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Windows 10X: Everything you need to know

Windows 10x Mock Laptop Close
Windows 10x Mock Laptop Close (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Windows 10X was a new version of Windows that has been built from the ground up for new PCs, and was supposed to begin shipping on hardware in 2021. It's built on top of a new modern version of Windows called 'Windows Core OS' that guts legacy components and features in favor of contemporary user experiences and enhanced security.

Unfortunately, Microsoft has announced that development on Windows 10X has been postponed and will not be launching on new PCs this year. In fact, it's unlikely Windows 10X will ever launch now that Microsoft is working on a big new user experience refresh for Windows Desktop codenamed Sun Valley and expected to launch at the tail-end of this year.

Either way, this article remains as a look-back at some of the new experiences and changes Microsoft had pioneered with Windows 10X.

A new user experience

Windows 10X

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Windows 10X featured a new shell — the user interface — that was built with modern technologies. It's an adaptive user experience that can adjust depending on the "posture" of your device. For example, with a foldable PC, the user might want to use it in several different ways; as a laptop, or tablet, or in tent mode for movies. Because of this, the user interface must adapt to provide the best experience no matter which way your device is being used.

This also means that legacy shell elements, such as the Control Panel, File Explorer, and error dialogs and icons are gone on Windows 10X. As Microsoft has rebuilt the entire shell, it doesn't include any of the legacy things that makes Windows 10 so inconsistent when it comes to UI. The Windows Shell on Windows 10X should be much more consistent.

A new Start menu

Windows 10X Start

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft had redesigned the Start menu experience on Windows 10X with a focus on productivity. It features a system-wide search bar along the top that can also search the web, and a grid of installed apps below that in place of live tiles.

It also has a "recent activities" area that dynamically updates with things the user might want to jump straight into, such as recent Office documents and visited websites. The apps list can be customized, with the ability for users to rearrange which apps show up in the first few rows.

A new Taskbar

10x Taskbar Preview

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Windows 10X also had a new adaptive Taskbar that features a centered design. The Start and Task View buttons appear in the center, with running and pinned apps appearing between the two. When you open an app, the Start and Task View buttons gently spread apart, giving the Taskbar a much more fluid appearance.

There are some new animations; the Start and Task View buttons have their own animations when clicked on, and there's a subtle bounce to app icons when you minimize running apps to the Taskbar. In addition to the new design, there's also up to three different Taskbar sizes: Small, medium and large. Large is great for tablets, while medium and small mimic the usual sizes we already have today on Windows 10.

On tablets, users can now swipe up anywhere on the Taskbar to access the Start menu, making it easier for touch users to access their apps list. You no longer have to hit the specific Start button to access your Start menu.

A new Action Center

Windows 10X Ac

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

In addition to the new Start and Taskbar experiences, there was also a new Action Center to compliment them. This new Action Center puts more emphasis on quick actions, with the ability to jump into specific quick actions for further control without leaving the Action Center at all.

It's also designed in such a way that mimics a control center, with notifications housed above it in a separate box. This new Action Center includes things like volume controls, power options, and battery percentage. There's also a new music control UI that appears in the Action Center when music is playing from a supported app.

A new set up experience

Windows 10x Oobe

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Since every part of Windows 10X has been redesigned, the out of box experience has too been updated with a modern look and feel. It still walks you through the Windows setup process, selecting your language, signing-in with a Microsoft Account, and agreeing to terms and conditions, but Cortana is no longer present throughout the set up process. It's a more traditional setup experience, that's been beautified on 10X.

The new File Explorer

File Explorer 10X

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Since Windows 10X has a modern core, legacy components such as the classic File Explorer are no longer present. This means Microsoft has built a new File Explorer specific to Windows 10X, and it's built around OneDrive. Windows 10X is a web-first OS, and that includes how you store and manage files on your Windows 10X PC. By default, all your files are synced with your OneDrive account in the cloud while also being available locally on the device.

Improved Windows Update

Windows Update

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Microsoft is also improving Windows Update in a way that makes it much faster on Windows 10X. Feature updates will not take as long to install as they do on Windows 10 as those feature updates are now installed in the background without requiring a reboot until the update is done. So, just like on Android and Chrome OS, when the update is ready to restart your PC, it'll just restart like normal, and won't take 15 minutes to finish installing before you're back up and running.

This should result in updates that take less than 90 seconds to reboot. Internal testing suggests it's even faster than that. This is a huge improvement over how Windows 10 does updates today, which can take anywhere between 5 minutes and 20 minutes to reboot, depending on the device.

Secure by default

10x Windows Defender

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Unlike Windows 10, Windows 10X featured something called "state separation" which is how the OS lays itself out on a drive. Windows 10 today installs everything into a single partition, which means the user can access system files, as can apps and potential attackers. On Windows 10X, everything goes into its own read-only partition. So OS files are locked away, as are app files, as are drivers, and the registry. The only thing the user and applications can access are the user partition.

This means that malware or viruses can't get in and affect the system, because those programs are only able to operate in a single partition, and that assumes they're able to get outside of the app container system Microsoft has built. All apps on Windows 10X run in a container, and need explicit permissions to access things that are outside that container. This is already how UWP apps work on Windows 10, and Microsoft will be extending that to Win32 apps on Windows 10X when support for Win32 apps arrives.

