First introduced in 2015, Microsoft hasn't since given a design overhaul to Windows 10. The company releases two major feature updates every year usually focusing more on small, incremental improvements than drastic changes. With the latest Windows 10 October 2020 Update, version 20H2, Microsoft slightly redesigned the Start menu, making it theme aware. It appears more design changes are in the pipeline as the Windows maker intends to refresh the design with 2021 updates.
"Microsoft is planning to update many top-level user interfaces such as the Start menu, Action Center, and even File Explorer, with consistent modern designs, better animations, and new features," the folks at Windows Central reported citing internal sources.
"Internal documentation describes the project as 'reinvigorating' and modernizing the Windows desktop experience to keep up with customer expectation in a world driven by other modern and lightweight platforms."
The UI refresh is codenamed "Sun Valley" expected to be introduced with Windows 10 Cobalt - the 2021 H2 update. The project is being led by the new Windows chief Panos Panay who was already handling the company's Surface division and has this year taken charge of Windows development, as well.
"Personally I'm very excited to lead the Windows Client for Microsoft, which will help us streamline our decision-making processes, be clear on our priorities, and deliver the best end user experiences from silicon through operating systems across all Microsoft apps and service connected devices (OEMs and Surface)," Panay had written in an internal email at the time.
ZDNet adds to this information saying that internally Microsoft engineers have been describing the 21H2 (aka "Cobalt") release as Windows 10++, which means there are definitely some big plans for the next fall update.
Windows 10 refresh borrows design from Windows 10X
Microsoft was supposed to introduce its new operating system, Windows 10X, for folding dual-screen laptops this holiday season. While that has been postponed due to the pandemic, the company is expected to borrow its design elements for Windows 10. This isn't a new development as we have been hearing about these plans for months now, but it appears Windows 10 2021 will be the year to make it all happen.
Some parts of Windows 10 that are expected to be redesigned include:
- Start menu
- Action Center
- Better dark mode support
- Updated Taskbar
- New design for File Explorer
- "Fluid experiences" for tablets
- Keyboard and emoji improvements
- Overall consistent look and feel
While this particular report doesn't mention Control Center, the company has been taking steps to move more and more of Control Center to the Settings app. It is likely that Microsoft will take further steps in that direction considering the presence of Control Center isn't only confusing but also a massive design eyesore.
Not a new OS
It should be noted that this wouldn't be a super drastic change that will make users feel like they are shifting towards a new operating system. This design refresh is intended to implement Fluent Design throughout the OS and make consistent changes across the board to refresh and "reinvigorate" the desktop experience.
Whether any of this actually happens or not is a big question that probably can't even be answered by Microsoft right now... Considering how things are going with the release of Windows 10X, it won't be a surprise if the company has to delay this Windows 10 design refresh, as well. But, 2021 or 2022, Windows 10 does deserve some more attention from its maker to finally feel like a consistent operating system both in terms of its design and its update delivery system.