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Windows 10 'Lean' is a smaller edition of Windows 10 for devices with 16GB of storage

Microsoft is working on a new edition of Windows 10 that Microsoft internally calls 'Windows 10 Lean' that, once installed, is a whole 2GB's smaller in size compared to a normal edition of Windows 10 like Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro. This SKU was first spotted on Twitter thanks to its inclusion in the latest Redstone 5 preview build, but with no official announcement from Microsoft detailing what this new edition of Windows 10 is for, I decided to do some digging.

As it turns out, Microsoft is facing a big problem when it comes to keeping devices with a low amount of storage up to date with the latest Windows 10 feature updates. More often than not, cheap, low-end tablets and laptops with 16GB of internal storage will find themselves stuck on the version of Windows 10 that those devices shipped with, because there's not enough storage space to apply any new feature updates.

According to my sources, Windows 10 Lean aims to fix this problem. It's a SKU aimed specifically at devices with 16GB of storage, and has a much smaller footprint out of box. It strips out things users won't need on a device with a small of storage, such as the Registry Editor, Internet Explorer, and more. It's still the same old legacy Windows that we know and love, just streamlined so that it better fits on devices with smaller internal storage.

It is important for Microsoft to ensure that these devices can install new versions of Windows 10, which is why it's building Windows 10 Lean. It's normal Windows 10, but on a diet. I'm told that Microsoft is also doing some work behind scenes on Windows 10 Lean that ensures updates do not encounter rollbacks. This might make update install times slower on Windows 10 Lean in favor of higher install success rates. I don't know the specifics regarding this, however.

What I do know is Windows 10 Lean does not remove support for legacy apps, meaning it still has full Win32 app support if you need it. Other than the differences mentioned above, it's still legacy Windows at the end of the day. Windows 10 Lean is not part of Windows Core OS, and as such is definitely not the edition of Windows 10 that will run on Andromeda.

Of course, Windows 10 Lean is still in development internally, and very buggy in the latest Redstone 5 builds. Microsoft may decide to cancel or change its plans at anytime, but for now what are your thoughts on Windows 10 Lean? Let us know in the comments.

Zac Bowden
Zac Bowden

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.

