This morning, Microsoft is set to unveil Windows 11, the company’s next major operating system. While a leak of Windows 11 revealed some of the design changes, I expect to see a lot more today. A new Start menu, rounded corners, and a general UI overhaul have been anticipated for months, but Microsoft will need to show some significant changes to Windows 11 to demonstrate that it is more than just a repainted version of Windows 10.
Much of what we’ve seen thus far was already planned for Windows 10X, a version of Windows that was supposed to ship with dual-screen devices. Windows 10X introduced a new Start menu that functioned more like a launcher and was located in the taskbar. 10X also included numerous UI simplifications and general usability improvements to Windows.
After the pandemic, Microsoft rushed to rework Windows 10X for laptops in order to provide a more simplified version of its operating system for devices that were suddenly in high demand for remote work and schooling. The attempt by Windows 10X to simplify Windows and its app model failed. According to sources familiar with the situation, Microsoft has been struggling to achieve an acceptable level of app compatibility with 10X over the last few years, after the company originally planned to run every app in a special container to improve the security and performance of devices running the new OS.
Containers would have been a significant change to Windows, particularly for developers, and there is no indication in the leaked Windows 11 build that Microsoft intends to implement containers anytime soon. Instead, it appears that Windows 11 is adopting the majority of the UI changes introduced with Windows 10X. The leaked Windows 11 build also includes some changes to multitasking, improved support for multiple monitors, and potential performance improvements – especially for PC gaming.
The most notable change in Windows 11 may be Microsoft’s approach to the apps available in the Windows Store. Although the leaked version of Windows 11 does not include the new store, Microsoft is rumoured to be opening up its store to any Windows app. That means Chrome, Adobe Creative Suite, and a slew of other apps that aren’t currently available in the Windows Store will become available.
More importantly, Microsoft is expected to allow developers to bypass its payment system for store apps. This means that if developers choose to use their own payment systems, they will not have to give Microsoft a cut of their revenue from in-app purchases. This would be a significant shift, putting even more pressure on Apple’s App Store, coming after Microsoft assisted Epic Games in arguing that iPhones, like PCs, are general-purpose devices.
Aside from the store, I’m hoping to see Microsoft differentiate Windows 11 from Windows 10 by focusing on the OS’s daily users. Productivity is important, as is making Windows easier and more reliable for the millions of people who use it every day to study and work. Apple impressed us earlier this month with Universal Control, a simple way to control an iPad using a Mac’s keyboard and trackpad. It simplifies dragging and dropping content between those devices and boosts productivity if you use multiple devices.
There are some hints in the leaked version of Windows 11 that some multitasking enhancements are on the way. In Windows 11, a new control appears on the maximise buttons that allows you to quickly snap apps into place. However, these snap features have been present in Windows for many years, so I am hopeful that we will see even more changes to help Windows users improve their daily workflow.
Windows is also used for PC gaming, in addition to productivity. A concerted effort to improve Windows 11 for gaming would be welcome news to the millions of people who prefer PCs to game consoles. The Xbox Game Bar and new Xbox app are welcome additions, but PC gaming is still dominated by Steam and Discord. Instead of attempting to impose Xbox-like experiences on PC players, I’d like to see Microsoft recognise this. The Xbox Game Bar is a good step in the right direction, but Microsoft could do a lot more in Windows 11 and beyond.
I’m hoping Microsoft improves Windows 11’s Game Mode. The mysterious feature ostensibly “optimises your PC for play,” but in reality, it accomplishes very little. When you play a game with Game Mode enabled, Windows Update stops installing drivers and attempting to reboot your PC, and it mysteriously “helps achieve a more stable frame rate depending on the specific game and system.” It does not, however, go far enough to prevent other apps from hogging your CPU or even GPU resources. Instead, PC gamers frequently disable services, limit apps, and tinker with the registry.
Aside from these critical areas, I’d like to see Microsoft improve some of the fundamentals in Windows 11. To change the direction of my mouse scroll wheel, I still need to go into the registry. While some mice include drivers that allow you to change the direction of the mouse, Windows does not. It’s an odd omission, and there are numerous instances throughout Windows where Microsoft could do a better job of cleaning up the OS.
One of them is Settings, where I’m frequently thrown into the ancient world of the Control Panel to change settings. Microsoft keeps Control Panel around for its impressive legacy support, but it should be something you have to look for rather than something you stumble upon.
I expect Microsoft to have some surprises for Windows 11 that demonstrate it is more than just a Windows 10.5. Miguel de Icaza, a Microsoft employee, teased on Tuesday that the company would discuss something he has been pushing for for years, before deleting the tweet. It’s a cryptic teaser for such a big event. De Icaza is a co-founder of Xamarin, a tool for developing mobile apps that can run on both iOS and Android. Microsoft purchased Xamarin in 2016, and the company has been working to improve developer support in Windows ever since.
We’re almost certain to hear about improvements for Windows developers in Windows 11, as well as changes to Microsoft’s Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). Linux GUI apps are on their way to Windows, and Microsoft is hosting a separate Windows developer-focused event today, so a significant dev announcement is likely.
Microsoft’s Windows 11 event will begin at 11 a.m. ET today and will last approximately 45 minutes. The Verge will be covering all of the news live as it happens.