Everything you need to know about Windows 10X

Everything you need to know about Windows 10X

Redmond's messaging around its upcoming Windows 10 variant has changed over time. You have questions? We have answers

Credit: Microsoft

What kind of software will Windows 10X run? Will I be able to run Office apps and other Win32 apps on it?

Microsoft originally said that Windows 10X would run Win32 desktop apps like Word, Excel, and other Office apps, but only inside special containers that isolate the apps from the core OS.

More recently, however, Microsoft watchers have reported that there will be no Win32 support at all when Windows 10X first ships, though it’s likely to be added back in later. It remains to be seen how the Win32 containers will impact performance or whether all Win32 apps will be able to run this way.

Windows 10X will run Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps — lightweight apps that you download from the Microsoft Store — right out of the gate. It’s not clear yet whether it will be able to run all of those or only a subset. 

Interestingly, even UWP apps run inside containers in Windows 10X, but a different type of container. These “Native” containers tap native Windows 10X features, take less of a hit on system resources, and deliver greater security and privacy controls than containers for Win32 apps.

For more details about containers on Windows 10X, see “Containers on the desktop? You bet — on Windows 10X.”

In addition to running UWP apps, Windows 10X will run web apps. Given how few useful UWP apps are available, it’s likely that you’ll mainly run web apps on it, in the same way that Chrome OS runs web apps. Keep in mind that Microsoft 365 and Office 365 subscriptions include useful web app versions, so even if you can’t run the Office desktop apps, you’ll be able to still use Microsoft 365 / Office 365 via web apps.

A streamlined version of Windows 10 that only runs UWP and web apps — haven’t we been here before?

Yes we have, with Windows 10 S, also called “Windows 10 in S mode.” Released in 2017, Windows 10 S isn’t a separate operating system from Windows 10 but what Microsoft calls a “mode” of Windows 10, a locked-down version that supports only UWP and web apps and prevents browsers other than Microsoft Edge from running on it.

Able to be used on less expensive hardware than Windows 10, it’s meant for schools and businesses with users who don’t need full-blown desktop apps — the same group Microsoft is now targeting with Windows 10X.

There are a few key differences between the two, however. Since it’s simply a mode of Windows 10 rather than a separate OS, Windows 10 S more closely resembles Windows 10 than Windows 10X does. And unlike Windows 10X devices, a device that’s running Windows 10 S can be switched to full-blown Windows 10 (though it can’t be switched back again).

Windows 10X’s app container model also sets the two apart. It will allow a broader range of apps to run on Windows 10X devices than Windows 10 S does, while preserving security. And there’s still the potential for Windows 10X to take advantage of dual-screen devices in the future.

When will Windows 10X devices become available?

Microsoft isn’t saying. After the company pivoted to targeting traditional single-screen laptops last year, industry watchers expected the first Windows 10X devices would become available sometime this spring, first for the education and enterprise markets rather than being sold directly to consumers.

But the latest reports say they probably won’t be released until sometime in the second half of the year. Expectations are that the devices will sell for US$600 or under. Consumer-based devices aren’t expected until 2022.

Of course, all this may change. We’ll keep updating this story as news emerges, so check back here for the latest.

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