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It may be hard to believe, but Windows 11 is nearly two years old now, with a few updates already under its belt. Windows 11 version 22H2 was big, and with a few Moment updates released since then, plus version 23H2 on the horizon, the OS has evolved a lot. Despite that, all signs point to Microsoft shifting focus to Windows 12 in the future, with reports indicating that this entirely new version will be launching in 2024.

Microsoft hasn't officially announced a new version of Windows. In fact, it's downplayed reports we've heard about Windows 12. Officially, the company is committed to annual updates and smaller feature updates for Windows 11. Still, it's never too early to start looking ahead, and there's a good chance we'll see a follow-up to Windows 11 at some point in the future. Let's take a closer look at what we expect for now.

When will Windows 12 be released?

According to reports, the next major version of Windows is going to launch at some point in 2024, roughly three years after Windows 11's debut. That's all we really have right now, and it might be a while before we have any more information. If past releases are any indication, Windows 12 should arrive in the fall, or at least the second half of the year, but that's not set in stone. Microsoft has denied the reports that it's working on Windows 12, but considering we're still some time away from its launch, the company could simply be holding its cards close to its chest.

A Windows 11 desktop with the Start menu open and a folder inside expanded to show four apps inside

If you're in the Windows Insider Program, you might see Windows 12 features show up gradually over the next two years, though Microsoft will likely keep labeling them as Windows 11 features until we're much closer to the release date. Not every feature in the Insider Program will be part of Windows 12, though, as many of them roll out via smaller updates, but some of them may be looking further ahead. We might not see Windows 12 exclusive features until we're closer to its release, however. After all, Windows 11 was a fairly well-kept secret until it was almost finished.

Will Windows 12 be a free upgrade?

One of the big questions you're likely to have is whether you'll have to pay to upgrade to Windows 12 when (and if) it releases, but thankfully, that's unlikely. Microsoft has been set on offering major Windows updates for free to existing Windows users for a few years now, and it only makes sense for that to continue. Of course, Windows 12 itself likely won't be free, so if you don't have a Windows license at all, you're still going to have to buy it.

What might get you to spend money is whether your PC is compatible with it, but that's a different matter worthy of its own section.

Will I be forced to upgrade?

The most likely answer to this is no. Microsoft has significantly eased up on its push to get users to install new versions of Windows by force. Windows 11 is still an optional update for Windows 10 users, and most likely, that approach will continue with future releases.

Updating to new versions of Windows can be mandatory if your version of Windows is nearing the end of its support period. For example, the original release of Windows 11 will be supported for 24 months if you have a Home or Pro edition of Windows. So, while Windows 11 version 22H2 isn't mandatory, it will probably be installed automatically in 2023, so you can keep getting security updates going forward.

Windows 11 updates

However, if you look at what's happening with Windows 10, Microsoft is still delivering security updates for that operating system, and there are new feature updates every year. They don't actually add big new features, but they extend the support period for your PC. Windows 10 as a whole is supported until October 2025, and instead of pushing users to Windows 11, Microsoft is keeping them on Windows 10 through these smaller updates. It's likely that Windows 11 will receive the same treatment once Windows 12 is released, so you won't be forced to upgrade.

Can my PC run Windows 12?

After Windows 11 significantly raised the minimum system requirements compared to Windows 10, this is another great question to ponder. Will Windows 12 leave older PCs behind once again? It's too early to say, but there's certainly a chance that some PCs won't be compatible for one reason or another. Windows 11 currently requires processors released from around 2018 onward, and while we currently don't see a reason for the next Windows release to require more than that, it's possible that will happen.

As for any other requirements, again, it's hard to say. Windows 11 requires 4GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, so at the very least, Windows 12 will need just as much. You also shouldn't expect Microsoft to walk back on things like TPM requirements. However, if history is any indication, there will likely continue to be some kind of workaround that unsupported PCs can use to install it if you're feeling adventurous.

Either way, almost all the best laptops you can buy today will likely support Windows 12 when it releases.

What's new in Windows 12?

It's still too early to know for sure what Windows 12 will encompass. However, some reports and leaks have given us a look at what might be part of this major update.

A new desktop UI

While Microsoft hasn't officially announced Windows 12, we recently got an early look at a prototype. Microsoft inadvertently showed off a concept for Windows 12 during the Microsoft Ignite keynote hosted by CEO Satya Nadella. The concept shows a few interesting changes, including a floating taskbar and some system icons that are now displayed at the top of the screen, such as the Wi-Fi and battery indicators, along with a weather widget. This would make Windows more similar to macOS or some Linux distributions.

Screenshot of a Windows desktop with a redesigned toolbar and system icons at the top of the screen

Of course, we're still a couple of years out from the expected release date, so this is likely a very early design prototype. It might change significantly or be scrapped altogether before Windows 12 actually launches, but it gives us some interesting elements to analyze. Windows 11 made big changes to the taskbar for the first time in years, and if this concept is anything to go by, Windows 12 will make even more drastic changes to the experience we've grown accustomed to.

