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Hands-on with Windows Core OS for HoloLens 2 using an emulator

HoloLens 2 with phone
HoloLens 2 with phone (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft released an emulator for developers to test their apps for HoloLens 2, meaning we can finally go hands-on with Windows Core OS on HoloLens 2 for the first time. This is the very first version of Windows Core OS that will be shipping to the public later this year on new HoloLens 2 hardware, meaning Windows Core OS is finally on its way.

This HoloLens 2 emulator is the first time the public can play with a version of Windows Core OS. Don't get too excited, however, as Windows Core OS for HoloLens 2 is pretty similar to the OS that ships on HoloLens 1 on the surface. The only real differences are cosmetic, with UI elements on Start and windows being different.

One such change is that tiles on the Start menu are now rounded at the corners, a design trend I think we're going to see show up on other versions of Windows 10 and Windows Core OS over the coming months and years. The elements on Start also float just above it, giving the whole UI a 3D effect, which is in line with the whole holographic computing idea.

There's also a new "follow me" button that lets you dock apps just below you peripheral vision so that you can refer to it where ever you are. This is super handy if you're in an environment with lots of windows open, and you always need to have one follow you around. Just look down, and it'll be there waiting for you.

So that's Windows Core OS for HoloLens 2 on the surface. Of course, there are also additional OS capabilities enabled by the HoloLens 2 hardware, such as being able to interact with holograms using your hands, and eye recognition. What's more impressive about Windows Core OS however is how it uses the same shell across devices.

In fact, the Start menu and window UI are the same across HoloLens 2 and Windows Mixed Reality on 19H1. This is CShell, Microsoft's universal shell that has been worked on for years now. In addition, Windows Core OS also has an improved update system, that improves update speeds to that of a normal reboot. When an update is ready to restart, it takes no more than 30 seconds to boot back up. It's very impressive.

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There's a lot more to Windows Core OS that we haven't yet seen as HoloLens 2 is a very tame version of it. Windows Lite, Surface Hub 2X, and the next generation Xbox are all Windows Core OS products as well, and it's there where we should start seeing the more interesting side of Windows Core OS and what it can do. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on Windows Core OS? Let us know in the comments.

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.