  • I gave up on my nuvision tablet last year bc of this issue
  • Yeah, this is a super common issue on these low-cost devices. Good to see Microsoft trying to address it.
  • And I thought compact OS was enough for that. I feel windows 10 skus are getting a little complicated with so many of them
  • As long as all of them run Win32 apps it really shouldn't concern us. It's still the same Windows experience whatever it is underneath.
  • I wish that if this edition ever comes out, those OEMs making small tablets use this or even better the Andromeda. Its quite ridiculous how big a footprint the OS is, and there is an backup image file which is big too.
  • I had same problem with Vulcan Windows 8.1 7 inch tablet, I only paid $59 and received Office 365 for 1 year so I can say I don't care about this tablet anymore. Good to see this edition will bring life to my tablet again
  • Doesn't that tablet use Windows Mobile? If so that wouldn't apply to this. Also. You can just buy a adapter for SD or USB drives.
  • The windows installer allows an external storage device to be used during upgrades, surely this mitigates any need for a 'lean' version? Just plug in an external hdd or USB stick during install
  • Does that actually work? Asking for a friend 😅
  • Never needed to use it myself but I've read about it somewhere
  • I was able to use it few times but for some reason this option is not always available...
  • Yep, worked on my little Asus that I use to test insider builds, but, as Adrian says, for some reason it doesn't seem to be available every time. MS being a bit random once again!
  • Unless you have no external storage device, also more hassle, for a change I think this is a good Idea from MS and I do not say that very often about MS.
  • Alright, but what if you don't have an external drive? Or what if you don't have a Micro-USB adapter for your full size USB drive? Lots of reasons for Lean to exist.
  • It's better to have other options that don't require to have a physical device on hand. The lean version can only be good.
  • I see the sku is x64, but most low end tablets only have 1GB of ram, which at the end of the day is more important than drive capacity, and as you say, you can use an external USB to install the OS, but installing an x64 OS instead of x86 on a system with only 1GB of memory would actually make it slower
  • Just last night I "Clean Installed" of Win 10 Home (from a Microsoft Windows Pro Thumb Drive) onto a Lenovo 110S laptop, it was a mess from the other updates due to the limited space and I was just about ready to use it as a doorstop. But the clean install took good care of it. I welcome the "Lean" edition! Would be interesting if Microsoft will provide a way to update that retail flash drive.
  • Is the flash drive read only? Can you not write another ISO image to it?
  • I get the value proposition for older devices, but does Microsoft really anticipate a glut of new devices with only 16GB drives? Even accounting for ARM based products, I feel like the new low end is 32GB. Maybe I'm missing something competely and they are aiming this at enabling CORE and IoT developments.
  • Before seeing your comments I stated as much and agree. We also should have adaptable devices that can grow; hard drive, memory to start off instead of having to throw a whole device away just to buy a new one which is wasting materials.
  • I'm assuming devices outside the NA and EU markets still popularly sport 16GB of memory for low cost. Emerging markets is something maybe has targeted for a while, hence why Windows Phones/Mobile was so widely popular outside the US. Brazil and India I think had good low end devices that time.
  • Well, emerging markets were not Windows Phones only big markets. In EU5 WP had around 15% give or take at some point. In Italy WP was bigger than Phone. EU5 is not emerging markets. However, MS failed to point out this fact. Even if the US and Asian market share was very low totaling the platform at 3% at the most, WP had millions and millions of active devices in highly developed countries. Still developers thought making apps was a wast because the market share was only 3%. However, I'm pretty confident most apps made for the western markets did not have their primary userbase in Asia, so... Anyways, this is a mute point now.
  • I presume the intention is to target 16GB to ensure that things work best on 32GB. More pressure to eliminate everything unnecessary so even 32GB works better.
  • My thoughts exactly
  • I want the lean version to remove all UWP crap and add back everything Windows 8.1 had.
  • I'm curious. What Win 8.1 had that 10 doesn't?
  • More consistent UI, proper tablet mode, proper touch optimized browser, triple app screen split vertically.
  • It's funny because my friend uses it exclusively in tablet mode and I don't see him being annoyed about it. In fact he loves it. If I didn't have my iPad I would buy one to try it as my entertainment device.
  • For the phone version, the battery used to last for ages (10 to 12 hrs at worst) for a 2200mAH battery size device. For Win10? Like 6 hours at best. UI touch input got better after update though...
