Windows 10X: Microsoft’s upcoming operating system, explained

During 2019’s last in-person Surface event, Microsoft announced a new, lighter version of its Windows 10 operating system, known as Windows 10X. It was originally designed to run on upcoming dual-screen devices like Surface Neo, as well as similar products like the ThinkPad X1 Fold.

However, since its original announcement, and as a result of the global pandemic, Microsoft shifted focus away from Windows 10X and delayed the release of the operating system, as well as its dual-screen devices.

Instead, rumor has it that Windows 10X might be coming to new, commercial single-screen Windows 10 laptops and tablets in the spring of 2021 instead. If that sounds confusing to you, don’t worry. We’re here to help. Here’s a look at everything we know about Windows 10X.

Price and release date

Windows 10X was originally designed to not be a new operating software per se, but rather a new “expression” of Windows 10, made specifically for dual-screen devices. As far as we know, Windows 10X is still intended to come to dual-screen Windows devices (like the now-delayed Surface Neo) at some point, but the new focus at Microsoft is to bring it to single-screen experiences instead.

What that means is that you could soon see commercial budget Windows laptops for education and business come with Windows 10X preinstalled onboard, in the same way that iPads and iPhones come with iOS and iPadOS preinstalled.

Judging from rumors on Windows Central, this also means that Windows 10X won’t be a version of Windows for download on your own existing PCs or tablets. It will only come installed on new PCs and tablets.

Microsoft, though, hasn’t said much about when we can expect Windows 10X to be released. Asids from a blog post from Microsoft executive Panos Panay explaining the shift in the development of Windows 10X, the company has been largely silent about the operating system.

According to Windows Central’s Zac Bowden, though, Windows 10X has been complied internally at Microsoft, without public testing, and could be ready for spring 2021. That means that we might possibly see the first laptops with the operating system sometime between March and June 2021.

What are the big new features of Windows 10X?

As you probably already guessed, Windows 10X and Windows 10 are two sides of the same coin. We really don’t know much about how the single-screen version of Windows 10X will look. However, we do know that it’s still a “flavor” of regular Windows 10. It will share the same experiences you’ve come to know, like the Start Menu, Taskbar, and desktop, yet with a different visual (and more modern) look.

What we do know a lot about is what the dual-screen version of Windows 10X was intended to look like. We’ll spend the majority of our time talking about this, as Microsoft allowed the public to test it out in an emulator experience. There were several significant changes versus regular Windows 10.

Again, these experiences we’re about to describe were intended for dual-screen devices only, or basically Windows 10X in its original form. Rumor has it that some of these experiences might also come to the single-screen version of Windows 10X, but we’re not certain as Microsoft isn’t sharing details.

First off, there’s the new Start Menu for a dual-screen setup in Windows 10X. The Start menu on Windows 10X for dual-screen devices was redesigned to focus on productivity. There’s a search bar on the top, and there are no “Live Tiles” as seen in Windows 10. Instead, there’s a list of static icons and a list of most frequently used apps, as well as recommendations on the bottom, which are dynamically updated.

There’s also a new Taskbar and Action Center in Windows 10X. This new taskbar is a bit more adaptive and could have changed with the user’s experience. The taskbar appears more minimalistic and has a “lever” that will let you pull it up as needed. Apps in the Taskbar were also more centered in Windows 10X.

As for the Action Center, it’s much more simplified. It’s cleaner and has sliders for sound and brightness, as well as smaller actionable icons for various system settings. The design was clearly influenced by Microsoft’s Fluent Design styles, with rounded corners and a glasslike aero look.

Other areas improved in Windows 10X include a new lock screen, where once you turn on a Windows 10X device, you’ll automatically be presented with Windows Hello authentication. Other features include dynamic wallpapers and a “Modern File Explorer,” which plugs in directly to OneDrive and also has a more modern look.

