoft could make some unprecedented moves to make its Store even more attractive.
First of all, Microsoft could stop requiring developers to package their Win32 apps as an MSIX. Additionally, the company could allow developers to use their own their own Content Delivery Network (CDN) to push app updates, and also allow them to use their own payment systems and bypass Microsoft’s 15% cut on in-app purchases.
All these changes would definitely make Windows developers give the Microsoft Store a second look, but Microsoft could have other things in the pipeline to meet developers where they are. If Microsoft can’t convince all developers to create Windows apps, the company could make new moves to turn Windows into the dev box for everything.
Miguel de Icaza, the founder of the Xamarin open-source platform for building cross-platform apps with .NET teased on Twitter today “a feature I have been advocating since I joined the company.” The Xamarin founder emphasized that this feature hasn’t leaked yet, and we’re looking forward to getting more details on June 24. Microsoft is also planning a separate event for developers on June 24 at 3 PM, which will be streamed live on YouTube
Last but not least, we expect Microsoft to explain what to expect with future Windows 10 updates. The freshly-released Windows 10 version 21H1 was another service pack-like update, and it’s quite possible that the OS will keep getting minor updates every six months going forward. Shipping big new features exclusively on Windows 11 would make sense, while enterprise customers who generally hate change could happily stay on Windows 10. In some way, Windows 10 could become the new Windows 7, the version of the OS that’s doesn’t significantly change every six months and doesn’t scare off users who just need a reliable productivity machine with no bells and whistles.
We hope to be surprised on Thursday, but we also should all keep in mind that Microsoft slowly iterates. It took the company years to gradually roll out Fluent Design on Windows 10, and we don’t expect Windows 11 to fix all our frustrations with legacy Windows components that have been sticking around for years. Still, after the company’s annual Build developer conference was pretty light on Windows, the event is a great opportunity for Microsoft to show that it still cares about Windows and that the OS is now in good hands with Panos Panay.