28 Comments
  • I wonder if oems and partners are going to jump on the wcos ship or if wcos will be "exclusive" to ms devices until ms shows they're serious. Partners saw what Ms did with w10m. Heard hp STILL feels some type of way
  • Once they have a solid solution for win 32 support, I expect them to move toward killing the existing version. And I expect there'll be a solution for win32. UWP apis will eventually subsume just about all win32 functionality too, and they'll start a gradual phase out there. But that'll take longer. I don't see them succeeding at getting much dev support on anything that isn't like HoloLens and Xbox though. It needs to be a successful platform that lacks win32 support from the beginning. But I think it's kind of important to recognize that WCOS isn't exactly a new thing, and that the changes it's bringing aren't really going to be visible outside of the work in the shell, which will be device specific, and smaller QoL improvements like faster update times or better relative performance. The primary benefit is to make it much easier for MS to support new hardware innovations, and if they succeed at that well enough, to developers having a more unified platform to target across those device types. But this should really be looked at as the end result of their decade long efforts to modularize Windows. The only reason this is separate right now is because they've made breaking changes to legacy support.
  • Interesting feedback. I just don't see many ms and partner devices taking too many more new form factors and that being a thing. I think form factors innovation will be in the mobile sector. Give the Nintendo switch telephony and a great camera and apps and watch what happens. I think Ms should Make that device as one of the form factors with its xbox/xcloud components
  • AFAIK, what you're seeing with WCOS and it's componentized design is largely a reaction to what happened with HP and W10M. This was their attempt at fixing what went horribly wrong with W10M's fundamental design, which is what ended up killing the X3.
  • Yea but ms burnt them when they knew what they were going to do
  • My opinion remains the same, nothing exciting for me personally if: a) It's yet another reboot for Windows to push the store after cancelling mobile while simultaneously doing very little to attract developers and bring its offerings even remotely close to the vast selection of Win32 programs on current Windows and b) It's tethered to Uber expensive devices I'll never get to use (like Hololens and Surface Hub).
  • It's not so much a reboot as the end of a decade long process of modularizing and refactoring Windows to be something easier to maintain and update; the core UWP platform is identical, and I'll be very surprised if there isn't support for win32 on the device types it makes sense to have that on, eventually. The developer apis shouldn't see the sort of resets that plagued their windows phone efforts. And HoloLens will eventually be cheaper as well and this'll be the core of all their hardware innovations going forward, some of which will undoubtedly be consumer facing and relatively inexpensive. At minimum, there'll be Xbox. WCOS is more about having a stable and easy to update platform to use as a base for the next decade+ of device and feature innovation.
  • At best a few enterprises will dabble in UWP and Core. But nothing material will ever make it to the consumer market. No developer wants to touch the stuff and no consumer gives a darn about anything Microsoft does. A dozen times bitten, forever shy.
  • > No developer wants to touch the stuff
    Are you ready to kiss IOT, AR, MR, Xbox, future notebook, 2in1, small screen sim ready personal device, whatever HW architectures and form factors future might give us, good bye? 2019, would you choose to start a win32 project? If the answer's yes, you would also need to
    1. build a website, host your installer.
    2. build account manager if you want to sell your software.
    3. advertisement to build your distribution network.
    4. fight cyber-attack.
    5. fight piracy / crack. > no consumer gives a darn about anything Microsoft does
    Q: What win32 do you really need if you are not a creator e.g. programmer, sound designer, music composer, 2d/3d designer? Q: As an existing Xbox owner, why wouldn't you want to have a small WCOS device capable of running computation cheaper XPA, *.xvc on your palm? Stream gaming won't be available in many situations, and I don't think kahawai is possible on iOS or Android... Q: Legacy win32 in AR environment? You need to build new applications anyway, why would dev choose win32? Q: Without the adaption of the new SDK, can Steam support arm64 and WCOS? How about future HW architectures and form factors?
  • I am a developer and hardcore gamer and I don't care at all for these UWP stuff. Also your 'would you start a win32 project?'-question. Why not :)
    Just make a win32 and package it in a UWP container and post it in the store just like iTunes Spotify, Paint.NET, MP3tag and many others. Game publishers still start every month new win32-projects. All their own game clients are win32, just like the games and their engines they spend years in making and refining are win32. They also have lots of internal documentation and experience with this. Companies are not going to throw all those benefits away. For what... UWP is just the new MSI (Microsoft Installer) for most people. And I would love that more programs would come to the Windows Repository/(Store). It is easy to install and more secure. But remaking win32-programs that have been refined over decades is just silly.
  • While that is true, it is also going to power next gen Xboxes.
  • Just makes me long even more for a beautiful Surface Mobile foldable device that can run Android apps seamlessly. Basically, Andromeda with Google play. It would actually be cool if all versions of Windows came pre loaded with the Google play app. That would be a cool world to live in.
    This is possible.. 🤔🤔🤔 You know, they could do simultaneous boot. These new processors can take almost anything you throw at them.
