Microsoft (MSFT) will officially unveil the next version of Windows on Thursday at 11 a.m. ET. With appearances by CEO Satya Nadella and chief product officer Panos Panay, the event will offer consumers and businesses their first official look at what is expected to be called Windows 11.
The first new version of Windows since Windows 10 launched back in 2015, Windows 11 is expected to include updated aesthetics, a new toolbar and multitasking features, and big changes for the Microsoft Store.
All of this comes at a time when Microsoft’s Windows business has taken on a new sense of importance, as people continue working from home, despite the easing of pandemic restrictions.
Here’s everything we expect from the next iteration of Windows, and what it means for you.
A new look for a familiar face
Windows 11 was originally meant to be a completely different version of the operating system called Windows 10X. Initially designed for dual-screen devices, Microsoft pivoted its focus for the OS to single-screen devices in 2020 as users around the world turned to their PCs amid the pandemic-driven work-from-home shift.
The company, however, later axed Windows 10X, saying it was going to roll the features it was working on for the defunct operating system into later versions of Windows 10. Now those are coming to what is widely reported to be Windows 11.
Even though Microsoft’s event doesn’t kick off until Thursday, there’s already a leaked version of Windows 11 kicking around the web. I don’t have the stomach to install the leaked operating system on my PC — I need it for gaming — but The Verge’s Tom Warren took the dive and posted a variety of Twitter videos showing what the OS looks like.
The main aesthetic changes found in the leaked version of Windows 11 appear to be its rounded app windows and new Windows logo. Icons for Microsoft apps also get a nice facelift. The Start menu, meanwhile, loses Live Tiles in favor of static app buttons to quickly launch into your program of choice.
Toolbars and multitasking get a boost
One of the more interesting changes coming to Windows 11 is the location of the taskbar. While normally found in the lower left corner of the screen, the taskbar in Windows 11 will be situated dead center in the bottom of the screen. It should make Windows 11 feel more like Apple’s (AAPL) own macOS. Don’t freak out — you can move the taskbar to the left side of the screen if you want.
Multitasking should also get some big changes with a new multitasking button that replaces the maximize button in app windows. Clicking the button will allow you to choose whether you want your app to take up the entire screen, snap it to the right or left side, or snap it to one of the four corners.
It’s a handy update that should help surface the existing multitasking features within Windows that were a bit hard to notice if you weren’t a regular user.
A new Windows Store
Some of the biggest changes for Windows in Windows 11 could be in its Microsoft Store. The app marketplace for the operating system, the Microsoft Store has never caught on as well as something like Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store.
But Microsoft appears to be ready to change that with Windows 11. In May, during the company’s Build conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella specifically called out the changes that will provide more economic opportunity for developers.
That’s an important shoutout for Microsoft to make as it attempts to move in on Apple and Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) turf. What’s more, Microsoft announced back in April that on Aug. 1 it will lower its app store fees on PC games sold to users from 30% to 12%. That’s a heck of a shot across the bow of Apple and Google, which are embroiled in a battle with “Fortnite” maker Epic Games over their own 30% sales fees.
Microsoft has taken Epic’s side in the fight, and called out Apple for the control it exerts over its App Store. Of course, game developers who work with Apple and Google aren’t necessarily developing for the same platform as Microsoft. Smartphone games and PC games are entirely different animals, but the fact that Microsoft is seeming to rock the boat in the game space to this degree shows it wants developers to look to it as a first option for where their games should live.
We’ll find out more about Microsoft’s plans for Windows 11 at its event later this week.
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