When Microsoft first revealed it was working on a new operating system called Windows 10X, the company said it was designed for dual-screen devices like the Surface Neo tablet. But with the Neo delayed, Microsoft announced Windows 10X would first ship with single-screen devices.
Now a leaked pre-released build of the operating system is making the rounds and giving us an idea of what to expect. And what we expect is Microsoft’s answer to Chrome OS: a lightweight, easy to use operating system that should offer long battery life and decent performance on a wide range of hardware at a range of price points.
Windows 10X features a simplified taskbar with icons in the center rather than off to the side. The Start Menu has been replaced with a Chrome OS or Android-like app launcher that pops up from the center of the taskbar. A search bar is at the top, and below it is a “My apps and websites” section followed by a Recent area where you can see apps, documents, and other files you’ve used recently.
You can pin frequently used apps to the taskbar, and when you launch an app it will open in full screen. You can view two apps at once in a side-by-side view. But Windows 10X lacks the tiling support you get with other versions of Windows – you can’t resize apps and place as many of them on the screen at once as you’d like.
Adjusting Windows 10 Settings can be a bit of a challenge, with some settings accessible from the notification area, others requiring a dive into the modern Settings app, and some still requiring you to dig into the old-school Windows settings menus.
Windows 10X simplifies things a bit by adding more functionality to a quick settings menu in the notification area, making it easier to quickly adjust many functions from the system tray without opening a separate app.
There are two things that Windows 10X will not offer though, at least not at launch:
- You won’t easily be able to install it yourself, at least not officially. If you want a Windows 10X computer, you’ll have to buy one that comes with the operating system pre-installed. (Of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way).
- The preview build doesn’t fully support legacy Windows applications. You’ll be limited to running Microsoft Store apps.
That second point could be a deal breaker for some folks. But it might only be a temporary one.
Microsoft is working on a way to run legacy Windows applications in a container to reduce compatibility issues, but according to The Verge, that containerization software isn’t available in the leaked build of Windows 10X and may not be ready by the time the first Windows 10X devices ship later this year.
Right now it’s a developer-only option.
That’s kind of a bummer because there are a lot of Windows applications that are not available from the Microsoft Store. But it’s worth keeping in mind that for now Windows 10X does not appear to be designed as a complete replacement for Windows 10. Instead it’s a lightweight, simplified operating system that could be ideal for folks who want a more smartphone or tablet-like experience.
A decade or so ago most people’s first computer was… a computer. These days it’s likely that many new PC users grew up with smartphones and tablets and may prefer the intuitive, touch-friendly user interface and focus on the internet and web apps. If all you really need from a mobile computer is a web browser, Windows 10X should be able to give you that on day one. It’s also a safe bet that Microsoft Office will be available.
If you need to run legacy apps that aren’t available from the Microsoft Store, there’s always Windows 10 which still runs on most of the world’s PCs.