  • Remember when that almost happened on Windows Mobile, then they canceled it because they didn't want to upset their current Windows devs and then two years later they dumped WinMo and told everyone to just buy an Android/iPhone. "Pepperidge Farm remembers..." My scepticism remains strong. -_-;
  • If you want to run Android apps, buy an Android phone. There are thousands to choose from. What would the point be? You can put a Microsoft sticker on your Note if that makes you feel better. 5 PCS Windows 10 Pro Blue Sticker Badge Logo Decal Cyan Color Win 10 USA Seller https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0786TJPHG/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_PMYVCbPK886J6?...
  • Just like you to make a completely ignorant suggestion.
  • You still can't say what the advantage of such a device would be. Why would anyone use it?
  • 1. It would piss you off.. Nuff said, end of conversation.
  • Dude, you're on your trolling A-game! Ex call the cops on you again or something? Did the shingles flare up?
  • Haha! I'm literally cry laughing now.
  • Bleached ask you what would be the point, Mr Steve Adams?
  • Exactly. What is the point? What would the benefit be for such a device.
  • The point would be raising your blood pressure, and see you cry for ages about it😭😭😭😭
  • I think Microsoft has the right idea to make several different types of Windows software from a
    Windows core OS to suit different types of devices. For instance I want to buy an 8 inch windows
    tablet to carry around the house, porch, backyard, on a plane or boat ect such a device does not
    need full Windows 10 pro filled with device drivers, DLLS & other programs a person who is
    using a Tablet would not hook up or use like you would a Desktop PC. Hololens did not such stuff
    ether. For 7 and 8 inch Windows 10 Tablets the new Windows Lite (Santorini) OS is better. it wont
    have all the device drivers, DLLs & other programs that a full augmented Desktop PC Uses.
    a small 7 to 8 inch tablet running Windows lite with 64 Gigs of main storage Memory would be
    OK especially if it can use a backup Micro SDXC Card to help store data on.
  • I can tell hololense GUI is written in windows core XAML... the plainness comes from the fact that xaml errs on the side of not enough “power user” properties tags for xaml tags. (Well ...we can’t do that... it’s not suppose to be html!?). Definately has the. Grid panel layout look... (it’s about time M$ put rounded corners into xaml language for buttons...java swing gui has had that feature built in for 20 years! They haven’t figured out yet that the other power user parameter for a text box is the number of character it can hold...) (usually round cornered buttons in xaml it requires weird template code that people just give up on messing with... even wierd for uwp.. why they cant just make common stuff like that a parameter... corners=rounded, .02 or ehatwver😮
  • Personal, I wish Microsoft would sneak xaml and c# into chromium while google has their back turned and unbreak the “web component model” so that it IS xaml... let’s call that windows core OS “dot got you in my net”
  • Rounded corners are such a strange decision especially for devices that don't feature the highest resolution like a HoloLens. And you can never unsee the ugly gaps that appear when four tiles connect.
  • Thank you Zac for a great video of HoloLens 2 OS. I was once very excited about Andromeda. I got a Surface Go, and now I'm excited about what they can do with this little form factor. My dream Surface Go would be Windows Core OS, ARM for better battery, 512 SSD, and USB-C or Thunderbolt for docking. I'm hoping Windows Core OS is not like Windows 10 Mobile. That Windows 10 Mobile is too watered down to really get things done on. Windows Core OS need to be able to have more than one instance of an app, have resizable windows, have a usable file system with File Explore, be able to create shortcuts to URLs, files and other resources, run Win32, and run Chromium based PWA apps. I find with the Surface Go, because it has a full OS, I surprisingly can get a lot done on this little thing. I would not buy a Windows Core OS device if Windows Core OS is too watered down. In other words, if it was like iOS where you don't have a proper file system and very limited multi-tasking, forget it. I also would not buy one of those folding devices with a screen keyboard. I fear typing on a screen keyboard will not be a good experience. I love the Surface Go Type Cover. Would not want that to change. It is so cool how it just pulls off. I've given a lot of thought to the concept of a "pocket PC" that the Andromeda should have delivered on. If you just made the Surface Go a little bit smaller, you could pocket it. And with Window Core OS on ARM with instant on, it would pretty much be like a phone. My prior dream would be to have a pocket PC that docks to a full workstation. After experiencing the Surface Go, I think that was a double-dumb-ass dream. A pocket PC would always have to be docked to do anything mildly productive since it would be so small. Something the size of the Surface Go could be your only non-pocketable PC. It is large enough to get tons done on it, but can be powerful enough to be the only computer if its form factor is extended by docking. A pocket PC cannot be great in front of the TV on your lap. This is where I'm starting to think of a pocketable device as something not worth spending too much money on. It gets a ton of abuse, gets dropped, and can be lost, just because it is cared around all the time, but it is too small to be productive away from a docking station. I'd be willing to put more money into something like a kick ass Surface Go with Windows Core OS.
  • The Windows Lite (Santorini) operating system must be quickly brought to availability
    because the 2019 May Windows update requires 32GB of main /Memory storage
    to be installed on a device. All Windows Computer devices with 16 to 32GB of Main
    storage Memory will be Obsolete after the 2019 May Windows 10 updates.
    Looks like Google Chrome may takeover the very cheap Tablet & Laptop market
    but there are some nice 64GB Windows Tablets & Laptops around that might survive the
    2019 May windows 10 updates providing they have enough available Main Memory
    storage.