Microsoft's current version of Windows on the market is Windows 10, which would imply that one day a Windows 11 could launch, right? Microsoft is expected to ship a large update for Windows later this year, codenamed Sun Valley, that is said to bring with it a brand new user experience with a new Start menu, sounds, iconography, and much more.

We understand that this update is a significant change in how Windows looks and operates, and as such, Microsoft may be considering shipping this release as something more than Windows 10. Microsoft is holding a "What's next for Windows" event on June 24th, and a number of teases appear to imply that the company may call this next release "Windows 11."

Windows 11 release date

Because Microsoft has committed to treating Windows 10 as a service, there is no current release date or download for a Windows 11 just yet. Instead, Microsoft will continue updating Windows 10 with new features and security patches. The next major Windows update, known widely as Sun Valley, is expected to debut in October 2021. Microsoft is planning to unveil the next generation of Windows, and the teaser appears to suggest that a "Windows 11" could be announced.

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Why Windows 11 doesn't (yet) exist

While there are several reasons why Microsoft hasn't yet made a, and it all comes back to "Windows as a Service." This is Microsoft's way of making sure Windows 10 remains the latest version of Windows. Instead of releasing a fresh version of the OS every three or six years with new features and changes, the company will instead constantly update Windows 10 with those incremental updates instead.

This keeps everything clean and simple but does result in somewhat more boring OS updates, rather than Microsoft launching one big update every few years. The last handful of Windows 10 feature updates have been relatively minor with little changes, tweaking smaller aspects of the experience, rather than changing the look and feel of the OS.

With that in mind, Microsoft could still ship a Windows 11 while maintaining its "Windows as a Service" promise. Windows 11 could just be the name of the next Windows 10 feature update, delivered in the exact same way as previous Windows 10 feature updates have been. It would be free, seamless, and easy to install.

Windows 10 was the 'last version of Windows'

Panos Panay and Surface Pro 3Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central

When Windows 10 was first announced, Microsoft said that it would be the last version of Windows thanks to Windows as a Service and its commitment to constant updates. "Right now we're releasing Windows 10, and because Windows 10 is the last version of Windows, we're all still working on Windows 10," former senior technical evangelist at Microsoft, Jerry Nixen, stated in 2015. Official Microsoft spokespeople later reaffirmed those words, too.

However, things change, and Microsoft could decide to ship a Windows 11 if they really wanted to. This would only be necessary if a new version of Windows was coming that was significant enough to warrant a name change. We know Microsoft is working on a significant Windows UI overhaul codenamed Sun Valley right now, and we think this would be a good opportunity for Microsoft to ship Windows 11.

What's the latest on Windows 10X?

Windows 10X was a new version of Windows that Microsoft was building on a modern and modular version of the Windows core, appropriately called Windows Core OS. Microsoft announced Windows 10X as a version of Windows for dual-screen and foldable Windows PCs only, before backtracking on that plan and instead positioning the platform as an OS that would ship on low-end laptops and tablets.

Microsoft has since announced that Windows 10X will not be shipping in 2021 and that it will instead bring the best of Windows 10X to the full version of Windows instead. Microsoft's internal Sun Valley project aims to reinvigorate the Windows Desktop interface, and some of the Windows 10X UX innovations will be ported over to the full version of Windows as a result. This will bring many of the best Windows 10X improvements to millions of existing PCs.

The next Windows update, Sun Valley, is the biggest yet

Windows Sun Valley mockSource: Microsoft

Microsoft is currently working on a big user experience overhaul for Windows under the codename Sun Valley. We think that Microsoft could ship this as a "Windows 11" if it really wanted to, as the changes coming in this update are significant enough to warrant it.

Microsoft is bringing a new centered Start menu and Taskbar design, new animations, iconography, sounds, and refreshed app designs. Sun Valley will also introduce new features like widgets, improved window snapping, and more. It would certainly be justified if Microsoft did ship all of this under the Windows 11 moniker.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and CPO Panos Panay have both referred to the next version of Windows as the "next generation" of the platform, with Nadella calling it the "most significant update to Windows of the past decade" suggesting that big changes are on the cards for Windows.

Some Microsoft documentation has also suggested that Microsoft plans to ship two "version 21H2's" this fall, one based on Windows 10's Vibranium codebase like version 21H1 and version 20H2, and another based on Windows Cobalt, the latest version of the Windows codebase that Sun Valley is expected to ship on top of. Why would Microsoft need to differentiate these if Sun Valley was going to ship as just another Windows 10 feature update?

Finally, Microsoft documentation has also been spotted referring to Windows 10 and Windows Sun Valley are two separate releases of the OS. This would only be necessary if Microsoft was planning to ship Sun Valley as something branded not Windows 10. We think Windows 11 is looking likely.

Windows 11 price: Would it be a free upgrade?

While Microsoft hasn't discussed Windows 11 downloads, we have certain expectations if a new OS version were to launch. Windows 10 was a significant step in removing the paywall behind future versions of Windows. In contrast, earlier releases demanded users to purchase a paid upgrade, or more commonly, buy a whole new PC with the latest version of Windows pre-installed. Windows 10 offered free upgrades for Windows 7 and Windows 8, incentivizing many users to adopt the newest version, with free updates for years ahead.

If Microsoft were to launch Windows 11, we'd expect the company to offer a similar upgrade program between versions, compatible with all of today's best laptops and PCs. With a new version of the OS assumedly sharing many fundamentals as its predecessor, a seamless upgrade for existing users seems likely, similar to previous larger feature updates for Windows 10. However, just like Windows 10, licenses would also be available for standalone purchase for new OEMs and new installations.

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