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.

Windows 10

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.

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24 replies on “Report: Microsoft is working on a “modern” version of Windows 10 code-named Polaris… but you might not want it”

  1. “Universal Windows Platform” sounds an too much like the hated “Modern UI” aka “Metro Tiles” interface that killed the WinTel PC. But I do like the idea of a stripped down unbloated version of Windows that doesn’t max out 32gb of storage. Funny how a Chromebook runs just fine with 16gb of storage, but 32gb is barely enough for Windows 10 and a Recovery Partition after Patch Tuesday.

  2. Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results?

  3. More desperate tap dancing to preserve the foolish ongoing over-investment in Metro/UWP that developers have been avoiding in droves.

  4. Really wish they would just open source win32 and give it to reactOS/wine already…

  5. Ahh, classic Microsoft. Here I was worried that they’d lost sight of their core values of unnecessary fragmentation and needlessly confusing naming conventions.

  6. If Polaris ever gets any traction (5+ years from 2019 release), I can see Microsoft using FUD and other scare tactics to get people to shift into their more controlled system. They use FUD against their own products all the time when they come out with a new OS.

    Also, since Polaris will rely on virtualization to run legacy (if possible), at this point there’s no distinguishing it from any other OS that can virtualize Windows. Polaris will have to sell itself on it’s own merits like RT and Windows Phone…

  7. We are a long way out from seeing their security and update model. So saying it will fit anyone’s need as well as a Chromebook is a loooooonnnnnggggg stretch.

  8. OS should be just simple and minimal as possible. Arch Linux goes closest to this experience (as you decide yourself what to include)

    1. Only a complete idiot would run Arch in a mission critical situation. Arch is for tinkerers.

      1. I can’t speak to Arch usage in business but similar under the hood Ubuntu is used on many mission critical computers and (especially) servers. My understanding is that Arch is a version of Linux (as is Ubuntu), just not a very widely adopted version. An experienced programmer and systems administrator could probably keep an Arch install running quite well assuming the maintainers haven’t tried to add a bunch of goofy, poorly thought out second-rate programs or features to it (IIRC Arch and the Buntus are both based off of Debian Stable).

  9. Microsoft really doesn’t want to give up on the Windows RT dream of a walled garden and a percentage of the profit on every piece of software sold on the entire platform. I just don’t see the appeal for consumers..

    1. Virtualization sounds like an all-around bad idea. Even with the very best implementation, performance and compatibility issues will be present for old x86 applications. They can pull tricks but virtualization is unnecessarily messy. It is far better than emulation which is what Windows on ARM has to tangle with, but PC gaming will be hit hard. This just sounds like Microsoft is trying to reinvent their same problem all over again, as if they cannot accept that their idea was bad, believing their approach and discourse was to blame. Sorry to break it to you, Microsoft, but Windows RT was and will always be an epic failure and repeating it with a shiny new coat of paint will never change its inherent failings.

  10. It’s possible that this is the path forward for consumers and maybe a free OS while the traditional Windows will be labeled as Pro and beyond and cost more than today.
    The key platform for them is HoloLens and they need to get all the desktop apps ready for that. That’s why ARM is important and they got to push it hard. Glasses are the next form factor and the next OS war, they can’t afford to lose to Android again or they’ll be out of this game as PCs will go extinct.

    1. The death of the PC has been heralded for a long time now, and I really don’t see it going away any time soon, if ever. I don’t see glasses, mobile devices, or anything like them replacing my gaming/mining/dev/general purpose rig. They just don’t have the horsepower for it.

      You can counter that this is a niche use, granted, but I think that this is a microcosm of a larger war going on against general purpose computing. I understand Microsoft wanting to get off of old Win32, but I will fight tooth and nail against anyone forcing me to use a device in a way I find suboptimal, and that means I won’t sacrifice my ability to use as much processing power as I can afford and whatever I/O I want, whether that’s keyboard/mouse/monitor, touch, voice, VR and motion control, or something else; having that option is non-negotiable.

      Basically, I’d rather die than accept a pair of glasses in a world where PCs, and the freedom of choice that comes with them, go extinct.