Coming never?

Microsoft announced earlier this year that Windows 10X had been postponed beyond 2021, and that it was instead prioritizing bringing the best of Windows 10X over to the full version of Windows. This means that Windows 10X will likely never ship, but that a lot of the Windows 10X UX will ship as part of the Sun Valley project instead.

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.

189 Comments
  • That picture, right there, is why this is just stupid.
  • How is it stupid?
  • No tile in the palette
  • What picture are your referring to?
  • You mean the one where Panos is holding an imaginary Mango?
  • Who doesn't want more mangoes? :>
  • DRdiver is probably referring to the first pic, which is obviously a concept due to the thin bezels.
  • I think he is referring to the photo were that lady holding surface neo & panos's hand gesture.
  • Lol I wonder why
  • Come on give us a reason or admit you are just moaning for the sake of it
  • As you open more apps, the Start button will continue to move farther to the left, as all open apps will display their icon's centered on the taskbar. At some point, the Start button will end up back on the left, so why not just keep it there, in it's familiar location, to begin with?
  • I don't see a problem either way.
    Familiar is a nicer way of saying OLD.
    10X is looking to be a playground for leaving the OLD behind, as OLD is slowing down progress. Don't be an old man on the porch about it.
  • It's definitely a problem when icons move from their familiar location!
  • Yes, maybe they have an setting for to switch between left, right, or centered.
  • It's not about old or familiar, it's about breaking fundamental UX design rules. MS at times tends to break old rules for the sake of breaking rules, not improving UX. People like to keep things they use frequently to fixed places since prehistoric stone age so they know where to reach for one when they need to use one. Making the Start button position non-fixed simply means people can't intuitively reach for it at a fixed position, which goes against basic UX design rules and human nature. Oh well, a possible explanation for such a non-sensical design is that MS is still trying to make people to use gestures and get rid of the Start button altogether like they have tried and failed in Windows 8 (where they put it back in Windows 8.1). So this time instead of a sudden disappearance of the Start button, they gradually make it harder and harder to use, then maybe people will finally gave up the habit of clicking the Start button and use gestures instead.
  • Having the Start Menu move on the screen isn't intuitive, I think having it centralised is a good idea, but don't have it move, although if it is centralised it should be on the left or right edge, as that is more likely to be where your hands would be when using the device in a tablet mode.
  • Back with Android Honeycomb, the system buttons were on the left side as well. But today Android positions the system buttons on the center on tablets. So probably it has better usability or most users just prefer it this way, things centered.
  • System buttons in the center of the tablet? Could you elaborate?
  • I think he refers to the home & back & tabs buttons. It is hard to see them (I forgot how fugly Android looked) -> https://techgyomax-srjcooldude.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03...
  • Ah, I see... Thanks! 👍 I usually think of them as navigation buttons.
  • Your welcome, yeah usually they are called navigation buttons I think.
  • Microsoft actually did tons of studies before Windows 8 (check the old Windows Blogs). It’s actually better to have everything on the horizontal edges of the screen, because that’s where users hold their devices. There’s “heat maps” available showing that. My guess is that they moved it to the middle specifically to distance it from traditional Windows, as a way to break expectations.
  • I haven't done a search for the mentioned heat maps, but how the heck is it normal to hold your device on the horizontal edge?!? I hold my phone and tablet on the vertical edges 99% of the time; I don't even know how I would operate the things holding them the other way...?
  • None of that makes sense in the first place. If you are holding your Surface or iPad, you don't hold it from either edge. You hold it with one hand and use the other to interact. It is ridiculous to think you hold something big like an iPad or Surface and only rely on the reach of your thumbs!
  • There are some circumstances. Sometimes when I commute I don't have space to fold out the keyboard and the split keyboard gives another option
  • The difference is that the navigation buttons are always at fixed places, while this new "Start button" design makes it moving to arbitrary positions as you install and pin more programs to the taskbar. Another such UX issue example is that for different Android phone vendors, some place the "Back" button at the left of the Home button, while others place it at the right, and it's a UX nightmare when you switch phones between two such vendors, always took a week or so before getting used to the "new way" to intuitively pressing "Back" correctly. Thankfully nowadays a lot of the vendors let the user to config how the navigation buttons are placed, so no more such UX nightmares when switching phones.
  • Agreed, makes sense to just dump that stuff to the left, would make it easier to reach it with a thumb too.
  • I actually, have the tray set up in the middle. At most I have 5 apps opened at once, maybe 6 if I'm editing photos. It looks cleaner and "newer" I also added power toys to it. I welcome the change, people will come around it once they try it out.
  • Honestly, that Start screen just looks like they took the MS Android launcher and slapped it on the middle of the page then called it a day. Functional? Yes. New? Not really. More interested in how it'll support legacy programs and the new update system as the UI most definitely isn't exciting.
  • Don't judge yet before you see how it actually is used. You might be right, but no point in judging based off speculation.
