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If Microsoft can't deliver Windows 10X, what should it do with Surface Neo?

Surface Neo
Surface Neo (Image credit: Windows Central)

Recent reports are suggesting that Windows 10X is not happening anytime soon. After being delayed in 2020 with the company promising a shift in strategy to single-screened PCs, Microsoft now appears to have put the whole thing on hold. That means the Surface Neo is OS-less, and that's not good.

We've not had an official update about Windows 10X or Surface Neo in over a year, which gives the impression that Microsoft doesn't actually know what to do with Windows 10X now that Sun Valley for Windows 10 desktop is in the works. As a refresher, Sun Valley is a UI effort that aims to reinvigorate Windows Desktop with a modern interface, new features, and better performance across PC and tablet form factors.

Windows 10X was a promising idea; a modern version of Windows that is more secure, with faster Windows Updates, a modern and fresh desktop UI, and a smaller footprint in size and lower performance requirements. On paper, it's the best version of Windows yet, but in practice, it's not the best version of "Windows" at all. Windows 10X is a version of Windows without native support for the majority of Windows applications.

Surface Neo Twopane

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Windows applications are made up of mostly legacy Win32 apps, with a small number of apps adopting Microsoft's modern universal Windows 10 app platform. It's the universal app platform that runs "natively" on Windows 10X, with Win32 apps being delegated to running in a virtualized container. This is more secure, but it comes at the cost of app performance as to get those apps running, the OS needs to essentially spin up full Windows 10 in the background.

Microsoft has been considering shipping Windows 10X without Win32 virtualization support at launch because running those apps on a low-end PC is untenable. But even then, we don't know if Microsoft will actually ship Windows 10X at this point. A lot has changed in the last year, and Sun Valley has taken precedent internally as the most important thing for Windows today.

Ship the Surface Neo with Windows 10 (not 10X)

Surface Neo

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

So, if Windows 10X doesn't ship, what will Microsoft do with Surface Neo or the OEM partners who were building dual-screen/foldable PCs with Windows 10X in mind? I think the answer is obvious, and there's already precedent for this; ship it with another operating system. This is the story of Surface Duo, which was first envisioned as a Windows device but shipped as an Android device.

I'm not saying Microsoft should ship Surface Neo with Android — that's the last thing I want to see happen. Nobody wants Microsoft to make an Android PC/tablet hybrid like the Neo, as Android is notoriously bad on those kind of form factors. Microsoft's time would be better spent improving the tablet experience on Windows 10 instead.

With Sun Valley, I have a feeling that Microsoft is taking touch and pen experiences seriously again. This is good news for a device like Surface Neo, which puts those input types front and center. The only issue stopping Surface Neo from shipping with Windows 10 right now is the static and old Windows interface that isn't adaptable to the many postures that Surface Neo introduces.

Microsoft could fix this with Sun Valley by introducing a modern interface that can adapt to the Surface Neo's three main postures: book mode, laptop mode, and tablet mode. Windows 10 already supports dual-screens, which with some tweaks, could work nicely with the book posture.

Windows 10 also already has a tablet mode, which isn't great, but assuming Sun Valley fixes top complaints, that issue is partially solved. But Windows 10 is missing a dedicated laptop mode for the Surface Neo and indeed other foldable PCs. It's one of the reasons why Lenovo's Yoga X1 Fold isn't great to use, after shipping with full Windows that doesn't have a "laptop" mode.

Windows 10X

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Microsoft would need to introduce a mode that could recognize when a foldable device was being used in the laptop posture. On Windows 10X, the OS shifts the desktop UI to one side and places the virtual keyboard and trackpad on the other. Interestingly, Microsoft has already introduced the Windows 10X touch keyboard on the desktop in the latest Insider builds, which even includes the "Wunderbar."

A virtual trackpad is already built into Windows desktop too. All Microsoft needs to do is combine those and align them correctly on one half of the display, when a user initiates the laptop posture, and you've got yourself a working laptop mode for a device like Surface Neo or the Lenovo X1 Fold. That's oversimplifying the work required to make this happen, but the plumbing for something like this seems to already be in place.

