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 years. Next up: Windows 12, sometime in 2024.
Microsoft is being typically close-mouthed about its plans for the next version of Windows, of course. But the rumor mill has been working overtime in recent months, helped along by some (perhaps strategic) leaks from partners that suggest we will indeed get yet another “big bang” release in 2024, roughly three years after the launch of Windows 11.
I’ve got some predictions based on more than 30 years of experience with the operating system everyone loves to hate.
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 new major release is considerably less surprising. A new version number offers 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. So, expect to see some TV ads pitching new features in familiar form factors in the new year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, just in time for a Windows 12 debut. 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.
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.
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.
I do, however, 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.
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.
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.
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, and there’s no reason to expect that to change this time around. Insider builds should appear roughly three months before the final release, maybe a bit longer.
This has been one of the most tantalizing rumors to me. The Windows 11 Subsystem for Android is more of a proof of concept than a productivity booster, thanks to its most serious limitation: The only apps it can install are those in Amazon’s meager app store.
The most obvious way to expand this capability is to open access to the Google Play Store for the Android on Windows subsystem. Given the eternally fraught nature of the relationship between Google and Microsoft, it’s hard to imagine that the two companies can work out that deal. But … never say never?
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.