When is Windows 12 coming out? Let’s be clear from the start: Microsoft hasn’t officially commented on whether it’s developing Windows 12. But credible leaks, rumors, and other indicators strongly suggest we’ll get a Windows 12 in 2024—much quicker than the move from Windows 10 to Windows 11.
Six years passed between the launch of those two OSes, and Windows 11 only appeared two years ago. But prior to Windows 10, major releases did arrive every three years, at least from Windows Vista on, so it’s not out of the question for a new version of Windows to be coming relatively soon.
When is Windows 12 coming out?
The first inkling that Windows 12 might be coming sooner than expected happened when Microsoft reportedly started implementing a new update cadence for Windows, with major versions released every three years. That puts a Windows 12 release in 2024.
The company previously announced that it would release annual rather than twice-yearly feature updates to Windows. In the second half of 2022, we got the Windows 11 update 22H2, and in 2023 we got 23H2. If Microsoft is planning to release Windows 12 in 2024, then we might not see a 24H2 for Windows 11 at all.
Perhaps the strongest evidence yet for a 2024 release of Windows 12 is a recent statement by Intel’s chief financial officer in which he indicated a boost in PC sales due to the new version of Windows coming next year.
The Main Source of Windows 12 Leaks
Most of the details about what’s presumed to be known about Windows 12 comes from a single source: Windows Central’s Zac Bowden, who has a decent track record when it comes to Windows predictions. Highlights among his leaks about Windows 12 include that the OS will have AI features built-in, that it will switch to a lightweight modular code, and that its codename is Hudson Valley.
A Peek at the Windows 12 Desktop at Ignite
Another peek at a potential Windows 12 came at Microsoft Ignite, a conference that focuses on the IT community. The company let slip a Windows desktop interface with an altered appearance, which many have assumed represents what we’ll see in Windows 12.
The (perhaps intentionally blurry) image features a floating taskbar, a floating search bar at the top, and system icons relocated to the top-right corner. A weather button is in the top-left corner.
Frankly, these design tweaks probably wouldn’t merit a whole new Windows version. They’re nowhere near as drastic as the interface update from Windows 10 to 11. And moving the system information—which is something Mac users are familiar with—seems an unnecessary disruption to ingrained Windows users’ habits.
Is Windows as a Service Gone?
When Windows 10 launched, Microsoft stated that updates would come along in between the big updates in a steady stream, using the phrase “Windows as a service.” Windows 11 has certainly followed this pattern, and Windows 12 will certainly not be a static, monolithic entity. It will change and add features on an ongoing basis. Keep in mind that Windows 10 in 2020 was a far different and far more capable OS than Windows 10 in 2015. That’s because the company rolled out feature updates in the interim. Windows 10 got updates with names like Creators Update, which changed the OS about as much as a new macOS version did.
And despite references to Windows 10 as “the last version of Windows,” Microsoft has made it clear that its practice of releasing both major feature updates (as in 22H2 and 23H2) and interim updates (sometimes called Moments) continues with Windows 11. We have every reason to believe that strategy will continue with Windows 12.
Will Windows 12 Require a Subscription?
Eagle-eyed code watchers have noticed references to “subscription edition,” “subscription type,” and “subscription status” in the code for a Windows Insider build in the Canary channel (the earliest release channel). These references have led to speculation that Microsoft will require a subscription for the OS in the future—and perhaps PC prices will be lower as a result. Further speculation has it that a free, ad-supported version of Windows 12 might be available as well.
Another possibility is that these references to subscriptions might be just for business users, similar to the already available Windows 365 Cloud PC option.
A subscription requirement would surely result in outrage from longtime Windows users. That’s what happened when Adobe Photoshop first moved to a subscription model, only for many users to eventually pay up, boosting Adobe’s profits and enabling the company to develop impressive new features for the imaging software.
Windows 12 Will Have More Built-In AI
Windows 11’s 23H2 update brought powerful new artificial intelligence (AI) tools in the form of Windows Copilot. It’s already impressive and powerful, though it could stand to have more PC-control capabilities. This kind of user-facing predictive and assistive tools should only get stronger in Windows 12, and AI technology can also improve back-end things like code stability and update delivery.
Prior to Copilot, Windows’ Search panel and the default Edge web browser included the new conversational search powered by AI. A recent Windows Insider blog post mentioned a Recommended section in File Explorer that suggests files and folders you’re likely to want to open. The feature is noted as being for users signed in to Active Directory accounts, but I could see it coming to anyone with a OneDrive login.
Another way the new OS could use AI is to suggest user actions, even beyond the simple File Explorer suggestions. I’m hoping that Copilot gets wake-word capability so that you can use it hands-free, as you could Cortana. I found Cortana quite useful, but it’s now been stripped of most of its usefulness.
The type of AI that’s intended to anticipate a user’s intentions could be even more powerful in Windows 12, though it could incite a Clippy-like backlash. With desktop system components and Windows itself now including built-in support for AI functions like machine learning, it only makes sense to take advantage of it for the operating system. It’s just a matter of balancing intrusion with helpfulness.
The Best Way to See What’s Coming to Windows
If you really want a look at new features coming to Microsoft’s operating system, enroll a test PC in the Windows Insider program. It has four channel options, from the highly experimental and unstable Canary channel (just introduced in 2023) through (in order of increasing stability and feature readiness) the Dev, Beta, and Release Preview channels.
Insider features have included interface tweaks, such as the redesigned volume indicator; new included apps, such as the Media Player; and new capabilities in existing OS features, such as tabs for Task Manager. Currently in the Canary channel are a redesigned Widgets board, increased USB 4 support, and new ways to install apps from the Microsoft Store. As expected, these builds also include bug fixes and performance optimizations.
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