Time will tell

Microsoft employee with Surface Neo

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

All in all, I don't know what Microsoft is going to do with Surface Neo. Maybe Microsoft will eventually ship it with Windows 10X if the OS is ever deemed ready, but the Surface Neo's hardware is aging fast, and the longer the company waits, the harder a sell the Surface Neo (as announced) will be. People were already complaining about the bezels in 2019, and by the time it ships, it will have been years.

If Microsoft wants to salvage what they have regarding the hardware, it needs to launch ASAP, and that could happen if they just ship it with the Sun Valley release of Windows 10. The other benefits of Windows Core OS (WCOS) such as faster Windows updates are things that Surface Neo will just have to miss out on, but that's better than not having a chance to use the hardware at all.

I think (hope) that with Sun Valley, Windows 10 desktop will be in a much better position to ship on a device like Surface Neo. But what are your thoughts? Should Microsoft ship it with Windows 10 desktop, sit on it until Windows 10X is ready, or if Windows 10X never ships, outright cancel it? Let us know in the comments.

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.

64 Comments
  • Neo now becomes the codename for the Surface GO Fold with Sun Valley under the hood!
  • touching two surfaces of glass on the go is not going to work. Especially in a factory, construction site or casting studio.
  • No device fulls every use case. And why would you use an expensive Surface product in either of those scenarios?
  • Any Surface product isn't even designed for those, unless putting it in a tough case. That's where there are some companies like Panasonic makes rugged computers for those kind of jobs. Not mentioning other smaller companies as well.
  • Ship Neo with Sun Valley, with the most efficient 11th gen and Iris Xe they can get (or whatever Intel has that's better). I'd rather have that than lose out on Neo completely for who knows how many more years. Just like the Duo, I'd still have a (slightly buggy) Duo than no Duo at all.
  • I understand that two screens makes work flow more efficient. I just think physically separated screens are a hard sell compared to foldable large screens, especially as the technology improves. I want a Surface Neo successor that is a single folding screen that the software can pretend is two separate screens when I want it that way. If they can make such a device that runs a full version of Windows 10 Pro with the necessary software and UI tweaks then I'd buy it in a heartbeat.
  • The issue with current foldable screen is due to limitation with materials we have at the moment. It's pretty much plastic or some glass mixed with polymer at best, but they will still feels like the resistive touchscreen of yesteryear. Long term durability from abuse especially if you have to support pen input, which requires applying pressure on the surface. A No no for current foldable screens. Foldable is promising and really cool, but it has many limitations at the moment that two seperate display will have no problem like from closing like a clamshell and rotate the screen almost 360.
  • I don't know, the Lenovo X1 Fold's screen has been fairly well received and praised for it's durability and firmness compared to other folding screens. I'm confident that the Surface Team's prowess for design, improving technology, and their extensive partnerships with display manufacturers like Samsung would alleviate a lot of the issues by the time a folding Surface is reality.
  • True, and considering its on the ThinkPad line, there is a confidence on it. Still we are the early stages of it. I'm looking for reviews of it especially for its pen performance. Though personally, idk if will be up to the task for drawing, but for taking notes sure. Also, there is a thing as well that Surface team may not the aesthetics of foldable screen the way Lenovo X1 Fold does. Which the bezels are pronounced due to hinding the actual foldable screen underneath of that bezel for protection. Surface will have to expose that to make it look sleek that it all looks like a single sheet of glass. That's another thing that they will hold them back, unless somehow, they already come up a solution without compromising much of the durability and functionality of the foldable screen.
  • The Lenovo X1 Fold is also really thick when folded, which probably explains its firmness and durability. Durability over time is also unknown, I would buy something proven when it costs 1-2k $.
  • The tech isn't there yet. I'd be hard pressed to buy a $1-2k device with a screen bulge down the middle. And I'd seriously consider will the screen bend hold up over years. I doubt it tho.
  • I would take two screens over a super thin foldable screen, at for the next 5+ years. I have used plastic touch screens and at this point in time they kinda suck where glass is super nice for touch. That might change but right now glass is the only thing I would use for touch, including touchpads.
