For a while now, it’s looked like 2021 would be a big year for Microsoft. In the first two months of the year alone, we’ve already seen the business-focused Surface Pro 7+ and expanded launch of the foldable Surface Duo. The Pro 8 and a new Surface Laptop are expected this year, while we may also get a new Surface Go before the year’s out.
However, that’s just on the hardware side. Windows 10X is widely expected to launch this Spring, while there have been rumours since October suggesting Windows 10 itself will see an overhaul. The latter appears to be what Chief Product Officer Panos Panay was referring to when he spoke of “the next generation of Windows” at Microsoft’s Ignite developer conference on 2 March.
As has become customary, Panay went on to say that he is “so pumped”, although Windows wasn’t the focus of the event. He was presumably referring to Windows 10’s Sun Valley update expected to arrive in late 2021. This is widely expected to be operating system’s biggest update since it first launched six years ago, incorporating a new design language, multitasking refinements and various improvements under the hood.
For all the new features that have been added to Windows 10, the core look and feel has remained largely unchanged. Someone picking up a device running the 20H2 update would be hard pressed to tell the difference over a version from 2016. That’s perhaps understandable – Microsoft experimented with wholesale design changes in Windows 8, but a wave of criticism meant company returned to a tried-and-trusted design in Windows 10.
However, you can only keep this up for so long before software is considered stale and people look at alternatives. Windows 10’s market share has remained relatively consistent, but the rise of Chrome OS has tempted some users away from Microsoft. There’s also a new wave of tablets that claim they can replace your laptop, lead by Apple’s iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard.
With the release of the web-first Windows 10X on the horizon, Microsoft perhaps thinks now is the right time to switch things up. Indeed, many rumoured Sun Valley features appear to have been inspired by development of the Windows 10 spin-off.
Windows 10X is designed for dual-screen devices, but coming to single screens first. Image: Microsoft
These include redesigned system apps, a simplified action center and more in-depth multitasking options. All are likely to provide small but noticeable improvements to the way you use your PC, with the sheer number of expected new features making it a significant update.
Are these likely to change the way you use your Windows 10 device? Probably not, but the Sun Valley update represents the most exciting changes we’ve seen to Windows in years.
Before that, however, we’re expecting a much more minor 21H1 update, which looks set to focus on the remote working experience.