What could 'the next generation of Windows' actually mean?

Windows 10X mock laptop dark
Windows 10X mock laptop dark (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Earlier this week, Microsoft's chief product officer Panos Panay dropped a brief yet tantalizing tease that something big is on the way for Windows by referring to what's next as "the next generation of Windows." Microsoft hasn't used terminology like that since the debut of Windows 10 in 2015, and that was because Windows 10 was a new operating system replacing the previous one, backed by a huge marketing campaign focused on getting users to upgrade to the shiny new Windows.

Therefore, Panay referring to "the next generation of Windows" is a much bigger deal than you might think because it's terminology Microsoft should want to avoid now that Windows 10 is the "last version" of Windows that is updated as a service. You can't have a next generation of Windows if Windows 10 is the last version. So, what is Panay referring to? Let's put our thinking caps on.

Is it Sun Valley or Windows 10X?

I think that this "next generation of Windows" refers to both Windows 10X and Microsoft's upcoming Sun Valley update for Windows 10. On the Windows 10X side, things are self-explanatory. Windows 10X is built on a brand new, modern core without all the legacy bloat of "big" Windows, and can easily be categorized as the true next generation of Windows built from the ground up with new user experiences and modern workflows in mind. But 10X isn't ready for mainstream markets yet.

On the other hand, Windows desktop is still one of Microsoft's biggest products, and that isn't going to change because Windows 10X is here. I can't imagine a world where Windows 10X takes over as the 'mainstream' version of Windows for at least another five years, and that's being generous. So Microsoft can't ignore the best Windows desktop PCs, even if it wanted to.

That's where Sun Valley comes in. Microsoft itself has said that it's planning a "sweeping rejuvenation" of Windows, which will include a modern and consistent UI design, new features, and will make the Windows desktop something that people want to use again. Windows 10 today isn't the prettiest bit of software out there and it's not the easiest to use. This often comes to the detriment of Surface, which strives to build minimalistic yet functional PC hardware.

I reckon Panay wants big Windows to complement Surface hardware in ways that it just isn't doing right now, and that's what Sun Valley is able to bring to the table. Of course, most of the improvements coming to Windows with Sun Valley will be applicable to all PCs running Windows 10 today, but from Microsoft's perspective, their hardware and software can finally ship as one united product that go hand-in-hand.

A marketing strategy?

Myerson Windows 10

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The "next generation" is likely marketing terminology designed to get customers to upgrade or buy new PCs with Sun Valley or Windows 10X preinstalled later this year and into 2022. It's phrasing that tells the world that Windows is back and still relevant, and tricks you into wanting a new PC.

That's not a bad thing, of course. It would be nothing but a good thing for Windows fans if Microsoft is considering the next big Windows 10 update worthy of the "next generation" moniker.

It wouldn't make much sense to call just Windows 10X the "next generation" while similtaneously delivering this big Sun Valley update for Windows 10 desktops. It would undermine Sun Valley and ultimately confuse customers. That's why I think "next generation" refers to both Sun Valley and Windows 10X.

Existing Windows 10 PCs will likely still get updated to this next generation just like previous versions of Windows 10, and Windows 10X will be what's exclusive to new PCs. I do think that Sun Valley will serve as a spiritual Windows 11, just without the new name or changes to licensing.

Overall, I think it's a combination of Microsoft's efforts with Windows 10X, as well as a huge push to get legacy Windows back into the spotlight with a shiny new release designed to keep the OS relevant in a world driven by mobile platforms. I'll be surprised if it ends up being a new version of Windows with a new name that costs money to upgrade to like in the old days.

This is all speculation, of course. It's fun to wonder, and I think it's going to be super interesting to see what Panos Panay and his team has planned for Windows later this year. It's starting to feel like Windows is important to Microsoft again, and that's a good thing.

Also remember that the version of Windows 10 scheduled to ship at the end of this year will be Panos Panay's first real version of the OS to ship under his leadership, so it's no surprise to hear that he has big plans in store for the platform. What are your thoughts? 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: @zacbowden.

