What Windows 10X is Going to Mean for Microsoft Hardware in 2021

We’ve seen Windows 10X  on Microsoft’s Surface Neo.
We’ve seen Windows 10X on Microsoft’s Surface Neo.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

There’s a brand new version of Windows on the way, and it’s set to change how we interact with our PCs—and even change our ideas about what a PC actually is. Here’s everything you need to know Windows 10X as it stands now, and the devices that will be compatible in 2021.

The obvious place to start is with what Windows 10X actually is. It’s not an upgrade from Windows 10 as such, but a variant that’s specifically designed for dual-screen and lightweight, low-cost devices. Originally slated to appear on the now-delayed Surface Neo, it seems the focus of Windows 10X has shifted to more conventional, budget devices for the time being, with dual-screen support following later.

And that’s perhaps not surprising. Supporting two linked screens instead of one is more complex than you might initially think. The user might want two programs side by side, or a program on the top half and a keyboard on the other, or perhaps a movie showing on just one screen if the foldable device is being used in tent mode.

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Two screens open up some new possibilities.
Two screens open up some new possibilities.
Screenshot: Microsoft

However, the new operating system will run easily one screen as well as two, bringing with it the benefits that we’re about to outline. As we’ve said, it now looks likely to show up on traditional laptops from the usual suspects before it makes its way to more ambitious dual-screen projects.

Windows 10X is more than a top layer for Microsoft’s existing software. It’s actually built on another new initiative called Windows Core OS, which is a back-to-basics, lightweight version of Windows (hence the “Core”) that can be easily tailored for different types of devices and different form factors.

Windows Core OS makes Windows more modular and versatile, and to achieve that aim, it’s jettisoned some of the older, legacy features that standard Windows has had for decades at this point. Eventually, it’ll underpin Windows on every device, though that will take time. For now, it’s running underneath Windows 10X, on the Xbox Series X and Series S, and the HoloLens 2.

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A Windows 10X concept from Microsoft.
A Windows 10X concept from Microsoft.
Image: Microsoft

The development of Windows Core OS means that Windows 10X won’t run traditional Win32 desktop applications when it starts appearing in 2021. That means programs such as Photoshop and Chrome won’t be available to begin with. What you will be able to run are Microsoft staples like the Edge browser and apps running from the web.

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Eventually, Win32 support will be added, though these applications will be run in a sealed off container for both security and performance reasons. When these programs are closed, they won’t be able to interfere with the rest of the system or affect battery life, which should (in theory) mean Windows 10X won’t suffer from any gradual slowdown issues and will be speedier on less powerful hardware.

Old components like Control Panel and Device Manager that are hanging on by a thread in Windows 10 will be gone in Windows 10X. The Start menu is cleaner and more streamlined, the taskbar centers icons rather than arranging them from the left, and the Action Center gets a redesign too (it looks not unlike the Control Center now in macOS).

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The Surface Neo was first shown off in 2019.
The Surface Neo was first shown off in 2019.
Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

Like most of Windows 10X, File Explorer becomes more web-focused, with OneDrive integrated even more tightly than it is in Windows 10. It’s a Windows that’s a bit more like ChromeOS in some ways, and a bit more like Android in others, running mainly from the web and engineered to adapt to multiple screen sizes and indeed multiple screens.

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User security is improved through the changes made in Windows 10X, too. We’ve already mentioned legacy Win32 applications running in their own little virtual box, but it’ll be the same for other parts of the operating system—viruses and malware won’t be able to access system settings or the registry to do any damage.

Then there are the benefits of using a mobile dual-screen device, which are similar to the benefits of hooking up a second monitor to your laptop or desktop. You’ve got more space to do everything, it’s easier to use apps side by side, and it makes the process of moving files and objects between programs a lot more straightforward—just drag and drop.

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Windows 10X will appear first on single-screen rather than dual-screen devices.
Windows 10X will appear first on single-screen rather than dual-screen devices.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft has been promising Windows 10X since late 2019, and with rumors of a Surface Neo delay, it’s going to be in the hands of consumers later than Microsoft originally wanted. We will see at least some Windows 10X products in 2021, though, with education and enterprise markets first in line, and consumer devices following afterwards.

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While Microsoft’s Surface Duo has already appeared, it’s running Android, not Windows 10X. The Surface Neo, which will run Windows 10X, had been promised by the end of 2020, but development on it seems to have been paused for now—there’s been little official word from Microsoft, but those in the know say it might not show up until 2022.

As for Windows 10X, again, there’s little official news, but inside sources are suggesting that it’s close to being ready. In the next few months we should see this reimagining of Windows—a truly modern version of the Microsoft operating system—out in the wild.

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DISCUSSION

So, what is the purpose of 10X?

  • The new core of all of Windows?
  • An answer to Chrome OS K-12 success?
  • A product to compete against Android and iOS?
  • A product to create a whole new class of devices?

My worthless suggestion is to skip the wishy-washy “hey, why don’t you tell us what you want it to be” and just pick a path to see how it works out.

(An even more worthless suggestion is to rename the product to something that more clearly advertises this as a unique product from Windows 10.)