Leaked screenshot could be an early glimpse of the Windows 12 desktop

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We may have caught a glimpse of what the Windows 12 desktop could look like, or at least been given a rough idea of how it might eventually turn out.

Neowin spotted that an image shown at Ignite 2022, which as we reported at the time was thought to represent the successor to Windows 11 – generally assumed to be Windows 12 (but we certainly don’t know that for sure) – has just turned up again.

A leaked screenshot of a possible Windows 12 OS mockup.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

This is an enhanced version of the original leaked image, and now you can clearly see that it says ‘Next Valley Prototype Design’ at the top, which refers to next-gen Windows. And as you may recall, it shows a very different-looking desktop with a floating taskbar (MacOS Dock-style) that has no system tray.

As Brad Sams (VP and General Manager at Stardock Software) further points out on YouTube, this seems to indicate that the leaked pic from Ignite is not just some sort of vague concept Microsoft is toying with, but potentially more of a firm design that shows where Windows is actually headed down the line.

There is some evidence to back up this assertion as Sams observes, pointing to the recent tweaks in preview versions of Windows 11 where Microsoft is in the process of adding the ability to turn off the system tray clock and date (albeit this is still hidden in test builds and not yet realized).

Analysis: Windows 12 – being tested in plain sight?

In short, that piece of groundwork could be viewed as the first step towards the eventual jettisoning of the system tray from the taskbar, paving the way towards that floating taskbar as seen in the leaked Ignite image (which we now know pertains to the design of next-gen Windows thanks to the detective work in terms of enhancing that pic).

With these changes coming to Canary – the earliest testing channel recently ushered in by Microsoft, rumored to be the basis for Windows 12 – this begs the question whether Microsoft will openly carry out next-gen Windows development in the Canary channel.

That could well be possible, and Microsoft may do so without actually telling us that explicitly, at least not until a good way down the road. If the rumor mill is right, that road could be a pretty short one, too, as the theory is that Windows 12 – or whatever it ends up being called – is going to arrive in 2024.

Other major interface changes recently spotted for Windows 11, which could equally end up in the next incarnation of the desktop OS, include further work on the rumored photo gallery for File Explorer, and more flexibility with widgets which may get the ability to be plonked on the desktop.

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