Windows 10X: Microsoft's 'cloud-powered' Chrome OS competitor inches closer

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Credit: Thurrott.com

A supposedly near-final build of Microsoft’s Windows 10X operating system leaked to the Web last night. It largely looks like what we’d been expecting for a while now A more streamlined version of Windows that will debut on PCs this year and which Microsoft is aiming at firstline workers and those in the education space.

As we saw as far back as 2019, Windows 10X (codenamed Windows Lite/Santorini) featured a new start menu that includes a search bar at the top and a list of users’ apps, websites and documents, presented as a bunch of static icons. As of this week, it still looks like this. (See the latest screen shot of the 10X desktop, courtesy of Thurrott.com, which I’ve embedded above in this post.) 

Originally intended to debut on dual-screen and foldable devices, 10X is likely to make its first appearance this spring as an OS preloaded on new single-screen laptops and 2-in-1s (and not available for existing PCs). From what I’ve heard, 10X at first will work on third-party Intel-based devices only. In the future, one or more Surface devices will be able to run 10X and Arm support is coming at some point, as well.

As I reported last fall, Microsoft is not expected to have Win32 app support working in the first iteration of Windows 10X. However, there may be a workaround for this: The as-still-yet-officially-unannounced Azure-based Cloud PC desktop-as-a-service offering, which, last I heard, also is likely a spring 2021 deliverable.

Increasingly, I think Microsoft is going to use Cloud PC as a selling point for Windows 10X. There’s a December 2020 job posting on the Microsoft careers site that solidifies this in my mind. It mentions Windows 10X and the “Cloud-Powered Windows Devices,” or CWD, team in the same breath:

“Windows 10X is the next generation Windows OS built to run on next generation form-factor devices from Microsoft and a host of other OEM partners! Our team, Cloud-Powered Windows Devices (CWD), builds innovative user experiences for category-creating hardware with mobile information workers and EDU opportunities in mind. The software we build brings life to next generation form-factor devices like the flagship Surface brand as well as competitive devices built by our close OEM partners.” 

Or maybe “cloud-powered” is simply a reference to Microsoft 365 and its associated services like OneDrive and Office web apps?
A few years ago, Microsoft and some of its OEMs briefly toyed with the idea of marketing some PCs as “Microsoft 365-powered  devices.” Microsoft pulled back from that naming, but maybe it’ll soon be ready to take another stab at the idea of devices that are “cloud-powered” ones. 

As many have pointed out, Microsoft’s biggest challenge in competing with Chrome OS isn’t so much the OS itself as it is the management experience surrounding it. Windows right now is much harder for organizations to provision and manage than Chrome OS. Cloud PC will help with this gap, but I’m curious to see what Redmond has coming on the management-service front to make 10X “Cloud-Powered” devices truly credible Chrome OS competitors.

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