Other changes that have been reported include a new lock screen and login UI that's more optimized for touch devices, and a new notification center that can group notifications by contact, and not just by app. It's also expected you might be able to pin widgets to the desktop rather than having to use the dedicated widgets panel. Another new capability mentioned is the ability to create animated wallpapers with a parallax effect based on a 2D image.

A more modular approach

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold running Windows 10X
Windows 10X running on the original Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold

According to a recent report, Windows 12 may be taking a new approach to the way the operating system is designed on a core level. Microsoft is planning to make Windows 12 more modular, in the sense that certain components of the OS can be enabled or disabled for specific devices. This idea, known as CorePC, would allow for more tailored experiences for devices with different form factors and capabilities.

For example, a lower-end tablet or foldable PC may not support classic Win32 apps in order to have a lighter build. However, that feature would still be available on traditional desktop PC, so long-time users can still use their PC just as they always have.

This is somewhat reminiscent of what Microsoft was attempting with Windows 10X, which was going to be a version of Windows 10 designed for more modern devices and foldable. But while Windows 10X stripped out everything it could and was built from the ground up for these devices, the goal with Windows 12 is to have the full set of features and then remove the bits that don't make sense for a particular device or form factor. This will result in lighter Windows installations, allowing the OS to run on even lower-end hardware to compete with ChromeOS.

Faster updates

Screenshot of Windows Update in the Windows 11 Settings app

The same report that mentioned the modular design also talked about another change to the structure of Windows 12 with the introduction of state separation. This essentially means that certain parts of the operating system would be blocked off from user access and put into a separate partition. This would allow Windows to be updated more seamlessly, as the system could update these core partitions freely without worrying about user intervention. Updates would install faster and require less downtime, something we've been wanting to see for a while.

State separation can also make the reset experience more reliable. Since users can't access the partitions with system files, these files are less likely to be corrupted, and resetting your PC should work much better.

AI features

One part that may not come as a surprise anymore is that Microsoft is seemingly looking to incorporate more AI features into Windows 12. One of these features could involve Windows 12 being able to recognize the content shown on screen and suggest different actions depending on what's being shown. Windows 12 could also be able to recognize objects in a photo and make it easier to copy that object and paste it elsewhere.

Recently, Microsoft also announced Windows Copilot, which is expected to debut on Windows 11, but it should become an even more integral part of Windows 12. A recent report also uncovered a bunch of AI features in Windows apps, like an image creator for Paint and OCR support in the Camera app. It's unclear whether those will be delivered to Windows 11 or if they're being reserved for Windows 12 later down the line.

No more support for 32-bit Arm apps

While it's not a new feature, it was recently confirmed that the next version of Windows will not support 32-bit Arm apps, following in the footsteps of other Arm-centric platforms. Officially, Microsoft says this change is happening with a future version of Windows 11, but we'll have to wait and see when it ends up happening.

What we want to see in Windows 12

Of course, with a major Windows release on the way, we can't help but imagine all the changes it should make to improve the Windows experience. While we love Windows 11, there's definitely a lot that Microsoft can do to improve the OS, including taking some lessons from its rivals.

Seamless updates

Screenshot of Windows Update in the Windows 11 Settings app with updates paused

One of the big changes Microsoft announced for Windows 11 was for smaller updates to install in the background to make the overall process less of a pain. While these changes are welcome, the process isn't quite as seamless as it could be. You have to download and install updates, and then you have to reboot, which is when the computer makes a lot of the changes in the update.

Microsoft could stand to learn from ChromeOS and Android, which offer seamless updates where most of the changes are done in the background. While you still need to reboot the device, it's pretty much a standard reboot where your PC boots back up with the new update installed. Windows 11 still forces you to wait a while when it reboots to install updates, and while that's somewhat acceptable for big feature updates, it shouldn't happen with the cumulative updates we get each month.

Improvements to widgets

Screenshot of a Windows 7 desktop with gadgets placed around the screen
Desktop Gadgets in Windows 7 | Source: Redmond Pie

The Widgets board on Windows 11 is full of potential, but so far, Microsoft hasn't really delivered. For over a year, only web-based widgets provided by Microsoft were supported, and the Widgets board is also flooded with "news" articles powered by Microsoft Start, which are rarely useful or entertaining. You can't disable them either. To that end, we have two wishes for widgets on Windows 11.

First, we'd like more customization options for the Widgets board. Users should be able to disable the news feed entirely and use the board exclusively for widgets so that it can be truly useful to them and not filled with visual clutter. Additionally, for users who do want to see news, the Widgets board could serve as an RSS feed reader. Microsoft recently built a similar feature directly into Microsoft Edge, and having this capability built directly into Windows would make it that much easier for users to get access to news and articles from sources they curate.

