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Microsoft's wish to provide one operating system for all devices may come true

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Microsoft has long hoped to run a single version of Windows 10 on all devices, and this rumor suggests a path towards that goal.

Last week, unnamed sources said that Microsoft is currently working on an “adaptive shell” for Windows 10 so that the platform can properly scale out across PC, mobile, console, HoloLens, and embedded devices. As it stands now, all Windows 10 devices share the same Windows 10 core component, but the surrounding operating system “shell” is somewhat different on each class of device. An “adaptive” shell would mean a more complete Windows 10 package that could adjust according to screen size, form factor, and target computing environment.

Having an adaptive shell would seemingly be the final piece in Microsoft’s one-OS-to-rule-them-all puzzle. The company began this journey with its Windows 10 OneCore subsystem, laying the foundation for Microsoft and Windows 10 developers to address multiple device classes and applications. Microsoft then developed its Universal Windows Platform so that one Windows 10 app can work across all of these devices.

More: Microsoft demos Game Mode and more in latest Windows 10 Insider build

On a more technical level, this “Composable Shell” (or CSHELL) is reportedly comprised of sub-components, allowing Windows 10 to quickly adapt to a specific screen size or device class, similar to how Windows Continuum can move between smartphone mode and desktop mode. This would eliminate the need to create and maintain separate versions of Windows 10 on desktop, smartphone, and Xbox One.

The Composable Shell rumor is seemingly the foundation of an additional rumor that appeared this week claiming Microsoft is working on a “Cloud Shell” for Windows 10 as well. The news arrives by way of a document that describes Cloud Shell as a new “lightweight iteration of Windows designed for the modern computing world.” It’s slated to arrive in Windows 10 sometime during 2017, and could have something to do with Microsoft’s Windows on ARM initiative set to appear in the Redstone 3 update coming in the second half of 2017.

The Cloud Shell suggests that Microsoft could be working on a cloud-based version of Windows 10 that can run on x86-based devices (Intel, AMD) and ARM-based devices (Snapdragon, Tegra, Exynos). Combine this with the Composable Shell, and one Windows 10 build residing in the cloud could possibly run on multiple device classes and processor architectures. The Universal Windows Platform framework, and the Windows Store, are reportedly tied into the Cloud Shell, too.

One thing to keep in mind is that customers likely don’t want to stream Windows 10 to a device. Instead, this solution works extremely well in a corporate environment where the data center creates individual virtual machines in the local cloud that are streamed to “thin client” devices that have nothing locally installed.

Of course, having Windows 10 running in the cloud points to the possibility of a subscription-based service for the mainstream market. Perhaps Microsoft is looking into a way for Android, Linux, MacOS, and other platforms to run Windows 10 without disrupting the device environment (like dual-booting or running a virtual machine). Perhaps we’ll learn more about Composable Shell and Cloud Shell during Microsoft’s annual BUILD conference in May.