  • The charm bar was a great way of quickly sharing/doing things from the tablet. Also no preinstalled Candy Crush. On lower end devices it was way snappier than windows 10, and if you overlooked a few things the ui was more consistent. I always found horizontal scrolling more suited for a tablet than vertical scroll, but that's just preference.
    Moreso, the latest builds added la to the onscreen keyboard. On the other hand, win10 allows to install apps on the sd card (making 16gb tablets somewhat useful), it increased the precision of the touchscreen and edge is a few steps ahead than IE metro.
  • Mention of Andromeda are always welcome, as my Lumia 950 is on It's last toe... Lol.
    There sure are some nice Android devices out there, and I have the funds, but I just don't want to buy, buy, buy, now, now, now... Either way, I'm getting some Android device, and hopefully Andromeda, so just the thought of that deadly combo makes owning this brick of a 950 that much bearable... But, the 950 camera is still the 💣
  • I bought an android because my WP died in a toilet. If it wasn't because of that I would've stayed on WP. Still think that I should've just bought a Lumia 950 as it was less than $300 (mine cost $400) back in 2016.
  • I think that's a great metaphor for how all of Windows phone died. In a toilet.
  • No, you did good. Saved yourself a lot of frustration. There are some Android devices out now that I would've probably gotten if they were out when I bought this 950 almost 2 years ago. Do not feel bad about switching from WP to Android. It's inevitable... Switching to an iPhone? Now, that's a different story. That's about the same as getting a sex change; just leave well enough alone.
  • This really don't make sense. Why hold onto 16 why not make it 32 as a new minimum and move on from there. This then is really an admission; we shouldn't have let go of WM.
  • Cost
  • Do you know how many uninformed consumers have no idea what the specs are on the products they buy? They just want a slab that works out of the box. Obviously, certain OEM'S do just fine not concerning themselves with return customers.
  • Well I see this not really because of 16GB devices but more on making full-fat Windows 10 mpre leaner even for 32GB devices. You also have to taken account that there are other stuff not just plain OS installed, and there is an backup image file too which eat quite amount of space. Even 32GB isn't enough. So making a 16GB a minimum benchmark is way to go than 32GB. The lpwer the footprint, the better.
  • Another day, another version/flavor/variant/edition of Windows 10. Looking forward to Windows 10 Linux Edition (WindoUX)
  • It's their new azure kit
  • There is one in existence lol. Unless you want an official Microsoft one
  • Wait til the Windows Spring Creators Linux 10 Update Version 2 Pro, anything earlier than that won't be worth installing.
  • I believe it is already there on my dads 16 Gigabyte tablet. Windows 10 Home only takes less than 8 gigabytes. But on my surface 3 it takes 16 gigabytes. To feature update my dad's tablet, I have to clean install from the ISO file every time. now, it's good to know that this is officially recognised as an SKU, but for how long? Even phones nowadays includes at least 32 gigabytes.
  • The difference here might be your dad's tablet runs a 32-bit OS (x86) and your Surface 3 definitely runs a 64-bit (x64). The former also required less RAM as well. The clean install . ISO files aren't too different in size but unpacked once installed might be the difference.
  • I repurposed an old netbook with Windows 7 Starter with the Windows 10 Home free upgrade when that was a thing. It's x86 and 2gb RAM and I threw a 1TB HDD inside. C:\ is under 32GB so that D:\ can be a 900+ GB network share. I can resize C:\ to 16GB and test this theory. Shouldn't be hard.
  • Well, the 32 bit vs 64 bit version it's a good point. But normally full Windows 10 32 bit requires more than 8gb of storage space.
  • Ooh nice! I hope I never own one of these, but I understand why it is important. I walked in to Walmart today, and I used to ask "Can I see your Windows phones?" They would get a dumbfounded look on their faces. I cant ask that any more. So I said, "Can I see your Windows tablets" He walks over and looks at each tablet, one by one. 12 tablets. He is looking for the Windows logo. NOT ONE!! so sad :(
  • For somewhere between $50 to $70 each, we bought a bunch of Winbook 16 gigabyte tablets to replace DVD players. They were perfect for our situation because they have a full size USB port for which an individual could bring a video or PowerPoint or whatever to show on a TV connected via an HDMI cable or cheap wireless display dongle. They originally came with Windows 8.1 which I've upgraded with each version of Windows 10 using an external flash drive. This has worked okay until this latest version where I'm having trouble finding enough room. I'm glad to hear of this possibility and will help our situation greatly.
  • Well this is definitely good for anyone who bought one of those tablets with 16GB of storage
