Windows 10X: Microsoft’s new dual-screen operating system, explained

During last year’s Surface event, Microsoft announced a new, lighter expression of its Windows 10 operating system, known as Windows 10X. It’s designed to run on Microsoft’s upcoming dual-screen Surface Neo devices, as well as similar products revealed at CES 2020 like the ThinkPad X1 Fold.

Windows 10X is a bit different from Windows 10. It’s re-engineered a much more modern, sleek look and it’s been catered specifically for dual-screen devices. Here’s everything we know about Windows 10X.

Price and release date

Windows 10X is not a new operating software per se, but rather a new “expression” of Windows 10, made specifically for dual-screen devices. Unlike what you currently get with Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Home, this means that Windows 10X won’t be a flavor of Windows that you can go out and buy on your own. Instead, it will come pre-installed on dual-screen devices like the Surface Neo or ThinkPad X1 Fold.

Microsoft, though, hasn’t said much about when we could expect Windows 10X to be released. However, given that we know dual-screen devices like the Surface Neo are set to become available in “holiday 2020,” we expect 10X to launch alongside it.

We heard a bit more about Windows 10X during Microsoft 365 Developer day on February 11 and saw an emulator of the operating system in action. However, Microsoft didn’t mention an official release date. We’re still not certain when you can expect to see Windows 10X released, but rumors indicate it could be coming in the fall.

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. Elements such as the Taskbar or Start Menu are shared between the two, even if they are visualized differently within the interfaces. Of course, there are several significant changes and features introduced in Windows 10X that make it a unique experience compared to Windows 10.

First off, there is support for different postures. 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 useful settings. This is a unique feature built into Windows 10X that you can’t get in Windows 10.

Accordingly, there is a new Start Menu for this dual-screen setup in Windows 10X. The Start menu on Windows 10X has been redesigned to focus on productivity. There’s now a search bar on the top, and there are no “Live Tiles” as seen in Windows 10. Instead, there is also a list of static icons, and a list of most frequent apps, as well as recommendations on the bottom, which are dynamically updated.

Finally, there’s also a new Taskbar and Action Center in Windows 10X. This new taskbar is a bit more adaptive and can change with the user’s experience. Judging from Microsoft’s teaser videos, we know that the Taskbar is minimalistic and will have a “lever” which will let pull it up as needed. Apps in the Taskbar, pinned items, are also more centered in Windows 10X. Windows Central’s Zac Bowden reports that when a keyboard and mouse is connected to a Windows 10X system, the Taskbar will adapt to behave more as it does in regular Windows 10.

As for the Action Center, judging from reporting from Neowin, it looks to have become much more simplified in Windows 10X. This includes sliders for sound and brightness and smaller actionable icons for various system settings. The design also seems to have been influenced by Microsoft’s Fluent Design styles, with rounded corners, and a glass-like aero look.

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

More recently, Microsoft also talked up a bit about how Windows 10X will handle things like updates. At its Microsoft Developer Day online event, the company mentioned the operating system will rin in a read-only mode. This ensures faster updates, in less than 90 seconds. It also means that programs that manipulate the systems data won’t run on Windows 10X.

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

How will apps work on Windows 10X?

The most important part of Windows 10X is how applications take advantage of the dual screens of the Surface Neo. Whether it’s “spanning” applications to allow a single seamless experience of the content or enabling some dual-screen multitasking, it’s all about translating Windows 10 for two screens.

Windows 10X will still offer all your Windows 10 or Win32 applications, including Microsoft Office, of course. These apps will run in a specialized “container” with user and app files being separate from the operating system itself.

Microsoft even says developers won’t have to do anything special to make apps function properly in Windows 10X. Regardless of what it is, the app should automatically adapt to either one-pane or two-pane modes. Microsoft says this is even true of web apps and websites.

That said, Microsoft does hope that developers find unique ways of making their apps take advantage of the two screens and the other unique capabilities of Windows 10X. The company already released an SDK for the dual-screen Surface Duo Android Smartphone. One is now available for Windows 10X too, allowing developers to emulate the operating system on top of Windows 10.

Where will you see Windows 10X?

It is well known that Windows 10X is designed for dual-screen devices, and recent leaks indicate that future traditional laptops and tablets might also get some of the features of Windows 10X. That might include a “levers” system for the Taskbar, and system tray, which resembles the pull-up dock in iPadOS. This, though, has not officially been confirmed by Microsoft.

What we do know is that the structure of Windows 10X was designed to keep a lot of the fundamental elements of the Windows 10 operating system intact while also being made to function efficiently with a multi-screened product. The success of the Surface Neo (and future similar products), rides on the ability of Windows 10X to take advantage of the unique capabilities that come with the new form factor.

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, being used on the upcoming Surface Neo, is just one of these new Windows 10 experiences. It’s also said that Microsoft delayed the release of the Surface Hub 2X, just so it could perhaps put a focus on working on the dual-screen side of Windows 10X.

Will Windows 10X replace Windows 10?

Windows 10X is not designed to be a replacement of Windows 10. Microsoft notes, though, that it won’t be possible to upgrade from Windows 10 to 10X.

With the reveal of Microsoft’s first-ever foldable, dual-screen device, the Windows 10X was explicitly made to take advantage of all the unique features only offered in dual-screen products like the Surface Neo. Whether or not that ends up being a device that competes directly with Windows 10-powered options like the Surface Pro, is still unknown. Given that Windows 10 is very close to hitting 1 billion active devices, it’s unlikely the OS will become obsolete anytime soon.

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