What would Windows 10 look like if you stripped the legacy code that’s been around for decades and created a streamlined, modern version of the operating system optimized to run Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps?
It looks like we might find out, because Windows Central reports that Microsoft is working on just that. It’s a new version of Windows 10 for desktop, notebook, and 2-in-1 computers that’s code-named “Polaris,” and it’s said to offer better performance, longer battery life, and improved security over what you get from Windows 10 today.
But if you want to run Win32 applications (the vast majority of programs written for older versions of Windows), you’ll need to rely on virtualization.
According to Windows Central, Microsoft will continue to offer the current version of Windows 10 that does support legacy apps natively even after Polaris is released. But the idea is to position it as an OS for power users or gamers, not the general public. We’ll see how that goes.
If this all sounds a lot like Windows 10 S, it’s important to note that Windows 10 S is still basically the same operating system as Windows 10 Home or Pro, with some features enabled and others disabled. That’s why it’s so simple to upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro.
Polaris is something new. It’s based on a new version of Windows 10 that’s rumored to be called Windows Core OS. It’ll use the cshell user interface we first heard about last year. And it’ll basically be the desktop version of Andromeda OS, a version of Windows optimized for mobile devices.
Among other things, that means there won’t be a simple upgrade path from Polaris to Windows 10 Pro: if you buy a device with Polaris (or whatever it’s eventually called), you’re stuck with Polaris.
It sounds like the idea is to offer Polaris on mainstream PCs and Windows 10 with Win32 application support on high-end machines aimed at professionals, gamers, and folks that need support for legacy software or newer games and programs that simply aren’t compatible with UWP apps. But the software maker will have to convince PC makers to go along with the plan and convince customers that this is something they want.
If you’re the sort of person that can get by with a Chromebook, Polaris sounds like it would fit your needs at least as well. But if Windows Central’s report is accurate, it sounds like Polaris is a recipe for fragmentation and confusion.
That’s because, unlike Chromebooks, they’ll be marketed as Windows 10 computers. But if you buy one, it’ll only run UWP apps. If you decide you need to run software that’s not available in the Microsoft Store, you’re going to either need to buy a different machine or install a different version of Windows from scratch (or a GNU/Linux distro if you don’t feel like paying fro another Windows license, I suppose).
I get the argument that Microsoft needs a light-weight, streamlined, easy-to-use version of Windows to compete with Chrome OS, Android, and iOS. But I can’t help but think that calling it Windows 10 is a bad idea.
Windows Central reports Microsoft could be ready to launch Polaris by 2019.