Among the many hardware reveals at this week’s Surface event, one of the software-focused elements was the unveiling of Windows 10X. But what is Windows 10X? While we don’t know enough about it to really dive deep, we have enough to make some guesses and reach some conclusions.
What’s Windows Core OS?
Windows 10X is a branch of the Windows Core OS designed specifically for its upcoming dual-screened Surface Neo (The Duo runs Android). The Windows Core OS is what it sounds like. It’s a stripped-down version of Windows that has as many core universal elements as Microsoft can fit into it. From the core, the company can then build on hardware-specific elements for desktop, Xbox, Hololens, or embedded devices. It’s a modular Windows platform so that Windows 10 can be on everything without trying to be everything.
But what is Windows 10X?
Aside from a confusing name (can we call it Windows Ten Ten?), Windows 10X is the dual-screen variant of Windows Core OS. It will have dual-screen specific aspects, such as the ability to keep one application open on one screen while opening dynamic elements in the other. That’s not quite as simple as having two monitors, though. It should handle things like that more intelligently.
One key thing to know about 10X is that it’s different from Windows 10S. Microsoft has explicitly said that 10X offers “newly implemented support for running Win32 applications in a container.” The question will then be what that means for those Win32 applications. Will they run noticeably different from the way Windows 10 for desktops and laptops?
What’s a container though
Microsoft has taken strides to make the layers necessary for legacy applications thinner and more efficient than ever (take this demo of Windows 10 on ARM running x86 apps natively for example.).
A good analogy for application containers could be a cartridge-based game console: You have the base hardware with its core operating system on it. When you drop in a game, the system runs the game on the cartridge. When you pull the cartridge out, you can’t run the game. It isolates apps and helps keep apps from interacting with each other in undesirable ways.
For most applications, this will probably be invisible. We could see some weirdness with edge cases, the same way that we see older PC games do weird stuff on the newer, much faster processors and graphics cards. Containerizing apps adds a layer to the whole process, and that can cause weirdness with things like accessing shared program files. In some cases, it can cause performance hits because there’s that extra layer between the application and the operating system. In other cases, it can improve performance because the application is operating without all the extra chaos of uncontainerized apps.
Running applications in containers is generally a good idea since it isolates them from the rest of the operating system, which can make both the operating system and the application safer for each other. Some of this is conjecture, though, and we won’t know how it works until we’re holding a Surface Neo in our hands.
Why is Microsoft telling us about it now?
Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer Panos Panay said that the company is revealing the OS now so that they can get it in front of developers early on. That means those developers don’t have to worry about leaks and secrecy. We know what Windows 10X and where it’s going, so we don’t have to hem and haw about what it might be.
When and where will Windows 10X be available?
The operating system will launch next fall alongside Microsoft’s dual-screen surface devices. Microsoft also says that Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo are looking to have devices running Windows 10X. You won’t be buying this operating system anywhere, and you won’t be upgrading to it. That means that unless you’re getting a dual-screen device, you don’t have to think about Windows 10X again.