macOS Big Sur puts Windows 10's attempts at 'UI updates' to shame

macOS Big Sur
macOS Big Sur (Image credit: Apple)

Yesterday at WWDC,, Apple unveiled its brand new version of macOS, known as "Big Sur," which is coming later this year to a plethora of Macs. Its most significant new addition is a complete redesign of the OS, adopting the same aesthetic Apple has been pushing on iOS and iPadOS for some time. This is a comprehensive cosmetic update from the ground up that's consistent across apps and icons, and it puts Windows' cosmetic update efforts to shame.

For over three years, Microsoft has promised a consistent and modern UI update for Windows 10. It announced Fluent Design in 2017 and subsequently unveiled what Windows would soon look like with its new Fluent Design language. At the time, Microsoft called the move to Fluent Design a journey, and that it would take some time to show up. But, three years later, and it feels like that journey hasn't even started.

We're a far cry away from what Microsoft said Windows 10 would look like with Fluent Design, that's for sure. What doesn't help is that mid-way through this Fluent Design journey, Fluent Design itself changed quite significantly. It's no longer all about modernizing Windows design, but rather, it's finding a cross-platform design that works no matter the capability of a platform.

Fluent Design Store Concept

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

The other key issue is that there's no universal push to adopt Fluent Design across all the teams that work on Windows or apps for Windows. Since Windows is split up into so many teams, a lot of those teams just don't adopt it, and those that do, have their own spin on what Fluent Design is. This creates an inconsistent UI across the different apps and shell elements found in Windows 10 and just makes everything feel disjointed.

Windows 10X is a significant step forward in the journey to creating a consistent, clean, minimalist, and modern UI for Windows 10. But the apps and their inconsistent adaptation of Fluent Design is still a problem on Windows 10X. What's more, Windows 10X isn't coming to Windows 10, so all that work means nothing to the billion users who are running Windows 10 today. Microsoft needs to figure out a way to modernize Windows 10 cosmetically because other platforms are putting it to shame.

Apple can do it, but Microsoft can't?

The fact that Apple can show up with an entire cosmetic redesign that not only updates shell elements but all the in-box apps, too, all in just one release is insanity to me as a Windows user. It's certainly not out of the ordinary for Apple; they did the same with iOS 7 back in 2013. Microsoft is a mammoth that cannot move that fast. The idea that Microsoft could implement a complete OS redesign, which includes all the in-box apps is essentially impossible given how that would require collaboration between all the different teams that work on Windows. And it seems that just doesn't happen internally at Microsoft.

Windows 10 Design 2021 Concept

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

You'd have to get not only the in-box system app teams to cooperate, but you'd also have to get the different teams that work on the Windows Shell, the Skype team, the Office team, and the Xbox team to cooperate too, as they all have built-in products and ship on Windows 10. Don't get me wrong, it isn't impossible, but everyone at Microsoft would have to muck in if this were to happen. And I'm afraid these other teams reckon they have more important things to be doing instead.

I know Windows has the issue of supporting legacy apps and features, and I get that. But, just because Microsoft needs to support legacy programs doesn't give it the excuse of not updating the modern in-box apps or the Windows Shell with a consistent Fluent Design experience, those things don't rely on whether or not the legacy apps are supported.

There has been a lot of comparison between how Microsoft handles OS updates and how Apple handles OS updates on Twitter in the last 24 hours, and those comparisons are deserved. It's true; Apple can pull things off when it comes to OS design of which Microsoft can only dream. Apple is consistent, daring, and "all-in" on its efforts. Microsoft just isn't. Microsoft was burned with Windows 8, but that doesn't mean it should stop trying to push UI updates when necessary.

Perhaps now that Panos Panay oversees the Windows client, we'll start to see this change. Panos Panay did post a video showcasing a new UI for Windows 10, but we're yet to see any of that make an appearance in the product. Windows 10X is on the way, and there's at least some attempt at a minimalist, clean OS design there. I just hope we see that work come to not only legacy Windows 10 but all the in-box apps as well.

What are your thoughts on the new redesign for macOS and Microsoft's inability to deliver something similar? Let us know in the comments.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter and Threads