  • No with ARM. We're allowing Windows to be stuck on legacy architecture because PC OEMs and Users are being to lax at insisting Microsoft + Qualcomm fix the Windows on ARM performance issues. Apple have shown it's possible. We should be expecting nothing less.
  • There is no reason x86 cannot be as efficient as ARM. Intel's missteps in process node advancement will be solved. There's a reason Apple is shipping on 5nm. When packing billions of transistors, every fraction of a volt and fraction of milliamps in every cell you can save matters because it translates directly to power dissipation and limits the density of cores, hence performance. It's quite inevitable that x86 will become as efficient for the same performance at the same process node and power envelope.
    The bigger issue though is Windows 10 being able to manage the heavily touch-based Neo elegantly. Hardware will catch up, but Windows 10 and legacy apps have quite the challenge with touch.
  • Microsoft needs to make their own ARM SoC, maybe even partner with AMD for the graphics like Samsung is doing, Qualcomm is not doing a good job, we need Microsoft make running x86 apps not suck like Apple is doing.
  • Bring courier back from the dead!
  • Was it ever alive?
  • That would be interesting to bring regular Windows 10 on Neo and other dual-screen mobile PC's. But if they do, they have to make sure the experience is seamless and polished. It would be a challenging thing to do though to integrate this on the xisting Explorer shell. Though Microsoft already done something drastic with Explorer shell before with Windows 10. That Metro UI a manage to actually manipulate the Explorer desktop shell itself like when you snap Metro app with Desktop and able to resize that desktop pretty smoothly. I think Microsoft could do a similar thing for Laptop Posture. Splitting the Desktop and the keyboard+track pad on the other half and all apps will only open on that Desktop shell. The only thing they must to address is dealing with full screen apps such as games and other full screen application running on its own environment. Windows 10 will have to trick these applications the the half of the screen where the desktop is, that will be treated as a monitor, virtualizing it in a way. For any Win32 or PC games that use the traditional full screen system, they only think they only full screen o that whole monitor, but Windows tricking it and thus achieving split screen like on Neo for example. For tablet mode, they just only need to improve it really. The problem is the gestures. Taskbar of Windows 10X is drastically different to current one. They have to completely redesign or port the Windows 10X Taskbar to Windows 10. Gesture are essential for dual screen interaction, but not imposible considering Windows 8 in the pass have similar gesture with Windows 10X.
  • I hate to say it, because I have been a drop dead supporter of the Courier since it was first simulated, but this looks like a DNR notice for the Neo.
  • We will see, since the actual concept, the form-factor is thing is still will happen, at least Intel will push it regardless of Windows 10X existence. It's all about hardware. Though not having Windows 10X, a proper OS for this kind of form-factor, is making the experience incomplete. Unless they really manage to redesign or replace the current Windows 10 shell from the Windows 10X. But before they can do that, they must really have a proper replacement to existing File Explorer, which is part of the Explorer shell process. The current development of File Explorer UWP is still far from being ready as a replacement, even Windows XP File Explorer is better than the one on Windows 10X.
  • No. Most people hate Windows 10 on Surface Pros and you think on Neo it would be anything but worse? Windows 10X belongs on Neo.
  • Most people? Really? Because it is the bestselling Surface device AFAIK.
  • That's called damning with faint praise.
  • "Most people hate Windows 10 on Surface Pros..." I think you're mainly speaking for yourself there, not "most people." Surface Pro is doing well with Windows 10 as the only OS option. If you mean the tablet features of Windows 10 are not ideal, that seems to be a shared view, but that's supposed to be improved with Sun Valley.
  • And, the Surface Pro ALSO being the only option for tablet mode, too.
  • Tablet mode may not be great on Windows 10, but it's still useable. I'd say good enough to get the job done. Very far from 'hated'. I certainly can't go back to a traditional laptop as my personal purchase, except maybe company issued. Either a Surface Pro, or I use a proper desktop PC. Laptops became redundant for me since the Surface Pro.
