This week at the Microsoft 365 developer day Microsoft revealed details of its new operating system called Windows 10X. Microsoft was very keen to emphasise that Windows 10X is for dual screen devices like the new Surface Neo but in my opinion Windows 10X is the future of Windows.
Microsoft released an emulator of Windows 10X so that developers can start creating apps for dual screen devices and test their apps on the new platform. It also means we can dig into the OS and find out more about Windows 10X.
Playing with Windows 10 for the first time feels felt like I was seeing the future of Windows. Gone are relics of Windows Phone and Windows 8 like live tiles and in comes a new start menu with a simple list of apps and recent used files which is synced via the cloud. There is a search box where you can search for apps, local files and the web but absolutely no sign of Cortana.
Action Center has been re-written with a simplified look and is where the power button is now location. The Task bar has a completely new look. There is new simplified bar with a Windows button, pinned and running apps. There is a small clock and a button for Action Center and gone are the old jump lists, Cortana button or search box.
One big change is the way the way that apps launch. UWP and modern apps launch full screen and you have them on a single screen or drag them across to use both screens of the emulator. You don’t get the option to have then in a window like you do with Windows 10 but you can move them from screen to screen. Win32 apps have a kind of hybrid look, they run in an isolated container together so they are windowed together which will take a little getting used to.
The new Task View shows the running apps and isn’t cloud switched like Timeline in Windows 10. The current build is a little buggy with Win32 app previews, I hope Timeline returns at some point in the future.
While there are plenty of visual changes it’s the core of Windows 10X that is new. The system splits the operating system from applications, and apps have isolated storage so they can’t interfere with the OS or other apps on the system. Microsoft say this brings increased security and enables things like rapid update. Microsoft say Windows 10X takse 90s to apply, so gone is the hour wait while Windows applies the new update.
Users and application only have access to their documents folders and Microsoft have a new File Explorer to work with the new layouts (the File Explorer app looks exactly like the HoloLens file explorer). Microsoft said that apps can be installed manually as well as via the Microsoft Store but drivers must be installed via Windows Update.
Another new feature is something Microsoft call the Wonder Bar. This is a bar above the virtual keyboard or could sit above a physical keyboard on a device like the Surface Neo. Developers can create make use of the bar. It can be a trackpad, emojis or features specific to an application. I can imagine a video editor app using it for frame by frame navigation.
The emulator shows how Windows 10X can adapt to the screen layouts. You can have an app work on a single screen, it could split its functionality across two screens or span the whole screen. Developers are going to have to implement the new APIs to get the most out of the dual screen devices and the emulator has tools to assist with testing.
The image supplied for the emulator is pretty basic at the moment but it does give you the ability to try out the new OS and see how deep the changes go. There is a lot of work still to be done by Microsoft and by developers but it does feel like a major step forward for Windows. The backward compatibly feature is critical to the OS and the success of Windows 10X will hinge on compatibly with traditional Windows app.
Compatibly with Win32 apps is why Windows 10X can avoid being another Windows RT / Windows 10S.
Here is my hands on with Windows 10X: