Microsoft’s Windows continues to dominate the desktop operating system space, but in recent years Chrome OS has taken away a significant chunk of market share, particularly in entry-level laptops and computers designed for students and classrooms. Meanwhile Android and iOS dominate the smartphone and tablet space.
Over the past few years Microsoft has made several attempts to offer a stripped-down version of Windows that would be more competitive on entry-level hardware with limited success. Windows RT is dead. Windows 10 S is… basically a crippled version of Windows.
So what’s next? Windows Lite, apparently.
Rumors have been making the rounds for a while that Microsoft was building a new operating system that would be capable of running on entry-level hardware while offering a simpler user experience.
Now Petri’s Brad Sams reports that the so-called “Lite OS” is under active development, and that Microsoft plans to expand its testing by this summer. The company could officially introduce Windows Lite during its Build developer conference in May.
Sams also created a mockup image that gives us an idea of what Windows 10 Lite looks like. There’s a simplified taskbar with app icons in the center and a clock on the right. And there’s an app launcher that looks a bit like the ones you’d find in Android or Chrome OS, with a search bar at the top, suggested apps below it, and a section for pinned apps below that. There’s also a Documents tab, suggesting you’d be able to browse and search for apps and docs from the same launcher.
According to Sams, the operating system does include some legacy features such as File Explorer and support for running apps in windows that can be resized and moved. But Microsoft is reportedly working to make Windows Lite easier to use and to maintain than other versions of Windows.
Right now there’s apparently no built-in support for running Win32 desktop applications. You can only use Universal Windows Platform apps (like those available from the Microsoft Store) or Progressive Web apps. But Microsoft is investigating the possibility of adding support for Win32 apps, possibly by sticking them into containers and limiting their interaction with the operating system (similar to the way Chrome OS handles third-party apps), which would theoretically tighten security and prevent installed apps from slowing down a computer’s boot process or other functions.
Microsoft hasn’t confirmed any of this yet, and even if everything in the report is accurate there’s a chance that Microsoft could change its plans before Windows Lite is released (or announced).
It’s also not entirely clear to me if people want a version of Windows that acts less like Windows and more like Chrome OS. You can already run Windows 10 on some pretty inexpensive hardware… it’d just be nice if Microsoft insisted that OEMs use at least 64GB or 128GB of storage on entry-level Windows devices in order to reduce the risk of Windows 10 updates failing due to limited disk space.
Update: The Verge has its own sources that confirm Windows Lite is coming, and that the mockup from Brad Sams looks pretty accurate. One new bit of information from The Verge’s reporting is that Microsoft may initially be targeting dual-screen devices, before moving to support cheap Chromebook-like computers.