The other request is to bring widgets directly to the Windows desktop, which is essentially how widgets work on Android. If you have widgets, there's a good chance you want quick access to the information they present, and having them directly on the desktop would greatly help with that. Windows Vista and 7 already had this capability, and while it's not for everyone, it could definitely be helpful. This is also something Apple recently announced with macOS Sonoma, so it's about time Microsoft does it too.

Enhanced Start menu customization

Screenshot of Windows 10 Start menu resized to take toughly 60% of the width and height of the screen
The Windows 10 Start menu could be resized to your needs

One of the big pain points is that the new Start menu is rigid, forcing you to use it in the default layout without many customization options. While the Live Tiles of Windows 10 weren't for everyone, there was definitely a benefit in having a resizable Start menu to fit all the icons and apps you want, and we'd like to see that capability back. It would also be great to have granular control over how many rows of pinned and recommended items we'd like to see, so you can focus the Start menu on what's more useful to you.

Live wallpapers

Screenshot of an animated wallpaper on Windows 11, provided by a third-party app

Live wallpapers have long been a feature of some operating systems, such as Android or macOS, but Windows 11 doesn't offer this option natively. While there are many apps that offer animated wallpapers for Windows 11, it would be great if the operating system offered this capability right out of the box, with a few animated images available by default. For example, a wallpaper that changes color to represent the day and night cycle in real life could be fun. It would also be great if you could set your own GIFs or videos as a background easily.

Finally unify Settings and the Control Panel

Screenshot of the Storage Sense options in the Windows 11 Settings app

Microsoft has been working on bringing settings over from the Control Panel to the Settings app ever since it launched Windows 10 (and to some extent, even Windows 8), but we're far from done. In Windows 11, a lot of the more intricate settings still require you to open the Control Panel or one of its classic dialogs, and it really takes away from the cohesion of the design language.

Slowly, but surely, we've seen some signs of progress with that, but it would be great if Microsoft could launch Windows 12 in a state that feels more finished than previous releases. Even if some dialogs can't be merged into a single app, it would be better if Microsoft could at least update the UI in a way that at least makes it feel more consistent. Fans have mocked up modern versions of the Device Manager, for example, and that would be a step in the right direction.

Snap layouts, but editable (or FancyZones)

Screenshot of a window being moved into a FancyZones layout on Windows 11

One of our favorite features in Windows 11 is Snap Layouts, which made it much easier to display multiple apps at the same time in different configurations. Snap Layouts introduced a few options that weren't possible before and it made it easier to set up your windows in whatever way you prefer, but it's still a little limiting. You can't easily swap out one app in the layout for another, and trying to drag a window to the edges of the screen doesn't always guarantee it will take the space you want it to take.

Microsoft actually has the solution for this already, it's just not built into Windows 11. There's a feature called FancyZones as part of the PowerToys suite, which lets you create custom layouts. It lets you resize all the areas, create new ones, and most importantly, you can drag a new app into any of the zones you've created by holding Shift as you drag the window. This is a nearly perfect solution, and it's far too useful to be limited to PowerToys.

In addition to adding the existing FancyZones functionality, Microsoft could also integrate it better with Windows itself. For example, when you open Task View, you could see your current Snap Layout at the top, and you drag any open app into the slot you want it to take. You could also easily switch between Snap Layouts this way.

Make it easier to uninstall apps

Screenshot of the Windows 11 Start menu showing an app being uninstalled

Windows 8 introduced the Microsoft Store for the first time, and while it was far from popular at the time, it did have one big advantage. Apps for the Microsoft Store were packaged, which meant that they could be installed and uninstalled in a seamless way. All you have to do is click the Uninstall button and the app is removed from your PC with no extra fuss.

While that experience still applies to most Store apps, and Microsoft has also introduced MSIX packaged apps that you can theoretically download from anywhere on the internet, most apps still don't use this packaging format and come with custom installers, which also means they need custom uninstallers. It would be ideal if Microsoft could make a seamless uninstallation experience that's truly universal.

Universal tabs

Windows 10 Sets
Image credit: How-To Geek

Remember Sets? Microsoft tested this for Windows 10 back in 2017, and it was added and removed from Insider builds a couple of times before being scrapped completely. It basically put all of your apps inside tabs, which you could group in whatever way you preferred to stay in your workflow. Recently, Microsoft ended up opting for a different approach and added tabbed navigation to some of its most important apps, including Windows Terminal, File Explorer, and Notepad.

That's definitely a step in the right direction, but we'd still like Sets to come back. Being able to group all the apps related to one specific workload or task makes a lot of sense, and it could be a big time saver when you have a lot of things you need to juggle.

That's all we can say about Windows 12 right now. Even the name isn't necessarily set in stone at this point, but this is the easiest way to refer to the next version of Windows. We'll be sure to add more information as it comes over the next couple of years, so keep checking back for updates.