On June 24, Microsoft is hosting an event for what Microsoft calls the “next generation of Windows,” possibly to be called Windows 11. Assuming that Microsoft does announce Windows 11 on that day, when will Windows 11 actually start shipping to users?
Based on how prior Windows releases have worked, we expect Windows 11 to ship probably by fall, and even earlier as part of Microsoft’s Windows Insider program. In part, that's because we've already tried out Windows 11, going hands-on with a decently polished leaked build.
We still can't be absolutely 100-percent sure that the June 24 Windows event will usher in Windows 11. We do know that the event is being billed as the “what’s next for Windows” event, and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been trying out the software for the past several months. And yes, there's the leaked Windows 11 build.
Still, this is all rather unusual, and here’s why. Since 2015 and slightly before, Microsoft has publicly developed Windows 10, meaning that alpha and beta builds have been accessible to users via Microsoft’s Windows Insider program. Here’s how to become a Windows Insider.
For literally years, Insiders could try out the next version of Windows before it became widely available. Microsoft has three Insider channels: a “Dev” channel for the most aggressive new releases, a more conservative “Beta” channel, and the “Release Preview” channel for trying out almost-finished code just before Microsoft pushes it to PCs.
If Nadella has tested a “next generation of Windows” that we haven’t seen, that means Microsoft maintains an internal development track that it might be running separately from Windows 10. Or not—we’re speculating here.
History tells us that Windows 11 will ship in the fall
History tells us a little about Microsoft’s Windows timeline. Microsoft typically releases new feature updates to Windows 10 in the fall or spring. While Microsoft originally intended the fall updates to be released in September, they usually end up in October instead.
Microsoft typically tests builds for about six to nine months before they’re released to an Insider channel. Insider builds that are shipped in the six-month run-up to a feature release usually appear in the Beta Channel; anything earlier usually lands inside the Dev Channel.
Let’s assume that Nadella has tested and provided early feedback on some “Dev” quality builds and possibly some Beta-quality builds, too for the past “several” months. That still projects a Windows 11 beta release to Windows Insiders sometime in the summer or early fall.
Whatever Microsoft releases in the fall—whether it be Windows 10, Windows 11, or both—will likely be released to the public as an Insider build early enough that interested users will have an opportunity to test it. Enterprises, certainly, will want every opportunity to test it on their line-of-business applications.
Here's when Windows 11 will ship, we think
So here’s our guess: We’d estimate that Microsoft will show off something new—Windows 10’s “Sun Valley” revision, Windows 11, or whatever—on June 24. We’d expect an early beta build to be released as soon as that day or, more likely, in a week or so.
Odds seem good that the next generation of Windows, or Windows 11, will ship in the fall, on or around the September-October timeframe. The more profound the differences between Windows 10 and Windows 11, however, the longer we’d expect the testing period to persist.
If Windows 11 involves enterprises, it wouldn’t be surprising if Microsoft offered the option for those businesses to delay their upgrades until spring 2022, or even longer. Consumer PC makers will be eager for something new to boost holiday hardware sales, though, and we’d bet Microsoft will be happy to oblige.