When will Windows 11 ship? Here's what we know

We wouldn't expect Microsoft to ditch its tried-and-true program of Windows testing for Windows 11. But Microsoft could be already teasing the Windows 11 launch date.

windows 11 start dark oct. 20 tease
Microsoft

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Microsoft has announced Windows 11, stating that its next operating system will ship sometime this holiday season. Assuming that’s true, when will Windows 11 begin shipping to users? Microsoft may have left clues that it’s happening this October.

We already know that Microsoft will ship Windows 11 in beta form for Windows Insiders, because we’ve already gone hands-on with the official Windows 11 build from Microsoft

But as Microsoft is sometimes wont to do, it may have left the answer to “when will Windows 11 ship?” right in front of our faces. Credit to The Verge on this one: Microsoft’s event featured an example message via Teams talking about “turning it up to 11” in October. But the real hint may have been in the screenshots that Microsoft posted as examples of Windows 11: Most, if not all, included dates in the corner that recorded the time as 11:11 AM on October 20, 2021.

Microsoft windows 11 oct. 20 launch date maybe Mark Hachman / IDG

Look close, and Microsoft may have been teasing the Windows 11 release date.

You can see the same date if you look closely at two screenshots that Microsoft released: 

windows 11 start dark oct. 20 tease Microsoft

Look down at the lower right.

windows 11 snap oct. 20 2021 tease Microsoft

A second screenshot also includes that same date and time.

Microsoft, of course, isn’t saying anything about the official Windows 11 release date, other than it’s due by holiday 2021.

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 released the Windows 10 October 2020 Update (20H2) on October 20, 2020, and the Windows 10 November 2019 Update (19H2) on November 12, 2019. Microsoft first launched Windows 10 on July 29, 2015.)

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 runup 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 projected a Windows 11 beta release to Windows Insiders sometime in the summer or early fall, which, as we’ve seen has happened.

Whatever Microsoft releases in the fall will have been tested by the public as an Insider build. Enterprises, certainly, will want every opportunity to test it on their line-of-business applications.

Here’s when Windows 11 will ship, we think

But there’s one big catch that we haven’t talked about yet, and that’s what Microsoft will ship in the fall. Normally, we’d assume that Microsoft will ship Windows 11 on new PCs and as an upgrade for Windows 10 on the same day. Microsoft said late last week, though, that that won’t happen. Instead, Windows 11 upgrades for Windows 10 users will occur in 2022

All that means is that PCs running Windows 11 will likely ship this fall. Our timeline already pointed toward October or November as the most likely candidate months, anyway, given that’s when Microsoft typically ships its latest feature updates. 

Is October 20 the actual Windows 11 ship date? We can’t know for sure, but it looks like the most likely candidate right now—for PCs.

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. 

This story was updated at 5:01 AM on June 29 with additional details and analysis.

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