      1. Glasses will be much more compelling for desk work than any PC, no PC can offer a full field of view experience and 3D, the difference is larger than between mobile and PC. A single pair of glasses is much more than an entire wall of traditional displays and many times cheaper ofc. If today you have a wall of 6 monitors for your main desktop and a couple more monitors for other machines plus maybe a TV, in the same room, you should be looking forward to the day a single pair of glasses will replace all of those while offering a far superior experience.
        You can’t shove as much traditional compute into glasses but they’ll have more intelligence with new forms of compute – machine learning and beyond. In a transition period that has already started, folks use glasses instead of monitors for gaming (VR). Then there is cloud and 5G (and beyond ) that will enable compute capabilities well beyond what a desktop can enable.
        The PC is almost dead in consumer but surviving in commercial. In 10 years from now, the PC will be at 0, guaranteed and even you won’t feel the need for a PC.
        And BTW what makes you think that you can’t use a keyboard and mouse with glasses?
        You can even use your desktop and glasses at the same time, even today you can do that with HoloLens and the 2 devices work together. As glasses improve, the need for a PC disappears.
        For gaming they’ll be great, PC gaming has been so slow to evolve but glasses open up so many new possibilities, the current VR headsets are just a very very primitive form of what is to come.
        Glasses can replace phones, tablets, PCs, TVs, projectors, smartwatches, binoculars, hearing aids, night vision goggles, headphones, cameras, in car displays, smart assistant centric devices (like smartspeakers) and displace to some degree set top boxes, gaming consoles and more.

        1. “Glasses will be much more compelling for desk work” I don’t see how.
          “no PC can offer a full field of view experience and 3D” My PC has a Vive attached, unless you mean something else.
          “A single pair of glasses is much more than an entire wall of traditional displays and many times cheaper ofc.” Gotta call complete bs on this one. For glasses to be anywhere near the same resolution, it will have to be at least an order of magnitude more expensive, and possibly many orders more if it has a much higher resolution.

          I think you’re missing the point. I don’t need machine learning in my glasses to do what I currently do. The few times I do run machine learning on my CUDA cards, it’s much cheaper than pushing it out to the cloud, not to mention the benefits in terms of privacy, security, latency…

          You’re imagining a world where I write code on a keyboard connected to my arbitrarily cheap glasses, somehow with equivalent processing power to my on-site, locally controlled beast of a workstation, compile it using some resources somewhere, run it randomly somewhere else, and somehow it’s a better experience than my current setup. Oh, and you’ll deliver within 10 years.

          “In 10 years from now, the PC will be at 0, guaranteed and even you won’t feel the need for a PC.” Citation needed, especially for that guarantee that I’m sure I heard 10 years ago, perhaps when the iPhone came out.

          “Glasses can replace phones, … PCs, … binoculars, hearing aids, night vision goggles, [kitchen sink, etc.]” Citation really f***ing needed.

      2. “The death of the PC has been heralded for a long time now, and I really don’t see it going away any time soon, if ever.“

        You hit the nail on the head. Addionally, the PC is never dying: different form factors and applications to better fit needs and use cases. Why else SFF, 2-in-1’s, and even the GPD Win? Why else did cryptocurrencies and eSports become worldwide phenomena joined by dozens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of participants? Why else then would the decrease in PC sales be gradually reversing itself? According to the most recent report I read, this year was the best year for PC sales in a decade, approximately at the same rate just when PC sales started slowing. If anything, the good ol’ fashioned PC is finding a new place in the hearts of the public thanks to things like 2-in-1’s and eSports gaining major traction over the years. The PC will never be like it was in the 1990’s and the early 2000’s, but why should it be? It’s never leaving us—it’s transforming.

  11. Being locked into using a Microsoft browser makes it a nonstarter. Most people want to use the same browser on their phone, tablet and laptop. A Chromebook allows for this, while Microsoft Modern forces you to change how you use your phone- which for most is now their primary device.

    Would work if you could use Chrome or Firefox.

    1. Well, that is not entirely true. Unless your Chromebook supports Android apps, it is not possible to install a different browser. If you have Android app support, you can install mobile browsers.

      1. Yes and no. Most Chromebooks can also run Linux simultaneously with ChromeOS. So they can install Firefox, Opera and others, if needed. Using a script like Crouton makes this pretty easy, even for the non-technical. You are correct that out-of-the-box ChromeOS doesn’t allow for this — just most Chromebooks do.

        I am pretty sure that if Polaris comes to be, there will be ways around this also. If they support the Windows Subsystem for Linux, for instance, then running an XServer would allow for most of these to run on Windows also.

        1. Well you have to enable developer mode on the OS which involvs booting into recovery and wiping all your data. If you ever want to get ChromeOS updates for security of otherwise -you’ll need to disable developer mode and wipe your data again. That would be kind of lame

      2. I’m assuming someone would use Chrome on their phone. I think the browser issue is as big to many users as the app ecosystem.

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