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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

There’s a good chance you’ve heard about Windows 10X, the new version of Windows that’s about to be released. And if you have, there’s a reasonable chance you’re confused about what exactly it is.

You’re not alone. Microsoft has released confusing, sometimes clashing information about the new operating system. We’re here to help. Read on for everything you need to know about the upcoming Windows 10 variant.

What is Windows 10X? Is it the successor to Windows 10?

Windows 10X resembles Windows 10 in some ways but has been built entirely on code from a universal Windows codebase called Windows Core OS. (Windows 10 also uses code from Windows Core OS but adds unique code of its own.)

Windows 10X won’t replace Windows 10, and it eliminates many Windows 10 features including File Explorer, although it will have a greatly simplified version of that file manager. Its interface is simpler and more stripped down than Windows 10, and it will run only on hardware designed for it, not on hardware that currently runs Windows 10.

What’s the point? Why a new version of Windows 10?

The reasons Microsoft gives for developing Windows 10X keep shifting. When Microsoft first announced Windows 10X in 2019, the company said it would run only on dual-screen and foldable PCs, and the operating system would be designed specifically to make the most of that unique hardware.

Instead of the screen + hardware keyboard combination found in most laptops, dual-screen PCs have two screens connected with a hinge, while foldable PCs have a screen that folds in the middle, essentially creating two screens out of one.

The announcement said that the first Windows 10X devices, including Microsoft’s own dual-screen Surface Neo, would be available in the fall of 2020.

But then, several months into the pandemic in May 2020, the company did an about-face, announcing that Windows 10X will debut on cloud-focused single-screen devices. Because of that cloud focus, Windows 10X has been designed to work on more lightweight, less expensive hardware than Windows 10.

If you’re thinking that a cloud-focused operating system designed to work on inexpensive hardware sounds suspiciously like Google’s Chrome OS, you’re right. Most industry watchers believe that Windows 10X is Microsoft’s answer to Chrome OS and will be targeted at schools, where Chromebooks are extremely popular, and also at remote workers in enterprises.

As for Windows 10X on dual-screen and foldable PCs, Microsoft is being noncommittal. Its May 2020 announcement said only, “We will continue to look for the right moment, in conjunction with our OEM partners, to bring dual-screen devices to market.” The company hasn’t said anything more about such devices since then. In other words, don’t expect them any time soon.

Will I be able to update a Windows 10 PC to Windows 10X?

No. And as things stand right now you won’t be able to buy a standalone version of Windows 10X to install on a device. If you want the operating system, you’ll have to buy a Windows 10X device with it pre-installed.

Tell me about the interface. Is it recognisable as Windows 10?

Yes and no. Think of it as the child of Windows 10X, sharing some of its DNA but different in a number of ways. It has a simplified Start menu that lets you run Windows 10 apps and web apps by clicking their icons. But there are no live tiles. The basic interface will look much like Chrome OS’s — icons on a screen.

Microsoft Windows 10X windows 10x start Mark Hachman / IDG

A leaked build of Windows 10X shows the OS’ default view: search on the top, apps in the middle, documents below. (Click image to enlarge it.)

The taskbar is simplified as well, with centered, pinned icons for web apps and Windows 10 apps. There are no notification icons at the far right as there is with full-blown Windows 10, and no right-clicking for customisation. Basically, what you see is what you get. There’s also no true file manager, just an extremely limited file browser built for OneDrive. (See PCWorld’s walk-through of an early build of Windows 10X for more details and screenshots.)

Initially, Windows 10X was expected to have a new feature called the “Wonder Bar” that was reminiscent of Apple’s Touch Bar but wider and designed for dual-screen devices.

When a device was positioned as a laptop, the Wonder Bar would appear across the top of the lower screen, above either the software keyboard or a magnetic hardware keyboard placed on the lower screen, and it could show anything from additional keyboard commands to videos and graphics. Now that Windows 10X is being positioned for single-screen devices, the Wonder Bar has been removed from recent builds of the OS.

Oh, and Cortana haters will be pleased to know that Cortana is nowhere to be found in Windows 10X.

One other key difference between Windows 10X and Windows 10: In 10X you won’t need to wrestle with how to handle Windows updates. Updates will happen automatically, behind the scenes, in as little as two minutes or less.

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