  • Tablet Mode just needs some love from Windows team. It may not be great, but that's due to the fact the focus has lost on Windows tablet experience. Tablet Mode in Windows 10 is still having a lot room to grow if they just come back to it and improve it further. I still use it on my Surface Book, and its pretty usable. I wish it was modernized, fixed the bugs, have better seamless connected animations, and new gestures as part of the UX. And even support optional windowed mode for certain apps like Sticky Notes and Calculator as a best example. Who use calculator full screen on a tablet? Unless it is a Matlab-like application. Sticky Notes on Tablet Mode is insulting to use, all sticky notes are full screen.
  • I honestly hated tablet mode on my surface. Mainly because I can't handle the location of the start button. Than i I figured out an amazing trick. My taskbar is bound to the left side and its set to auto hide. Now the best part. swiping up from the bottom causes it to reveal. It gives me so much more room to work with and removes some frustration. I really wish they would work on how you flip between apps and close apps on timeline. Its infuriating at the MO,ent
  • Sure, the idea of a Neo is nice, but it'll be a fanboy device. Microsoft is in the business of making money, this definitely ain't it.
  • Agreed. But so is the Duo in some ways. If only as an experiment, they should still ship the Neo with Sun Valley, even if it's only in limited numbers.
    Worst case, they can change to 10X when/if it is ever ready.
  • As much as I love the concept of the Surface Neo, at this point they're running risk of the hardware looking very outdated. So, either get it in the hands of people really soon with windows (whatever tweaked iteration) or bring a version with the latest hardware when a suitable OS is ready.
    I personally don't think Windows X would be all that great. Windows is Windows because it behaves like Windows and that includes running legacy apps natively.
    I'd rather see an adjusted version of full Windows on it and it should be soon. Then bring an improved V2 and take it from there
  • Ship it with Chrome. Heck, why not, the Duo runs Android. Then there would actually be a nice ecosystem. ;) Windows 10 would not be a great idea. You would rarely be able to do anything without having the device full open. The Neo, full open, is supposed to be about the size of a Surface Pro. Most would say you need the Surface Pro keyboard to get much done on a Surface, because, Windows. If you need a keyboard, and mouse/touchpad, to use it effectively, that keyboard needs to be big enough for comfortable typing. One that just fits a Surface sideways would be too small to be comfortable for most. The only thing the Neo might deliver is a bit more portability, with compromised usability with Windows 10 on it. I almost hesitate to suggest a Windows 8, Windows S, sort of thing. Those at least forced applications to be touch aware, if not touch first. Then you are back to a Windows device that doesn't run Windows apps though. At least not that particular one 'you' have to have.
  • It's not a crazy idea...they forked Chrome into Edge, so presumably they could fork Chrome OS into Edge OS and add decent pen support.
  • There is a reason why Microsoft Store is soon getting a revamp. It is a sign that 10X may not need a new Store on its own. ...for reasons.
  • I was always more excited to have the Neo More than the Duo. Since Windows 10X is not ready.
    I think stripped down version of Windows 10 can work. This stripped down version of
    Windows 10 would be minus all the things that a PC has to have but a Tablet never uses.
    Example drivers for built video cards, Lan cards sound cards ect . Also make a Neo with
    a built in android phone in the case of the neo a person accesses with a blue tooth
    headset or speaker phone. Microsft boosts about inovation well this would be bold. Folks
    these devices did have prototypes that ran Window 10 for Dual screen devices But in the
    case of the "DUO" which has a built in Phone they changed it to run Android so it would
    have no apps gap how ever since the NEO has no phone it should run a stripped down
    version of Windows 10 as mentioned above
  • If I were MS, I'd be working on getting the Surface Pro X fit for duty, considering the price tag. Now that Panay is gone, lets see how long 'the passion' remains in a company that is driven by a Business is King CEO.
  • Where did you hear that Panos is "gone"?
  • Panay is now in charge of Windows and Surface. He is the reason 10X was shelved and W10 elevated.
  • I haven't seen any Neo. 10 x was supposed to be for the DUO. Im glad they stopped it. All it would have brought is more confusion. Stick to windows and please develop a Windows based phone.
  • Are you new here? We already had Windows Phones. They sucked. Badly. They failed. Badly.
  • Had a Windows phone. Worked awesome. Not too sure if you know what your talking about. All products from Microsoft aren't made around you
  • My Lumia 928 with windows 8.1 worked great. My 950 with W10M not so much.
