Earlier this year, Microsoft abandoned its plans to launch Windows 10X as a dual-screen OS, and now it’s making another change. A new report says the latest internal builds of Windows 10X have dropped support for local Win32 apps, which Microsoft hopes will make it more competitive with Chrome OS. Instead of limping along in a virtual container, Microsoft hopes to run Win32 apps in the cloud.
We still expect Windows 10X to launch in 2021, but Microsoft hasn’t had much to say since confirming in May that the OS would come to single-screen devices first. That change is understandable — there’s no solid evidence people will want dual-screen Windows devices, and a global pandemic is a poor time to push new form factors. Stripping Win32 support from 10X could signal another significant pivot.
According to sources inside Microsoft, the company has decided not to move forward with VAIL, the virtualization technology that would have allowed Win32 apps to run in a container in Windows 10X. Microsoft’s current plan is to put Windows 10X devices up against Chromebooks, which skew much cheaper than comparable Windows hardware. And those devices don’t have the power to run Win32 app containers smoothly enough. This is the opposite of the Windows 10X ethos, which is all about snappy performance and good battery life.
Therefore, Windows 10X will be limited to Microsoft’s UWP (Universal Windows Platform) apps and progressive web apps. Microsoft isn’t unaware of what people expect from Windows, though. In place of local containers, Win32 apps will be able to live on in the cloud. Windows 10X will apparently include a technology built on Windows Virtual Desktop. When you want to run a Win32 app, you can connect to a web service that lets you stream it live. Obviously, this will only work when you have an internet connection, but Chrome OS relies heavily on internet access, and that hasn’t stopped it from being successful.
Dropping VAIL could also help Microsoft expand hardware support with 10X. Previously, Microsoft had decided to limit the new OS to Intel chips because the containers would not run on ARM architecture. Now that it’s all in the cloud, we might see some ARM-based devices that can compete even more closely with Chromebooks.
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