  • This is exactly what Surface needs, and it's guaranteed a new Surface Pro will come a long with it. On a side note, I would love to hear Panos say the words "the next generation" in reference to Surface Duo... Hopefully some of these design changes for Windows will be incorporated into launcher for Duo version 2 (if possible, or needed). Who knows, it's just fun to speculate 🤷🏽‍♂️
  • I would guess Surface “Duo 2” (Zeta) will be running “Windows 10X,” and not Android OS.
  • I doubt they would change the device's OS now. They are all in with Android on the Duo, because apps. It's a mobile device after all.
    Not to mention Windows 10X for dual screen devices (like the Neo) won't be out until at least 2022.
  • This apps narrative is really getting old now. I run WhatsApp, banking apps, Uber, Facebook, Windows central and Microsoft apps on the phone. There's nothing android exclusive about any of these apps.
  • Do you have a link to the banking apps in the Microsoft Store, so I could check them out?
  • here
  • You must have never had a Windows phone. A lack of banking apps on the platform was a common complaint, actually. Also, using just yourself to define how an entire mobile platform needs to operate is very dumb. You aren't the entire mobile market. I play Pokémon Go on my phone, that's the thing I do MOST on my phone. I used to carry an Android phone, tethered to my Lumia 850, because the game wasn't on W10M. Much of mobile gaming (other than GameLoft's support) was left out of Windows phones. Am I going to get the restaurants I buy from with mobile apps on a W10X Duo? Probably no time soon. As someone who had WP8 and W10M devices, if you really believe there isn't a massive app problem you ha e to address to break from Android, you're delusional. Microsoft tried THREE TIMES (WP8, WP8, W10M) and couldn't build a mobile ecosystem because apps were constantly missing. It's why my sister gav eup after the Lumia ICON, it's why my friend gave up, it's why my cousin allowed AT&T to replace his 1520 with an HTC M8 when it broke and it's why I finally gave up on my Lumia 950 for an LG G8 in 2019.
  • Pokémon really..
  • In Brazil not a single bank have a Microsoft Store app. For Whatsapp there's only the desktop version, which needs an Android or iOS phone with Whatsapp running to work.
  • I'm not using a windows phone. Those banking apps don't work anymore, no responsible financial institution would support a discontinued unsupported OS. The point is.. All the apps that mattered were available when the phones were sold and WP was supported. Like Facebook or WhatsApp.
  • Why not both?
  • I'd love for you to be right but it seems very, very unlikely at this point.
  • I’m cautiously optimistic. It’s weird, though, that they have a whole new OS based on UWP, but the framework itself has no significant development. What was the last thing they developed for it? Dual screen support? I hope they pick it up sometime.
  • Well, Panos can start with whipping Edge team into making the browser use OS default touch text selection UI/UX...
  • I hope they will use more native Windows UI controls and features. Sure it needs to have its own based on Chromium due to being cross-platform. But at least on Windows 10, it should use native ones.
  • If Windows 10 is 'the last version' of Windows, (Windows) 10X being the next generation of Windows, by definition, can't be Windows.
    Sun Valley is a way to modernise Windows 10 and make it coherent with Surface hardware; "It's phrasing that tells the world that Windows is back and still relevant, and...". I fully expect Windows 10 to be named Windows from here out on. No more version names attached.
    10X is the elephant in the room. Can't be Windows as mentioned before. But in the end is expected to do exactly the same as big Windows. Microsoft has been wanting to leave legacy Windows behind for years, yet couldn't for obvious reasons.
    10X will be that transition OS to use new app models (PWA and UWP) and support Win32 for as long as it needs be through Virtual Desktop. But my guessing is that Microsoft has some ace up its sleeve to get people away from Win32 all together.
    Microsoft OS would be dumb, Surface OS makes no sense as it is tied to legacy Windows, so I am expecting an OS with a new name AND a new line of hardware akin Surface. Remember, no upgrades from Windows 10 to 10X. You know it makes sense ;) Edit: EdgeOS is an obvious contender
  • I agree that Windows 10X will probably be "the next generation". It will hardly use the old app models though. PWA is for web apps, UWP is almost dead, Edge is now based on the open-source Chromium project. Perhaps the main expected app model for 10X is WinUI in Desktop which is a new iteration of XAML-based desktop apps for Windows, something like a successor to WPF. If so it will be a nice attempt that would fail at the end. Microsoft needs a new app paradigm, something like Flutter, Jetpack Compose or SwiftUI. XAML is too complicated for medium-experienced developers and for complex tasks. It was originally proposed for designer tools like Microsoft Blend, not people. WinForms was the last developer-friendly platform but it is extremely outdated for the time being.
  • "XAML is too complicated for medium-experienced developers and for complex tasks" XAML is significantly less complex than HTML which is considered as a standard for 'easy'. I would say it is for several orders of magnitudes less complex than SwiftUI.
  • As far as I know, .NET MAUI MVU has a huge influence from SwiftUI. So Microsoft is slowly taking that path.
  • You could go really short and call it MSOS. which is close to "Save Our System" as well LOL..
  • I don't care what MS does as long as every single tiny part of windows has the same interface. Consistency is the key, something that WIndows hasn't had since DOS.
  • That is never going to happen. Personally, I don't think they need to go that far with the consistency.
  • Windows would be consistent again if they get rid of the failed fluent design crap.
  • "What could 'the next generation of Windows' actually mean?" If no Live Tiles = Boring.
  • “will include a modern and consistent UI design”
    I’m so tired of hearing this from MS. They’ve been saying that forever, and every time they start a redesign it seems they abandon it for the next great idea before they ever finish. Name even *one* version of Windows in the past 10 years where MS hasn’t said (with regard to the UI) that “there’s still more work to do.” “Windows to complement Surface hardware in ways that it just isn't doing right now”