  • Disagree. Windows Phone did not suck badly. The Only deficiency was app selection. That was an unfortunate result of the position as third mobile OS. Developers were already supporting two, and didn't have the bandwidth to support a third if there wasn't a considerable market, and the market wasn't growing because the apps were missing. Nothing wrong with the OS, and Continuum had some amazing promise that dies with the OS.
  • Microsoft has to work on getting people aware of the store and tablet mode. Most don't know they even exist
  • That's because they don't exist. Tablet mode on Win 10 and the store both suck.
  • Using an Intel processor in the Neo was the dumbest decision ever. Update it to the newest Snapdragon and put Android it. They already have it but for the Duo, it won't be that hard, and it will be a nice companion device. Just don't give it some insane price. $999 at most. If Microsoft is really committed to dual screens, they need to prove by getting devices out there. $999 for Neo and $899 for Duo 2.
  • Honestly, I'd buy it. Fanboy or not, I'm now so used to dual screens on a small form factor with Duo, it could only be better from a business user experience if it could have the same runtime and UI experience as Windows. Besides, it's not like Windows doesn't already run on Multi-screens! Duh - how many monitors does an average gamer kid have these days? Other than fluidity of graphics functions, I never really understood why it was so difficult to scale down full Win10 to just basic functions for mobile. What's lacking in Duo is the feel of a full-fledged "PC in your pocket". That was the promise with Continuum. What's desirable with the Surface Go is the portability while still retaining the main controls of a full-fledged laptop. And, it works just fine as a multi-tasker! So, what's the next step smaller? With mobile SIM calling, and app-store connectivity via virtualization or something similar? Why's this so difficult to realize? I really don't get it.
  • "Other than fluidity of graphics functions, I never really understood why it was so difficult to scale down full Win10 to just basic functions for mobile." "Why's this so difficult to realize? I really don't get it." Because Windows was never designed as a modular piece of software . It is monolithic, meaning that everything depends on everything else. As any software developer will tell you, it is FAR easier to scale up than it is to scale down . IOW, it is easier to turn a barn into a skyscraper than to turn a skyscraper into a barn. The current Windows code base is 25 years old . AGAIN, it is not modular . It is impossible to use the existing Windows code to make a mobile OS . It's like taking a brick pizza oven and trying to turn it into microwave oven . It is WAY easier to build a microwave oven from scratch. Add to this the fact that EVERYONE expects anything called "Windows" to run all existing software . Any new OS Microsoft comes up with should NOT be called "Windows". Everyone but MS understands this . Windows is all they have, so they keep trying to make Windows a mobile OS . When a hammer is the only solution you have, every problem looks like a nail. So here we are, 15 years later . MS is STILL thrashing about, trying to come up with a viable mobile strategy . Whereas Apple, Google and Samsung have had spectacular mobile success. Since iOS is not an option, the only choice for MS is Android . Thus, we have the (extremely lame) Duo running Android. It is WAY too late at this point for MS to introduce a new, mobile OS . Thus, 10X is now dead . Yes, it is currently just "delayed" . But "delayed" is the first step of dead . Andromeda was once "delayed" also.
  • I'd be happy to buy Neo work full windows now knowing full well I would pay premium to be a glorified beta tester.
  • They should just improve tablet mode on Windows 10 like others have stated.
  • If they insist on releasing a low powered Intel device in 2021... for reasons... hopefully they just release a tablet variant of the Duo's android build. For the few people that use Windows proper as a tablet, just bring over an optional Win10X shell and Project Latte. It's not like Microsoft's mobile desktop users were ever targeted for a workflow consisting of more than Office and Edge. This has all been fantastic news in the last couple of days. It truly feels like Microsoft is finally abandoning the failed "mobile first" nonsense applied to Windows. And judging from the bitrot and neglect UWP has received not even targeting newer C# versions or even setting up .net 5 templates, it seems like people at Microsoft actually started using Windows again and faced the reality that every initiative since Windows 8 has been wet garbage. A desktop focus on Windows again is much appreciated, especially compared to their failed 9 year crusade to attempt to fool people into thinking Windows would ever make a suitable mobile platform. The only way Microsoft could top themselves right now is publicly disavowing the Metro/UWP nonsense and publicly admitting that Settings transition failed due to the feature-anemic nature of UWP, spiked with news that Control Panel would be returning in full. And I don't know, a cherry on top would be firing everyone who ever tried to make tablet Windows a thing and putting those names in an industry blacklist to make sure they didn't try to go and ruin another company.