Then there is the support for different postures, meant for dual-screen devices. As Microsoft showcased in 2019, when the keyboard on a Windows 10X is flipped up to lay on part of the bottom screen, the rest of the second display becomes the “Wonder Bar,” offering quick access to tools, shortcuts, and user settings.

Microsoft also talked a bit about how Windows 10X will handle things like updates. At its Microsoft Developer Day online event in 2019, the company mentioned that the operating system will run in a read-only mode to ensure faster updates, in less than 90 seconds. It also means that programs that manipulate the system’s data won’t run on Windows 10X — at least on the dual-screen version.

Drivers, too, were said to be different in Windows 10X, and according to Windows Central, were only to be delivered via Windows Update. There’s also an app aspect to that as well, as we will discuss next.

How will apps work on Windows 10X?

Rumor has it that with Windows 10X for single-screen devices, Microsoft’s plans have changed big-time since the operating system was first introduced. It’s now believed that single-screen versions of Windows 10X won’t ship with support for Win32 apps like Google Chrome. This means you’ll only initially be able to download apps on Windows 10X from the Microsoft Store, as well as have to depend on Progressive Web apps.

We believe that Windows 10X is largely meant to be a lightweight and web-based operating system that’s dependent on the new Microsoft Edge. Support will come for Win32 apps “at a later date,” according to most rumors.  Once it does become available, though, it’s believed these apps will run in a specialized “container,” with user and app files being separate from the operating system itself. Again, though, that’s still a ways off.

There’s also another rumor that Microsoft could be working on a service known as “Windows Cloud PC.” This service would allow users to have a virtualized version of Windows 10 in the cloud, and stream Win32 apps over the internet and to their PCs. It would fit in nicely with Windows 10X, but rumors do not make it clear if this is intended to come to life.

Originally, the most important part of Windows 10X was how applications could have taken advantage of the dual screens of devices like the now-delayed Surface Neo, but that’s put on hold. There were features like “spanning” applications to allow a single seamless experience of the content. And there was also dual-screen multitasking. The original dual-screen implementation of Windows 10X was all about translating Windows 10 for two screens, but that’s now changed.

Where will you see Windows 10X?

Windows 10X will eventually be seen in two places. Rumor has it that in 2021, you’ll see it on lightweight PCs meant to take on Chromebooks and iPads. Microsoft hasn’t discussed the technical details of these plans, but this is the leading idea. After all, in a May 2020 blog post, Panay described that “single-screen devices will be the first expression of Windows 10X that we deliver to our customers.”

Whenever Microsoft moves forward with its vision for dual-screen PCs, Windows 10X will come to those devices too, as originally intended. You’ll see it on devices like the delayed Surface Neo. It shouldn’t be too hard, though, as Panay mentioned that “with Windows 10X, we designed for flexibility.” He even confirmed that when the moment is right, Microsoft will “work in conjunction with [manufacturing] partners to bring dual-screen devices to market.”

How does Windows 10X relate to Windows Core OS?

Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

Windows Core OS is the modular system that enables the unique design of Windows 10X. Core OS has also been used for other expressions of Windows 10, such as on the Xbox, HoloLens 2, and Surface Hub 2. These different form factors wouldn’t necessarily work well if Microsoft just installed Windows 10 on them, hence the need for something like Core OS.

Core OS takes some of the most fundamental and useful subsystems of Windows 10 and allows them to be reinterpreted for these different form factors. Windows 10X  is just one of these new Windows 10 experiences.

Will Windows 10X replace Windows 10?

Windows 10X is not designed to be a replacement for Windows 10. The plan is for Windows 10X to live alongside Windows 10. While Windows 10X seems big and grand, with the biggest Windows redesign we’ve seen from Microsoft, Windows 10 will also get similar redesigns, and the two will coexist.

According to most rumors, Microsoft is planning to redesign regular Windows 10 in the second half of 2021. Code-named “Sun Valley,” this redesign is said to be coming with the “Cobalt” update. Details are scarce, though, so much like Windows 10X, it’s a wait-and-see game for us all.

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