  • Need this before my cheap 16 GB iball i701 dies. Have managed to fit falls creators update in it :D
    But this help me revive my aging tablet and make it more useful than just being windows edition of iPod click wheel. 😂
  • Going by the recent trends, I don't think this will work on older devices.
  • Honestly they should use this for 32GB devices too, always see those "cloud books" unable to update because of the lack of space 😑
  • Try it on 128gb storage on microsoft 10 lean to see any room or speculated uncovers
  • Isn't Microsoft at risk of OS fragmentation with all these W10 versions? My understanding from a few years ago was that Microsoft was keen to create a "one windows" approach to avoid the problems they had with previous versions of the OS that had fragmented into various versions of what was essentially the same OS. I seem to recall there were 5 or 6 versions of Windows 7. Ok, I get that Windows 10 is all "one core" and is supposed to be the same OS regardless, but at this rate we're going to have windows 10 home, pro, s and lean within 12 months. And that's not including any enterprise or server versions that already exist.
  • It's still one Windows. Thats in terms of Phone, tablet, PC Hololens, Xbox etc. SKUs are different things.
  • Hell, I have a hard time keeping my 32GB tablet up to date, I'm always having to clean up my drive before a big update can install. No chance on 16GB...
  • Lol so you decided to write a article Windows Lane. Lol so you don't think it interesting that cell phone API are back into Windows 10. Lol I think this is a really good thing cuz I'm thinking about starting up a tech company making cheap tablets
  • If one is able to switch to this SKU on-the-fly, then how hard would it be to simply store these data in the cloud for one's device, then strip them, then upgrade, then download them back again? I'm pretty sure it's resourceful, but hey, we are talking about (at most!) 2 GB of data.
  • It’s two more gigabytes of stuff to download. Not everyone has fiber optics, some of us are stuck with 8Mb/640kb adsl networks. (Yes bits, not bytes 😀)
  • I really cannot imagine Registry Editor taking up too much space. How about stopping forcefully installing Candy Crush, Spotify and other crap instead?
  • i do occasionally mess with regedit, but definitely not to a degree where it needs to loiter on my hard drive permanently. if they make these sort of utilities available on demand as clean installable (and especially uninstallable) store apps, i would very much welcome trimming the fat.
  • The regedit.exe is 328KB. I don't think it matters.
  • It does matter, actually.
  • What matters is that Microsoft is repeating their mistake of saying 16 GB is enough if this SKU is geared for the masses. Once a large enough update comes along that requires deleting apps and/or a USB drive to install, you might as well write that device off as usable for Windows.
  • I would have that that Windows Core would have been what made Windows Lean possible. This article says no? So is it a different core? Seems to go against where the perceived Windows roadmap was headed.
  • They killed "Windows Core" and this is the replacement... Probably not true, but I wouldn't be surprised.
  • I think all you're doing is spreading misinformation
  • I straight up said it probably isn't true, but that was what the OP was getting at...
  • It's the same problem with 32GB machines. I have an Acer Revo Build which I use for holidays etc. I always struggle with the Spring and Autumn updates, even if I delete all of my programs and data. Last time I had to wipe it altogether and reinstall.
  • My Asus 2 in 1 11.6 inch Vivobook Flip comes with 500GB of storage so I won't upgrade this device, but on other side I do have a 7 inch tablet With 16GB of storage which I will use to see if it can be born again from death
  • I do not like to buy a windows tablet with less than 32 gigs of storage especially since
    when Windows 10 can out Microsoft said you needed at least a 40 gig hard drive to install it on a Desktop PC. I thought any 16 gig main memory storage on a device was a JOKE. I think modern Windows 10 tablets have to have 32 gigs of main Memory storage.People are willing to pay the extra cost to have something that WORKS WELL this Windows 10 "thin" this sounds great for small 16 gig maim memory tablets but I still wont buy a tablet with les that 32 gigs of main memory storage
  • I hope that Microsoft makes a ways for folks who have devices that have 16 gigs of
    main memory to downgrade to windows 10 thin. The question is When they get Windows 10 thin on their devices will they LIKE IT ?
  • Minified version ! Looking forward to this version.
  • Why not use Windows Core?
  • I believe I can answer my own question after reviewing the article "Understanding Windows Core OS and Microsoft's 'Polaris' for modern PCs". Here is the link - If I am reading the article correctly, the Windows Core OS is a model to run UWP apps and the only way to run legacy is install them from the Store or to stream the legacy apps from the cloud.