  • Thank you for the great laugh you do realize everybody is moving to uwp or PWA.
  • Ah, yes. I, too, remember that era where vendors ported their software en masse to UWP and it was hailed as a universal success with absolute positive feedback from users, spawning an entire market of pro UWP apps, and quickly become the gold standard of all PC applications and design language. When Microsoft ported Office and Visual Studio to UWP and got rid of their win32 applications, we all knew UWP was what everybody was moving to. Wait, when was this again? It never happened? That's right, it's been only a small trickle of tender footed developers with absolutely no interest whatsoever from end users.
  • Would be interesting to see such a device with Windows 10. At the same time I think DuoOS would be interesting see on it and that would further differentiate it from the Surface Pro / Pro X.
  • I just don't get why Sun Valley derails the 10X SO MUCH that they have to delete all plans going forward? At least make the solid mention that whatever amazing developments to come from SV will make such a decision seem beneficial...
  • If I didn't already own a Surface Pro X, I would definitely buy the Surface Neo if it had 5G/LTE support. Two screens increases productivity and is good for multitasking. This has been tried before with the Lenovo Yoga Book line but it's always used a subpar or e-Ink display. Microsoft is not going to get a lot of sales if they release this, but they should release it as a halo product. Surface Neo should release on Windows 10, and later be upgradable to Windows 10X (if it ever comes out). https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-surface-book-marketing-problem... Isn't that what the Surface line was supposed to be? To generate consumer interest and be an example for OEM manufacturers to follow. Not all OEMs can take risks and innovate, given the razor thin profit margins in the industry. So Microsoft should take on some investment risks and R&D costs for them. In the end, Microsoft and OEMs benefit, as long as Microsoft doesn't price it too low, it won't compete with OEM partners. That's why we need to remind people who get upset when Surface devices are exorbitantly priced. The Surface line is deliberately priced that way.
  • If the Surface Neo is sold with Windows 10 and not 10X or will never have Windows 10X as Microsoft doesn't switch OS for a new device. I would rather NOT see Neo with Windows 10.
  • Ship neo with linux.
    Make windows a gamer os.
  • Windows 10x is fine. It's 2021 snowfall if you have been a replay of 2020. Every day they are more uwp apps and pwa apps
  • With 10X gone, I don't think the Neo will ever see the light of day. As for OEM's building duel screen devices with 10X in mind, I guess they've just found out that they've been wasting their time.
  • I thought (in my humble opinion) the Neo was dead on arrival, I guess I'm wrong, because it's not even arriving. I'm not surprised, as it's a project that potentially shows promise, but kind of impossible to find a space for it to gain traction. What can it do significantly better than alternative devices, and more importantly, at the price which the neo would undoubtedly be set at (if anyone is wondering... high...).
  • I think the Neo form factor will not take off. It is really designed for pen input used in book style. If you have ever tried using pen input to enter text, it can be frustrating and very slow. When Neo is in desktop mode, the virtual keyboard will not be ideal. You need tactile feedback to type without looking at the keys. You will not get that with a glass keyboard. You will have to stare at the keys and that will be slow. I would take a 2-in-1 like a Surface Pro or Surface Go any day over a Neo form factor. If Microsoft insists on moving forward with this form factor, then Windows 10 will be fine provided they support all the modes.
  • Surface Neo with Windows Sun Valley and your suggested features would be an interim device to consider... I would certainly give it some thought. And, why not adopt the "Windows" naming, dropping the "10," so, Windows Sun Valley just becomes Windows... Folding portable devices, bring'um on...
  • Great article Zac Bowden! If MS wants to realize their vision "to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more" that should be possible, having Windows Sun Valley on "pro" version of Surface Neo (SN) and Duo (SD) for that matter. Prosumers and even consumers could benefit from a better worked version of Android on SD (not on SN, as you say) that has the best features of Windows 10 Mobile too. MS has GitHub and Azure to give them the chops for all of this...