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Sunday, December 24, 2023

Windows 12: Savior of PC makers, or just an apology for Windows 11?

Analysis Microsoft is betting the farm on AI apathy not hitting before it makes a return on its investments. This is positive and negative news for PC makers and points to what might be Microsoft’s next major Windows release.

Windows 11 continues to be a less-than-stellar success for Microsoft. The most recent set of figures ↗ it reported were uninspiring. Despite a looming end of support for Windows 10 – although customers can pay for an extension ↗ – the OS remains dominant, and Windows 11 trails behind where its predecessor had been in terms of installations at the same point in its lifecycle.

The consensus seems to be that Windows 12 will arrive sometime next year. Microsoft’s hardware partners are expecting it.

One reason for this could be Windows 11’s hardware requirements, which mean that decent spec’d PCs are incapable of running it. Microsoft and OEMs’ clearly hoped affected customers would buy new computers to make the upgrade – but instead many have chosen to stick with Windows 10.

At this point it is difficult to see Windows 11 as much more than a self-inflicted wound. Microsoft alienated customers and, in attempt to force a hardware refresh, ended up further fracturing the Wintel alliance.

The tragedy here is that there’s nothing particularly wrong with Windows 11. Yet the threat of artificially high hardware requirements won’t go away. So, how do Microsoft and its hardware partners move on from here?

Redmond HQ is hoping that where the stick of Windows 11 hardware requirements failed, the carrot of AI-enabled PCs might win the day. Companies including HP and Lenovo are working on machines dubbed “AI PCs” ↗ but remain tightlipped on the specifics.

Then there is the specter of Arm ↗, which continues to nibble at the PC marketplace formerly dominated by Intel. In October, Nvidia was said to be developing ↗ an Arm-based CPU for the PC market – one specifically designed to run on Windows. This is despite Microsoft’s past attempts that left customers yearning for more conventional hardware. Ask us about the Project Volterra ↗ box – complete with Neural Processing Unit and “purpose-built with everything you need to develop, debug, and test native Windows apps for Arm” – that we’ll have at Vulture Central one day.

All of this gives us some clues about what Microsoft might – or might not – do with Windows 12.

And what about the next generation?

The consensus seems to be that Windows 12 will arrive sometime next year. Microsoft’s hardware partners are expecting it. And some might see it as a savior, given the relatively low uptake of Windows 11.

As for when it will happen, history teaches us that the update will likely reach users around October 2024. Reports have emerged of Windows 11 24H2 being sighted in logs, which would seem to confirm this – Windows 11 itself initially showed up as a “Windows 10” build.

Other factors to consider regarding the timing is that Microsoft has said it will ship a version of Windows 11 in March 2024, shorn of Edge and Bing ↗ for European users. The next major release of Windows in 2024 would, therefore, turn up towards the end of the year.

What would be in this release? For one, Microsoft needs to crack Windows on Arm as manufacturers want to build hardware using Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon X Elite ↗ – Apple has ably demonstrated that it is possible to move on ↗ from Intel-based chips, however, some serious work is needed in Windows to fully take advantage of the new hardware.

So… October 2024, then?

And then there is AI. Microsoft has invested hugely in the technology, although Microsoft has yet reap many of the financial benefits. The arrival of Copilot in Windows ↗ – in preview form – indicates the direction of travel.

Microsoft previously attempted to create hubs to curate content. With hardware optimized for AI, there is real potential to realize a vision where Windows search finally works properly and the Windows shell understands the context of a user’s workflow – not so much “Do you want some help with that?” and more “Here’s everything you need, oh – and I’ve had a crack at a first draft too.”

Dan Coleby, director of Client Technology Value at Microsoft “Solution Partner’ Advania, told The Register that Microsoft has been swift to market with Copilot: “A different capability that we are seeing with the various Microsoft Copilots is their ability to interact with the Microsoft 365 applications and Windows features. Not only can they tell you how to do something, but they can also actually do it for you.”

Making AI more than an amusing toy on the desktop will require some serious hardware at the edge. And Microsoft’s hardware partners would very much like to sell you some – Windows 11 didn’t do much to justify the outlay, but Windows 12…

The clock, however, is ticking. The new Qualcomm hardware is expected to show up by the middle of 2024, meaning that Microsoft might have to get a version of Windows optimized for the new chips ready ahead of time. This could well be what might become Windows 12, just without all the AI functionality.

That will come with the AI PC, which manufacturers fervently hope will kickstart a replacement cycle ↗ with exotic hardware in the way that Windows 11, frankly, has not.

Ranjit Atwal, research director at Gartner, told The Register that while AI hardware might be ready, the software was not: “In the short term, the changes expected may not be transformative enough to drive this faster adoption of AI PCs.”

So. Windows 12. A feature-light version might turn up toward the end of the first half of 2024 for the new Arm hardware. A version that will take advantage of AI PC hardware will arrive in the second half of the year and be so tempting that many customers – not just corporates refreshing their fleets – consider investing.

Moving on from the Windows 11 brand will make sense – it was the thing you had to buy new hardware for without much in the way of benefit – and by October 2024, less than a year of support will remain for Windows 10.

Coleby noted that both businesses and consumers alike have been happy sticking with Windows 10, “as there was not a huge difference in capabilities between the two versions.”

Despite its arrival on Windows 10, he added that “Copilot for Windows represents one of the first major differences.” Windows 12 is set to build on that momentum.

And you can be sure Microsoft won’t be shy about letting users know. ®

James Mackreides
James Mackreides
'Mac' is a short tempered former helicopter pilot , now a writer based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Loves dogs, the outdoors and staying far away from the ocean.

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