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Windows Core OS: Everything you need to know

A whole new version of Windows is coming soon, but it won't replace Windows 10

Each new version of Windows brings new features and user interface elements. Now, with the incoming wave of foldable phones, dual-screen PCs, and experimental form factors, there’s a fresh and intriguing Windows operating system.

Known as Windows Core OS, this new version of Windows will be a single universal operating system for all kinds of devices — phones, desktops, collaborative displays, headsets, and more. It is also expected to be lightweight and much more unified or efficient when compared to Microsoft’s previous “OneCore” Windows 10 initiatives.

Here’s everything that we know about Windows Core OS so far.

When will Windows Core OS be released?

Microsoft already showcased Windows Core OS on two devices: The HoloLens 2 and Surface Hub 2X. However, the company had not officially mentioned its plans for the operating system or talked about it much at all. It was hard to point out when exactly Core OS would be “released”, as it was a topic that was not mentioned during the company’s annual Build Developer Conference in May of 2019. Employees at the company, however, continued to update their LinkedIn profiles to mention the project and gave us hints on the development progress.

Additonally, Ahead of Microsoft’s October 2 media event, Geekbench results mentioning the operating system appeared online. While the results were from a Microsoft Virtual machine (and could be manipulated,) it listed “Windows Core System,” as a code-name.

Interesginly,  Microsoft also mentioned a “Modern OS” during its keynote at Computex in Taiwan. There, the company briefly referred to most of the rumors that we’ve mentioned, though it didn’t get into details or specifics.

And at this year’s October Surface event, Microsoft continued to keep mum on the details of Windows Core OS and ultimately chose not to announce a release date for Core OS during the October 2 event. Instead, it showcased Windows 10X, a new implementation of Windows Core OS for dual-screen PCs.

What is Windows Core OS?

But first, we’ll be starting first with what we know about Windows Core OS. The operating system will be powered by a “C-Shell” which will help in sharing common Core OS Windows experiences (say the Start Menu) across different types of devices. The goal is for the Windows experiences to adapt to the device in real time — with one interface for any Windows device, in the same that your 12-inch Surface Pro can switch from a desktop interface to a tablet interface designed to be touch-friendly.

Windows Core OS will not likely be an upgrade to Windows 10. Rumors show that this is a completely new operating system that will be designed for installation on new types of devices only. It also will likely be sold to PC manufacturers and consumers as a lightweight alternative for modern Windows 10.

Jeremy Kaplan/Digital Trends

But what will happen to Windows 10? According reporting by Windows Central, Windows 10 will still be updated alongside Windows Core OS. The new Windows Core OS will be marketed for more lightweight use cases (similar to current devices like Chromebooks and iPads) while Windows 10 will keep to traditional laptops (say for gamers, programmers, content creators, etc.)

Based on a Microsoft LinkedIn job listing for the Core OS Project, you also can expect Windows Core OS to run classic .exe and Win32 programs like Google Chrome. There even remains the possibility that Windows Core OS will be compatible with Android apps, according to a report from Forbes. Finally, just like with Windows 10, another goal of Windows Core OS is to also speed up the Windows Update process when updating the operating system.

It also should be noted that there will be different “flavors” or versions of Windows Core OS. Though Andromeda OS and Polaris were the most publicly talked about versions of Windows Core OS, they are both now rumored to be dead. The reason why? Microsoft is instead shifting its focus to developing a new version of Windows Core OS for new types of devices. Windows Central reports that this new version replaces both Andromeda and Polaris and goes under the codename “Santorini.”

What are the different versions of Windows Core OS?

According to rumors and reports, there will be three specific versions of Windows Core OS. These currently include “Santorini,” “Aruba,” and “Oasis.” Both “Aruba” and “Oasis” were publicly demoed by Microsoft when revealing upcoming devices — even though the company didn’t officially mention the operating system codenames. Each version is modular and is developed for a specific type of device but will share common components like the Start Menu.

First off, “Santorini” will be the most common version of Windows Core OS. It is designed for the future wave of new laptops and foldable devices that will be found in schools and homes across the world. It will feature a new user interface, and centered Start Menu which is a bit more similar to Chrome OS. This most recently leaked with a rogue Windows Insider test build, and many concepts have since appeared online. It also is code-named as Windows Lite.

Next up, there is “Aruba.” This version of Windows Core OS was last showcased by Microsoft during the Surface Hub 2X reveal. That said, it appears to be more focused for collaborative displays. This version of Windows Core OS features a user interface aimed towards the office space and white-board like inking experiences. Windows Central’s Zac Bowden also reports that other features included in “Aruba” are a shared desktop space, inking on the lock screen, and a dynamic rotation screen that keeps the user interface elements in place while moving.

Finally, there is “Oasis.” This version of Windows Core OS was hinted at by Microsoft during the reveal of the HoloLens 2 during Mobile World Congress. It is meant for Windows Mixed Reality devices and will bring new ways to interact with holograms, a holographic keyboard, as well as some nifty scrolling and tapping experiences.

What about dual-screens? Enter Windows 10X

Microsoft Newsroom/Microsoft

Windows 10x is the new implementation of Windows Core OS for dual-screen PCs. Windows 10X is expected to run on dual-screen devices, like the newly announced Surface Neo. In addition, Windows 10 X will, like its more fully featured counterpart, Windows 10, also have a Start menu and taskbar and users will still have the ability to pin websites and apps to them as they normally would on Windows 10. It’s also worth noting that Windows 10X will support all Windows 10 and Win32 apps, indicating that just because the operating system doesn’t run on a full laptop, that doesn’t mean its users will only be limited to Microsoft Store apps.

According to a blog post from Microsoft, Windows 10X devices may vary in specs, but still “be powered by Intel.” Other Windows10X devices are expected to be produced by the following brands: Asus, Dell, HP, and Lenovo.

Leaked documentation also provided some more details of Windows 10X that moved beyond what Microsoft discussed. We learned five specific things, such as its iPad-like taskbar, it coming to claimshell laptops, the details of the new app launcher, lock screen, and a new file explorer.

During its October 2 Surface Event, Microsoft also finally announced a release date (of sorts) for Windows 10X: The new operating system is expected to roll out via dual-screen and foldable devices during the holidays in 2020.

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Arif Bacchus
Arif Bacchus is a native New Yorker and a fan of all things technology. Arif works as a freelance writer at Digital Trends…
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