Beyond foldables: Where Microsoft is headed with Windows 10X

Surface Neo
Surface Neo (Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 10X

Windows 10X (Image credit: Microsoft)

Last week, Microsoft announced Windows 10X, a new version of Windows 10 that it says is designed specifically for foldable PCs in both dual-screen and single-screen configurations. Devices like the Surface Neo and Lenovo's foldable ThinkPad X1 will be some of the first devices to ship with this new version of Windows, and it'll be exclusive to this form factor at launch.

But what about more traditional form factors like laptops or tablets? Can we expect to see Windows 10X on those devices in the future? Microsoft is remaining tight-lipped around its plans for Windows 10X beyond foldable PCs. Still, we know that there is a plan to roll-out Windows 10X to more device form factors in the future, with the (long term) end-goal of Windows 10X becoming the new default version of Windows for most people.

Pegasus: Bringing Windows 10X to traditional form factors

Rough mockup of what Windows 10X looks like in "desktop mode."

Codenamed Pegasus, this project aims to bring Windows 10X and its unique user interface to traditional laptop and tablet form factors. While I don't expect Windows 10X will ever be something offered to existing Windows 10 users as an upgrade, Microsoft is planning to allow OEMs to pre-load Windows 10X onto new devices that aren't foldables.

This will be an important milestone for Windows 10X, as it'll be the point in which this platform moves from being a niche alternative to Windows 10. In its current form, Microsoft does not expect Windows 10X to take over as the primary version of Windows, and that's because the foldable PC market isn't expected to be huge. Most people will still want to use traditional laptops and tablets, which is why Microsoft must get Windows 10X running on those form factors as well.

Windows 10X is more than just a facelift for dual-screen PCs; it's a new, modern version of Windows that's been rebuilt from the ground up with performance and modern computing in mind. It doesn't suffer from "win-rot," for example, a term coined by users who find Windows slows down over time by installing programs. It features a faster Windows Update system that's less intruding and a modern user interface that guts legacy elements such as the Control Panel as well.

The Pegasus project also allows Microsoft to position Windows 10X as a Chrome OS competitor, something it had initially envisioned when first starting work on Windows 10X. Until this new version of Windows can run on clamshells, it has no chance of competing in the education market. So the question is, why hasn't Microsoft started talking about these plans? It's super weird to announce a new version of Windows specifically for foldable PCs, a market that's going to be super niche.

Mixed messaging

Windows 7 Out Of Support

Windows 7 Out Of Support (Image credit: Microsoft)

I think the reason for this evolves around Microsoft's need to get Windows 7 users moved over to Windows 10. It would send mixed messages for Microsoft to announce Windows 10X as a new version of Windows for everybody, while also asking Windows 7 users to upgrade to Windows 10. It's more important for Microsoft right now to get Windows 7 users upgraded to Windows 10, before trying to push Windows 10X as a new version of Windows for everyone.

Windows 10 itself isn't going away, and that won't change when the Pegasus project takes off. Microsoft sees two distinct markets for both Windows 10 and Windows 10X. Windows 10 is for professionals, creatives, and gamers. Windows 10X is for everyone else. Windows 10 is the heavyweight platform that will be an option for those who need it, and Windows 10X is the option for everyone else.

There are currently 900 million Windows 10 users in the world, and none of those users will be able to upgrade to Windows 10X on their existing devices. It won't ever be offered as an OS update, so users can relax if they won't want Windows 10X. The only way for users to get Windows 10X is to buy a PC that comes with it preinstalled, just like how those who want to use Chrome OS have to obtain a Chrome OS device to do so. This is why Pegasus is important.

Putting Windows 10X on traditional form factors will open the platform up to new buyers who aren't interested in foldables. This does rely on users willing to upgrade their devices, which happens very infrequently in the PC world. As a result, Windows 10X is going to be an incredibly slow burn for Microsoft, especially if it wants Windows 10X to become the dominant version of Windows in the future.

It's all Windows 10

Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella (Image credit: Windows Central)

Windows 10X is still Windows 10 at the end of the day. It runs all the same programs, just with a lighter OS under the hood, and better UX up top. The existing version of Windows 10 is going to be here for a long time, and Microsoft knows this. Windows 10 and Windows 10X will exist in unison, and over the next decade, Microsoft hopes that Windows 10X will slowly become the version of Windows most people use.