  • Did Microsoft learn nothing? Windows needs a minimum of 32 GB in a small tablet. Anything less means the user will have to perform insane update gymnastics with a USB drive. The majority of Windows users will not do it.
  • When I was buying Windows tablets (3 - 4 years ago) I avoided the 32GB versions, for this very reason. I always got the 64GB models. I have a couple of 10.8" Dells and a couple of Lenovo 8". All are 64GB and all but one of the Dells is still on 8.1. I have around 35 - 43 GB available out of the 64GB on each. I can't imagine even trying on 16GB, and had 16GB versions of these tablets even been available, I would have laughed and thought "Um, no".
  • They should simply trim all the pre-installed apps and let people choose what they want from the Store. Also do not pre-install .NET Framework versions as these are huge and most people don't even need them installed. The description above is what I thought Windows One Core would be... minimal install and then just pick whatever options you want added.
  • Seriously? With SSD and HDD prices drop like crazy, Microsoft is focusing on less disk footprint? I think they have their priorities wrong. RAM is the bottleneck. Reduce the RAM footprint, then it'll be a very competitive product (compared to Linux).
  • I'm guessing this focus on disk footprint is for existing devices, not future devices. Plenty of 16GB devices were sold in the last few years, and struggle staying updated.
  • It doesn't hurt to make disk front print even smaller. To compete with Linux, compete in IoT market, smaller foot-print is always better. And smaller disk foot-print may imply removing optional features, which in turn make smaller RAM usage.
  • Personally, I am happy to see Microsoft focus on reducing the OS footprint, although I think they're going about it wrong by targeting tiny apps like RegEdit. There is plenty of bloat in their files that can be cleaned up and optimized, and I think it would be better to allow users to choose which features to install. But that's my admin/power user perspective. I guess users like my mom would never need Regedit. Hopefully they'll provide optional ways to access them should we need it.
    Even on my 32GB Stream laptops, I struggle at keeping them updated with the latest releases. It comes down to a backup, wipe, reinstall, and restore for feature upgrades.
  • I have an Acer Iconia Tab W500 that accepts Windows 10 but every time there is a major update I have to uninstall a lot of programs to make room for the update to complete. After the update, I can re-install the removed programs/software. Minor updates (no feature updates) present no problems. Having a 'Lean' version of Windows would probably alleviate this issue. The Acer has 32 GB of SSD storage. With Windows and Office 365 installed, more than 24 GB of that space is consumed.
  • I have a similar issue.
  • I'd love to 'downgrade' a budget netbook I have. I wonder if you could use a device's current Windows 10 Home / Pro product key to downgrade? Probably not, but it would be nice to have the option.
  • Had that problem recently on my kid's 32gb lenovo laptop. Disk cleanup tool could not recover enough space and fall creators update requires 8GB for install (no option to use a second disk for temporary files). Ended up stopping windows update service and deleting contents of this folder to recever over 10GB of space!? C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\ Average user would not be able to resolve this. No wonder Chrome books are winning this section of the market. MS needs to fix this. They are storing way too much stuff for too long and their cleanup does not remove everything.
  • Same. 32 GB on a Lenovo has its frustrations when installing updates.
  • I think the most space consuming is the 'WinSxS' folder. It is huge but there is no official method to clean up.
  • Keen to see a Lean version. I have the disk clean up utility pinned to taskbar. I have to use it regularly to maintain a modicum of space. A couple of extra gigs would help. Agree the availability of external storage to help with installs is flakey.
    Thanks Zac for the heads up. I hope I can downgrade to the new Lean version.
  • I have a 32 Gb Dell Venue Pro tablet, and still have issues with big updates because of size. I'd love this!
  • This is also a problem for 32GB devices and is classic Microsoft. Require updates in order to even continue to use a device, but not allow the update to install because your OS and its updates are so bloated. So the user is left with an expensive paperweight. This should never have been an issue, and at the very least should have been fixed long ago.
  • If it runs smoother on 16 Gb tablet devices, I can imagine it could also be a potential life saver for older windows pc and oem devices. Curious if it will run smoother on my older quad core desktop than current windows 10 pro. I notice many UI elements are not as smooth compared to my surface pro and Edge seems slower on the older quad core architecture than the surface pro. This might be a solution for a second life. Curious to see the comparison videos on youtube is microsoft plans to release windows 10 lean.