Microsoft is currently working on a major update for Windows that is expected to debut later this year, possibly as the next-gen Windows 11, that will bring with it a refreshed design and new features that are supposed to enhance the users' workflow in 2021 and beyond. The UI effort is codenamed Sun Valley, based on the Cobalt release. Microsoft wants to reinvigorate the desktop, and Sun Valley is where it all starts.
Microsoft has announced that it will be holding a "what's next for Windows" event on June 24, where we believe it will be announcing Sun Valley and unveiling the next generation of Windows to the world. So consider this a preview of some of the things we've been told Microsoft is working on for this big Sun Valley release.
With that, let's get to everything I know.
A big UI refresh
One of Microsoft's goals with Sun Valley is to freshen up the Windows user interface a bit. This will include rounding off corners on buttons, app windows, and shell elements such as the Start menu and Action Center, making legacy interfaces like File Explorer, File Properties, and copy dialogs more consistent with modern interfaces in Windows, and cleaning up parts of the OS to create a simpler, leaner user experience that caters to today's more modern workflows.
Internally, Microsoft has described this effort as "reinvigorating" the Windows Desktop. Externally, Microsoft announced last year that it would be "reinvesting" in Windows 10 in the 2021 time frame. Job postings on Microsoft's careers website have also described plans to "rejuvenate" the Windows user experience, touting Windows as "BACK."
So, the three R's: reinvigorating, reinvesting, and rejuvenating. That's what Microsoft wants to deliver with Windows 10 Sun Valley.
I've heard that Microsoft is working on an updated Taskbar that will feature a centered design for pinned/running apps. The taskbar is also a little bit taller, and I'm told Microsoft is also planning to clean up the system tray and make it easier to use with touch. I also know that Microsoft is working to round off "sharp" elements of the Windows UI, such as the corners around the Start menu, context menus, jump lists, and buttons.
In addition to the rounding off the existing Start menu's design, Microsoft is also working on a brand new Start menu layout that will be unique to Sun Valley. I understand that this is not just the Windows 10X Start menu simply ported to Windows 10, but rather an updated version of it that has been tailored for desktop.
This new Start menu will feature a centered design with a grid of apps, recent documents, and your user name/icon, shutdown options, and File Explorer shortcuts running along the bottom. It also has an "all apps" button at the top right that takes you to a seperate apps list page.
Start, Action Center, and Jump List menus will be visually separated from the taskbar, following a similar design trend found on Windows 10X.
Most in-box apps will be getting a design refresh too, including the Windows Settings app. We've already seen Alarms & Clock get updated with a new design, and I'm told most other in-box apps will follow the same path and will be updated using Microsoft's new WinUI design toolset.
I also understand that we're going to see newer, streamlined animations that make the experience feel more fluid. Windows 10X already has fluid animations, so I would expect to see most, if not all of those animations come to Windows 10 desktop too.
New OS features
In addition to UI updates, Microsoft is also planning to introduce new features to the Windows user experience that will enhance people's productivity in their workflows. We've already seen a couple of new features, including the new "news and interests" widget in the Taskbar, but plenty more are on the way.
Microsoft is planning to add a new battery usage chart to the Settings app that will break down which apps were using the most power in any given hour, and provide tools to prevent them from draining your battery in the future.
There's also a new feature that will allow you to separate Microsoft Edge tabs from app windows in the snap assist view, making it easier to organize, find, and snap the content you want. This will be handy for those who have many tabs and apps open at once and might not remember which tab is open in what browser window.
I'm also told that snap assist will be getting an update to make it more reliable when docking to and from a larger display, now remembering which apps are snapped where instead of forgetting once you connect or disconnect. Microsoft is also working on a new drop-down menu that will appear when hovering over window controls that will let you snap apps to either side of the display without dragging the entire app to the edge of your screen.
I've heard that Microsoft is building a new "dashboard" feature that may live in the Task View area, which will provide you with an overview of everything going on with your Microsoft or corporate account, including upcoming calendar events, recent documents in Office, emails, To Do's, and other news and interests related to your network.
There's also a new "Widgets" panel that will house news from MSN, as well as the latest weather info, sports leaderboards, and more.
Expressive input methods such as voice and pen are set to receive new updates too. There's a new voice control UI that is much cleaner, featuring rounded corners and the likes. Pen users are also getting an updated, dedicated context menu interface that appears when using Windows with a pen peripheral.
For tablets, I hear Microsoft is working on a new "gesture layer" that sits above the UI and allows touch users to use gestures to manipulate app windows and system navigation. Similar to the trackpad gestures found on Windows 10 today but doable using the touchscreen instead. You'll be able to do things like minimize an app window with a four or five finger swipe down, for example.
When is it coming?
Microsoft is hoping to deliver Sun Valley in the fall of this year. I've heard it'll begin rolling out in October, likely possibly under a new Windows brand such as "Windows 11." Windows Insiders will begin seeing Sun Valley bits show up over the summer.
Tell us what you think
So that's everything I know about the Windows Sun Valley release so far. There's a lot planned, and if Microsoft is able to deliver what it hope to, this might end up being one of the most significant Windows feature updates to date.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.