I don't have any insight as to when Microsoft will start allowing OEMs to build non-foldable Windows 10X PCs, but I'd have to assume it will be after the platform launches on foldable PCs at the end of next year. We'll have to wait and see.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • "... just with a lighter OS under the hood, and better UX up top." Oooops, that awfully looks like W10 mobile to me. OK - I'll stay way until at least the 3rd iteration.
  • 10X and 10 Mobile are not even in the same league of being the same thing
  • You sound foolish just saying
  • Windows 10X on Duo with a free Intune license - will sell to businesses.
  • Am sure MS looked at this. Probably even asked its partners. Clearly a no. On top of that, many articles have been written as to why this wont work.
  • I would buy this for me, and my business user, but only if the Duo was running Windows 10X.
  • And even more comments have been posted, refuting these articles...
  • Lighter OS? I hope it will be much more battery efficient. Easier to update. If that is the case, I'll install it on my laptop.
  • Sure... it’s lite as long as you don’t run win32 apps...
  • Just like all the "UWP" apps. They all get 1.5-2x better battery. With the supposed all day on battery I dont see why anyone would pick the X over the Pro 7, yet.
  • The way I understand it, Win10X is just select components of WCOS, with a selected Cshell. Wasn't the whole point of WCOS to be able to have a practical OS & UI available quickly for any new or different form factor? Maybe I'm wrong.
  • True, but MS want to control the initial releases, they need to build slowly. Can't end up with public and testers considering W10x to resemble RT.
  • As long as it is NT architecture with Registry and all that, it's crap. End of story. You just can't put a lipstick on a pig.
  • Wow what an over simplification
  • Afaik the registry is gone. The Win32 sandbox will let the apps that need it have their own private registry. The msix installer format already does this on win10.
  • It's not Windows NT, it's Windows Core OS
  • I'm not so sure about the success of WindowsX if is only for foldable devices at jump start. Probably this devices will be too expensive and if them use Intel SoCs is possible that have LTE as optional and without GPS. Furthermore this devices are too big as ultra mobile PC and too small for decent UX with Win32 software.
    My opinion is that WindowsX must be pumped a lot with a dual boot option also on Duo, not say "this is Duo the surface version of an android foldable". I remember a Samsung patent for switch easily from android to Windows...
  • What is the difference between a foldable windows device and a non-foldable windows device? There are some settings related to which screen new windows or panes will appear but I don't see how there is much difference outside of driver support.
  • Currently? Nothing other than the OS that's running it.
  • The primary differences are in the shell, and how it handles how those screens move and are interacted with. It's not just drivers. The UX is customized. That's the point of CShell and parts of UWP though. Pegasus can have a different UX than the foldable version and otherwise be identical. Apps can be feature aware and disable or change their UX to match.
  • I wish they'd make a dock for Windows 10. All of the concepts people have made over the last few years change the taskbar into a dock. The taskbar and the Start Menu make people think of Windows 95. It doesn't matter if you add acrylic. They could just try.
  • It used to be simple, if you wanted a dock, you needed OSX, a Start Menu would be Windows, Start screen with Live Tiles Windows Phone or WM10, a boring grid of icons is Android or iOS.
    I'm fine with the Start Menu and the Live Tiles on WM10, can't see what is so great about a dock or icons in a grid...
  • I agree. It's lifeless and have less functionality.
  • How is a dock that different from a taskbar? Or what does a dock do that a taskbar doesn't?
  • I'm with this guy, what's the difference between the two, other than the Start Menu button (which could be seen as a separate entity anyway, it isn't the backbone of the taskbar)?
  • This is what I use. Here's another Gif of the interface. I put that together with Nexus Dock, but Microsoft could do better. I almost forgot how bad the Windows tablet experience is using this. Why not a taskbar? It's because the taskbar is a user interface element that is almost always on screen which takes you out of the app that you are working on. It's because having a full screen experience would go a long way in making Windows look unified. It's because putting part of the interface in one corner and another part of the interface in another is not good design. It's because having the empty space across the screen between the clock and the app icons is bad design. On tablets, the taskbar would be worse because the touch inputs sensors register less in the corners of a device. I wonder if that's why a dock ended up on the iPad. Right now, there are a lot of elements that make Windows 10X look like a mash up of Windows 7 and Android 6. That's not a good thing. People will applaud whatever Microsoft does. I just want a customer to have as much of an enjoyable experience as me without having to use customization software.
