Microsoft is currently working on a major update for Windows 10, which is expected to be released later this year. It will bring with it an updated design and new features that should improve the user experience with the OS. Sun Valley will be the biggest update since Microsoft stalled with Windows 10 in place. The company wants to breathe new life into desktop computing, and Sun Valley is the point of departure.
Unfortunately, Microsoft still hasn’t shared its plans for Sun Valley, so we still don’t know for sure what the company plans to introduce. However, I have spoken to several sources who are familiar with the company’s plans, and I think I am ready to tell you in detail what I think Microsoft is working on for its Sun Valley project.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that many of the features and UI changes I describe in detail in this post were described to me by sources. I have not seen or become familiar with what was mentioned in this article, which means that there is room for misinterpretation in some areas. So keep that in mind.
This is also not a complete list of features. There are definitely things I don’t know about yet. Finally, these plans may and probably will change. Microsoft can cut out or delay any of these features, which is very common in Windows development.
With that, let’s move on to what I know.
One of Microsoft’s goals with Sun Valley is to refresh the Windows 10 user experience. This will include rounding off the corners of buttons, application Windows, and shell elements such as the start menu and action Center, bringing legacy interfaces such as file Explorer, file properties, and copy dialogs in line with modern Windows interfaces, and cleaning up OS elements to create a more simplified user experience that matches more modern workflows.
Microsoft described the effort as “reviving” the Windows desktop. Last year, Microsoft announcedthat it would “reinvest” in Windows 10 in 2021. The job ads on Microsoft’s website also describe plans to “rejuvenate” the user interface by touting “RETURN” Windows.
So, we are waiting for “revival”, “reinvestment” and “rejuvenation”. Here’s what Microsoft wants to offer with the release of Windows 10 Sun Valley.
I’ve heard that Microsoft is working on a “simplified” taskbar that will clear the system tray by moving most of it to the notification Center like on Windows 10X. It also sets the stage for a new 10x-style notification Center on Windows 10: with the same improved quick settings panel, a custom music management interface, and a visually separated notification area. You can learn more about the new notification Center.
As for the start menu, I know that Microsoft is working on rounding out the “sharp” elements of its user interface, such as the corners around live tiles and the start menu itself. It is also expected that context menus and jump lists in the start menu and taskbar will get rounded corners, like most modern embedded applications.
The image below is an exact recreation of the rounded start menu design that Microsoft is working on internally. We have recreated the image to protect our sources, but what you see below is exactly true:
I’ve also seen internal builds with the new start menu like in Windows 10X. I suspect that the start menu from 10X will be optional, and users will be able to disable it if they prefer the older live tile interface of the current start menu. The home screen, action Center, and jump lists will be visually separated from the taskbar, following a similar design trend in Windows 10X.
Most of the built-in apps will also get a design update, including Settings and file Explorer. We’ve already seen alarms and clocks updated with a new design, and I’ve been told that most of the other built-in apps will follow the same path and be updated using Microsoft’s new WinUI development Toolkit.
I also understand that we will see new, improved animations that will make the system smoother. Windows 10X already has smooth animations, so I would expect most if not all of these animations to appear on the Windows 10 desktop as well.
In addition to user interface updates, Microsoft also plans to introduce new features in the UX that will improve the user experience. We’ve already seen a few new features, including a new news and interests widget in the taskbar, but many more are on the way.
Microsoft plans to add a new battery usage chart in Settings that will show which apps have consumed the most power in any given hour, and provide tools that will prevent them from draining the battery in the future.
There’s also a new feature that lets you separate Microsoft Edge tabs from app Windows in snap mode, making it easier to organize, find, and link the right content. This will be convenient for those who have many tabs and apps open at the same time, and they may not remember which tab is open in which browser window.
I was also told that Snap Assist (attaching Windows) will get an update to minimize errors when connecting and disconnecting the larger display, remembering which apps were attached and where.
I have heard that Microsoft is creating a new dashboard that can be located in the task View area, providing an overview of everything that is happening with your or corporate Microsoft account, including upcoming calendar events, recent documents in Office, emails, tasks, and other news with your interests related to your network.
Input methods such as voice and pen will also receive updates. There is a new voice control interface that is much cleaner, has rounded corners, and so On. users who use the pen will also get an updated special context menu interface.
I’ve heard that Microsoft is working on a new “gesture layer” for tablets, which is located above the user interface and allows you to use gestures to control application Windows and system navigation: similar to the current trackpad gestures, but they can be performed using the touch screen. You can, for example, minimize the app window by swiping four or five fingers down.
Microsoft also plans to meet the needs of “power users” with the release of Sun Valley, allowing you to remove most of the built-in applications. Today, Microsoft allows users to delete multiple embedded apps, but I was told that with Sun Valley, the list of uninstallable embedded apps will be significantly increased.
Microsoft hopes to release Sun Valley as an update this fall. I’ve heard that it will start in October, probably called the “October 2021 Update” (21H2). For insiders, the Sun Valley elements will be rolling out over the next few weeks and months, before Microsoft signs off sometime in June on a “final build.”
As soon as Microsoft decides on the final build, testing of the Sun Valley update will begin on the Beta channel, adding the latest features and fixes to the OS through cumulative updates. These cumulative updates will be released as a first-day patch at the same time as the Sun Valley release in October.
And for those who want to fine-tune the current versions of Windows 10: LTSC 1809, 20H1 (2004) and 20H2 (2009), you can download my PowerShell module “Windows 10 Sophia Script”from GitHub.