    Setting aside Neo and Duo for a moment, what exactly is it that MS can’t do on Surface hardware right now that would require them to rewrite the entire OS from the ground up? And if that’s true, what does that say to OEMs that are trying to innovate and compete? Given the many times in the past MS has said that they’re doing a “ground up rewrite” for future hardware but turn around to say they have to do yet another one...well, at a minimum, it strikes me as a real issue MS needs to figure out. Rewriting an entire OS from scratch isn’t something you do likely, and has real implications for everything from sales and marketing to system integrations and corporate infrastructures. As for Neo and Duo, while I count myself among those excited about those platforms, at best they’re going to be razor thin market share products for quite a while. Are those really the most pressing issues in Windows right now, that we don’t have great dual screen and folding screen support? I’m sure there are millions and millions and millions of Windows users with long lists of things they need from Windows for the devices they’re using today and tomorrow not the distant future.
  • They need to move away from live tiles and strip all the fluff out of Windows. New and quick update system and new design. I assume Panos knows how to marry hardware and software or at least having control of both should help
  • Welcome to 1986. Just how we loved our computers in grandpa days. Plain Jane. Been there done that. Plain is just ugly. But to each his/her own. OBTW, if you want an 8088 computer I can sell it to you. Let me do a little bit of searching in my basement. And you can enjoy the plain look of DOS all over again.
  • Windows 8 it is
  • I will need "legacy" Windows 10 for the rest of my life, unless there is some serious backward compatibility innovations within Windows 10x in the distant future. The dream of one Windows is a bit of a folly, when there are people like me all over the world.
  • They need to create a "TV mode" for Windows, for when people want to use their PC's/laptop as a HTPC/game console for TV. They need a way to make it easier to skin/theme and customise Windows in general, so maybe that could be part of the changes and evolutions they make to Windows.
  • My current SONY computer can do that. It has a built in TV tuner, it can used as a monitor and I use it just about everyday to do real computing work on. Many computers used to be made this way. Then people complained. We want our computers like plain Jane. Remove all that bloatware. We can't handle all this good stuff you provided. We want you to charge us more and give us less. Oh yeah, it also has Media Center. One of Microsoft's greatest programs. But yeah... I love my old computer.
  • They cannot go back to media center as they've lost the code or the official word is they sold the code for eHome to Ericsson. Either way, the current crop at MS don't have the technical ability of the old Microsoft to pull off something like that.
  • Next Generation.
    Fluent Design Dynamics.
    Dark mode, Blur pencil, superposition transparents …
    HoloLens proportion rotoscoping 3D/2D
    Aero peek, Mixer, Office Widgets…
    One way.Redmond.
  • bring it. hope they deliver. just call it Windows we no longer need numbers outside of build info
  • Get GNOME 40 on Ubuntu or Fedora and forget about Windoze!
  • There's entire industries that will not be able to utilize 10X as it stands today for confirmed features, nor on features said to be coming down the pipeline. It's not a matter of simply porting to a new framework or recompiling, the entire mobile/touch first concept of locked down app silos is completely antithetical to creative work (audio recording, professional graphics both rely heavily on 3rd party plugins). Microsoft's solution to tackling the win32 problem is to... run the apps remotely? Someday? That doesn't even begin to enable these types of applications and workflows. To me, 10X is to placate shareholders in attempt to explain away how they pissed away 6 years trying to convince people that Windows 10 was ready on release or that UWP apps might take off. Today Windows 10 is perfectly suitable for these tasks but that's only because they've only recently returned to the stability of previous versions of Windows. Trying to fit round pegs through square holes a la their 10X strategy reeks of lack of vision and being completely out of touch *IF* they assume 10X will ever be a replacement for 10 without major concessions to its design. I'm hoping that Microsoft will be able to get away with cancelling 10X outright before they lose money attempting to fool people into believing it's suitable for anything more than a Chromebook replacement with less features.
  • Seems like a logical explanation which is why it isn't what Microsoft will do.
  • “ Microsoft itself has said that it's planning a "sweeping rejuvenation" of Windows, which will include a modern and consistent UI design, new features, and will make the Windows desktop something that people want to use again. “ Except that the vast majority of Windows users do so at work. Huge changes to Windows means businesses are not going to buy it. There goes 90% of your potential market. For proof, see Windows 8. Windows 10X is in the same boat. MS keeps claiming it is for “new form factors and new experiences”, but it runs on Intel and runs Win32. Neither are new anything. We already have mobile software, with phones and iPads. Which do NOT run on Intel, nor do they run 20 year old software. Microsoft is delusional if they think an Intel tablet - with fans - running non touch, 20 year old Win32 apps and a few PWAs is going to go anywhere. People who run a Windows desktop/laptop at work all day, go home to their phones and tablets. Because they are easy and FUN to use. For any of this to have ANY chance at success, it HAS to be fast, slick and sexy. All of which rules out calling it “Windows” anything. People know what “Windows” means, and it is none of the above. MS desperately needs a new name for 10X . Calling it Windows 10X is guaranteed to fail. Forget Win32, get it running on ARM and give it a new name.
  • Windows 10X does not run Win32 like Windows 10 does. The apps run virtualised in a sandbox, probably similar to how XP Mode used to be a thing in the enterprise edition of Windows 7. However, the PC version, the codename Sun Valley approach, seems to be more like: "put the old car in the car wash and wax it carefully".
  • so we have WSL, why not Windows Subsystem for Android? so many of the issues in this discussion would just go away. And I agree 10X should have a new name without the word Windows. but MS Marketing has decades of experience effing this sort of thing up over and over again.