  • But you can hide Taskbar.
  • I did that for years. I like this much more.
  • I am missing a lot of information on the dock that I have on the taskbar: time, date, taskbar icons/notifications (showing temperature, cpu usage, updates), keyboard, mouse etc. The taskbar registers fine on my surface tablet and it auto hides. Another important point is that with a tablet having icons bottom left and bottom right is more easily accessibly with your thumbs than in the bottom center. I personally find the w10 taskbar to also be better looking, sorry.
  • Check out the official Surface Duo Facebook page right here. Join below!
  • I sent a request to join.
  • "Microsoft sees two distinct markets for both Windows 10 and Windows 10X. Windows 10 is for professionals, creatives, and gamers. Windows 10X is for everyone else. Windows 10 is the heavyweight platform that will be an option for those who need it, and Windows 10X is the option for everyone else." Why would this be? Windows 10X supports Win32 and in the future the goal is to see Windows 10X on other form factors like laptops, so hardware is not an issue.
  • I did say in the Neo reveal article that it would be aimed more at the consumer market than professional fields. And people still argued with me.
  • Presumably there will be some, probably small, amount of changes to apps to ensure full compatibility or decent UX with the new system, and for users who are very happy with their existing set ups it will not make sense to bother. Some small percentage of business apps may break. Not all features may be ported over immediately or at all. So to continue to provide Windows 10 for more complex workloads as a decade long transition toward 10X takes place probably makes sense. Eventually it'll subsume all the use cases, but it doesn't need to do it quickly. I suspect the initial roll out for 10X based laptops will target the low end of devices. Education sector, cheaper laptops. That way there won't be much on the way of market confusion. The stuff that's missing wouldn't work well on the devices it's missing on. (Almost) All the apps still work.
  • "Windows 10 is for professionals, creatives, and gamers. Windows 10X is for everyone else. Windows 10 is the heavyweight platform that will be an option for those who need it, and Windows 10X is the option for everyone else." So, Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro/enterprise? Sounds like they already have a naming scheme that people are familiar with. Why not run with that rather than introduce another name in 10X?
  • Microsoft is just repeating their same old failures. The developers will never come and this will be a huge waste of time. This OS is driving hardware launches for use cases that don't really exist while making usability worse
  • Deleted. Why is there no comment delete function.
  • What makes you so sure the use cases don't exist?
    I remember people saying something similar at the time the Surface devices were launched, while Surface Pro's are nowadays pretty popular.
  • Facts, me too. I think there is definitely a use case for all of their products and I have been waiting for Microsoft to just release a good phone that they can integrate with Windows OS like Samsung, Google and Apple does even if it runs Android idc I'm getting it as soon as it comes out.
  • Man what?! You will be so wrong, these products will sell like hotcakes if marketed right and no other company comes out with one before Microsoft do. IMO.
  • "Windows 10 is for professionals, creatives, and gamers. Windows 10X is for everyone else"
    Hmmmmmm if Windows 10X can run most of other apps perfectly, i think the number of Windows 10X users will go up fast (they need to give some a choice to upgrade as well) Our company would upgrade 90% of the computers if that is the case.
  • This is contradictory. If it 'runs all the same programs' and features a 'lighter OS under the hood', why would regular windows 10 be for 'professionals, creatives and gamers'?. It literally HAS to be hamstrung in some manner, for that to make sense.
  • Windows 10X is locked down. Users can't access things like system/program files, or the registry. It's similar to iOS in this regard. It runs all the same programs, but at a user level.
  • To a certain degree I think. If updates can be controlled, corporate/required software runs on it and the ports/hardware are there than I can imagine some companies would like to use 10X for Surface Pro-like devices or small laptops or such. 10X of course does need to have a considerable big advantage, like maybe if it offers better security or a smoother update process.
  • Why would gamers or creatives need that kind of access?
  • DOA. People don't want Windows on their mobile devices.
  • Wrong site, mate. Why don't you skiddadle over to Android Central or iMore...
  • Because I make my living as an I.T admin. No one wants Windows on their mobile devices. It's not good enough. W10x won't change things eit