When Microsoft released Windows 10 in 2015, it was widely reported that the company was calling it the 'last version of Windows', leading to widespread confusion. In 2021, Microsoft proceeded to announce Windows 11, which turns out was actually prompted by a throwaway comment from a Microsoft developer, and not an official company statement.
So is Windows 11 the last version, or will we be seeing a Windows 12 in the near future? Prior to Windows 10, a new full-fledged version of the OS came out once every two or three years, but by the time 2015 rolled around, Microsoft no longer thought this was a viable model. Computing was shifting more to applications that relied on the cloud, especially on mobile devices.
Microsoft believed that forcing its users to wait literal years for major updates was silly, when people were used to getting updates on other platforms on a much more frequent basis. To keep up with the times, the company shifted its strategy to releasing multiple feature updates per year on Windows 10, allowing for gradual improvements.
However, a huge issue arose from this approach – many users weren't used to how often major changes were made to the OS, and updates were also cumulative. This meant that users couldn't pick and choose which features they wanted, and if a long period of time had passed since they last updated their system, they'd be hit with a huge number of changes all at once.
Although the changes themselves weren't all that bad, many users weren't happy with the frequency of them, especially larger organizations that had to manage large-scale Windows deployments for users who might not have been all that tech-savvy. Now, this wasn't the only reason that Microsoft ended up releasing Windows 11 and putting out those major updates with an H in the name only once a year. As a compromise, there were enough differences in Windows 11 to make it a full-fledged separate product, especially considering the beefed up security requirements. But enough had changed overall from the original Windows 10 paradigm for the Windows 11 designation to make sense.
But if Microsoft is fine with the annual update cadence and consumers end up being okay with it as well, is there a point to Microsoft coming out with Windows 12 today? There have already been reports that Microsoft is indeed returning to their more traditional strategy of releasing a new version of Windows every three years. This is probably a tacit admission on Microsoft's part that the whole Windows as a Service idea didn't completely take off. But beyond just that, not sticking with one version of Windows for the rest of time makes sense for a couple of reasons.
As we saw with the controversy over TPM requirements for Windows 11, hardware requirements are going to keep changing in the future. At some point, newer standards will become necessities instead of nice-to-haves. And once a Windows update requires a major hardware change, it would be much more confusing to consumers if an update to the same Windows version simply did not work in their existing hardware.
Going back to a new full-fledged Windows version every three years also gives consumers more of a choice as to whether they want to drastically change how they interact with their computer. For administrators and large organizations, they might have really good reasons to stick with what they have, whether that's a need to run older software or the fear that migrating to a new version of Windows would cause chaos and calamity among the rank and file of their company.
Although Microsoft has gotten plenty of criticism for forced updates, upgrading to an entirely new version of Windows has always been completely optional and remains so to this day. Right now, most folks in the industry are expecting Windows 12 sometime in 2024, but we don't have much information as to what it would look like outside of possibly adding battery and Wi-Fi indicators at the top of the screen to make the experience slightly more phone-like.
Hopefully, exciting changes will be coming for those of us using a desktop, like the ability to move the taskbar again.