Microsoft plans major platform upgrades for 'Windows 12' that will modernize the OS with AI, faster updates, and better security

Windows vNext prototype UI
Windows vNext internal UI prototype (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft is once again hard at work on building out a "modern" version of Windows.
  • The project is called CorePC, and follows the same goals as Windows 10X but with native support for legacy apps on devices that require it.
  • CorePC will pave the way to new configurations of Windows that scale up and down depending on PC hardware.

For many years, Microsoft has been trying to modernize the Windows platform. Its most recent attempt at this was with Windows Core OS, an effort that aimed to deliver a modular, UWP-first OS that stripped the platform of legacy features and app compatibility in favor of being lightweight, quicker to install updates, and much more secure.

Unfortunately, Microsoft was never able to ship a version of Windows Core OS for traditional PC form factors, though it certainly tried. Windows 10X was Microsoft’s last attempt at this, but the project was canceled in 2021 after months of internal testing and years of development on Windows Core OS itself.

Since then, movement on a version of Windows Core OS for traditional form factors has ground to a halt, and I’m told there are no longer any plans to ship a product on top of Windows Core OS for traditional PCs. However, I hear that the company isn’t done with trying to modernize the Windows platform to help it compete with its more modern rivals.

According to my sources who are familiar with Microsoft’s plans, the company is once again hard at work on a new project internally that’s designed to modernize the Windows platform with many of the same innovations it was working on for Windows Core OS, but with a focus on native compatibility for legacy Win32 applications on devices where it makes sense.

The same innovations for Windows 10X apply to CorePC. (Image credit: Microsoft / Windows Central)

The project is codenamed CorePC and is designed to be a modular and customizable variant of Windows for Microsoft to leverage different form factors with. Not all Windows PCs need the full breadth of legacy Win32 app support, and CorePC will allow Microsoft to configure “editions” of Windows with varying levels of feature and app compatibility.

The big change with CorePC versus the current shipping version of Windows is that CorePC is state separated, just like Windows Core OS. State separation enables faster updates and a more secure platform via read-only partitions that are inaccessible to the user and third-party apps, just like on iPadOS or Android.

The current version of Windows is not a state separated platform, meaning the entire system is installed into a single writable partition. System files, user data, and program files are all stored in the same place. CorePC splits up the OS into multiple partitions, which is key to enabling faster OS updates. State separation also enables faster and more reliable system reset functionality, which is important for Chromebook compete devices in the education sector.

Microsoft has talked about what state separation means for Windows before. You can view that at the 22:40 mark here:

Microsoft is essentially tackling its Windows Core OS vision from the other end of the spectrum. If Windows Core OS was an effort to “rebuild” Windows from the ground up as a modern, configurable OS without the overhead of legacy app compatibility, Windows CorePC starts with the full Windows desktop and works backwards to break it down into a modular, configurable system while maintaining native support for legacy apps and workflows where necessary.

My sources tell me CorePC will allow Microsoft to finally deliver a version of Windows that truly competes with Chromebooks in OS footprint, performance, and capabilities. A version of Windows that only runs Edge, web apps, Android apps (via Project Latte) and Office apps, designed for low-end education PCs is already in early testing internally, and is roughly 60-75% smaller than Windows 11 SE.

Microsoft is also working on a version of CorePC that meet the current feature set and capabilities of Windows desktop, but with state separation enabled for those faster OS updates and improved security benefits. The company is working on a compatibility layer codenamed Neon for legacy apps that require a shared state OS to function, too.

CorePC installs into multiple partitions, not just one. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Lastly, I hear that Microsoft is experimenting with a version of CorePC that’s “silicon-optimized,” designed to reduce legacy overhead, focus on AI capabilities, and vertically optimize hardware and software experiences in a way similar to that of Apple Silicon. Unsurprisingly, AI experiences are a key focus for Windows going into 2024.

Some AI features being developed include the ability for Windows to analyse content on display and provide contextual prompts to jumpstart projects or apps based on the information that’s currently being viewed. Windows may also be able to identify objects and text within images, and allow the user to easily cut out and paste those items elsewhere. Some AI features will require dedicated hardware to function.

Of course, these plans, features, and configurations may change between now and when Microsoft is ready to start shipping devices with CorePC. Timing for when CorePC will be ready is up in the air, though I understand Microsoft aspires to have it ready in time for the next major version of the Windows client in 2024, codenamed Hudson Valley.

Microsoft officials declined to comment on these plans.

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