  • But we have seen it used at the Surface event. It seems they are just reinventing the taskbar and Start Menu. Are those outdated though? Can you go back to the way it was after you tried to do something else with Live Tiles and the competition has made their own version? I know it's terrible to say, but maybe the Start Menu is outdated. And the icons seem to be fashioned around the Office app icons which doesn't seem appealing. Microsoft can't just make everything shiny and blurry and say "That's good, right?" I like the desktop concept presented in this article. https://www.windowscentral.com/beyond-foldables-where-microsoft-headed-w... If there is one thing I really want Microsoft to do is make the taskbar a dock by not having it "hinged" to the screen and getting rid of the empty space between apps and clock. A dock is something that several concepts have shown. There were a bunch after Windows 8 came out and people were speculating about Windows 10. Windows 8.2 (9) By Andrew Ambrosino
    https://farm4.staticflickr.com/3692/12226171385_05b5897af8_b.jpg Windows 9 By Jerry Jappinen
    https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7395/12226514973_c7dae690fd_b.jpg A Modern Desktop by Michael West
    https://uxdesign.cc/designing-a-new-windows-shell-introducing-fluid-desk... Desktop Concept by Jonas Daehnert
    https://twitter.com/PhoneDesigner/status/1181556668045369346?s=20
  • Those docks either look really similar or not so readable (the transparent one). Either way if you want a dock, why not just make the W10 taskbar transparent, you get a very similar result (the rest of the differences are minimal).
    Personally I still think W10 start menu is the best (aside from a bug that hides icons). The fact that you can resize/reshape tiles and put shortcuts in groups/clusters makes it much more handy / productive than start menu's of iOS, Android, MacOS etc. The only downside is that you have to manually organize/structure it (not that much work but people are lazy).
  • Eh, isn’t there literally DECADES of Microsoft UI design to make a very educated guess about how it will look and work? Microsoft has never, ever been known for good software design, and people are so used to the bad design, that when they actually do GOOD design (Windows Phone 7), people react to it negatively because of their expectations. Microsoft is the khakis of computer OS: there’s no such thing as designer khakis.
  • First things first, calm down! And English is not my native language. I'm signing up to this site just for trying to reply your comment. This is not about "Ugh copying Android, bla bla bla." You should consider usability. The Touchscreen panel and left/right handed people. That UI is fair enough rather than put start button on the left bottom. Judging is easy, thinking is difficult.
  • Kindly don't tell me to calm down or attempt to put words in my mouth about usability (I said nothing about how usable it is or isn't). Offering an opinion that it doesn't look fresh hardly counts as being upset. If I say it looks like the Android launcher then that's because that's what it looks like to me. Nothing more, nothing less. As you said, "judging is easy, thinking is difficult". It would be great if you took your own advice.
  • maybe that's the whole point of ms launcher. so users find it familiar when they make the switch to windows x?
  • But MS launcher is for Android phones, and we've just been told W10X won't be coming to phone-sized devices, so there's no correlation...
  • Consistency helps. If people have some familiarity with the interface (in this case especially the tablet / mobile users) they are more inclined to buy it. It is just how are brain works, we dislike to much sudden changes, makes us feel uncomfortable and we find it irritating (cause you have to relearn things).
    Hence making it similar to the MS launcher makes sense since many people use Android, so there will be some familiarity but still be somewhat MS own/modern design.
  • People who use the MS launcher on Android are Windows users that want a familiar feel on their phone; not the other way around.
    This is a parallel product to regular Windows 10 PCs, and should strive for a familiarity with regular Windows; not smartphones.
  • I don’t know what’s familiar about MS Launcher on Android. It doesn’t follow Material Design guidelines, it doesn’t follow Fluent Design guidelines, it doesn’t look or behave like typical Android launchers. And also, the Windows 10x launcher doesn’t look at all like MS Launcher. It looks like Office.com’s website.
  • Where does the claim that people who use Microsoft launcher on Android are only people who use windows come from?
  • Can you look me straight in the eyes and say you think lots of Mac and Chrome OS users want the Windows experience on their Android devices...?
  • Chrome OS and Android tablets possibly yeah, Mac Os users probably won't buy Android phones but instead Iphones (mostly for the integration).
  • Not actually true, as Microsoft Launcher feels nothing like Windows 10 Mobile or any other previous version of Windows Phone. It's a completely different experience, with tie-ins with MS services. While Windows 10 X may not come to phone sized devices, it doesn't mean that MS hasn't used the user data FROM MS Launcher to determine what people like and how they use it, in order to add features that would potentially make Windows 10 X usable on a touchscreens.
  • If you think about it, Microsoft Launcher could have been the test base for this. Getting user experience on Android phones to see how people preferred to interact with a touch based interface. It's why I'm hoping, but I believe the Duo will likely have a version of MS Launcher pre-installed. It would only make sense. Of course, users could still choose to use other launchers or stock Android UI.
  • To be fair, the MS Android Launcher is pretty dope and I'd be happy with that in Windows 10X. I just wish you could tap on one of the large letters in the app drawer to bring up the alphabet (like on Windows 10 Mobile) and then select a letter to go to (or alternatively swap the side the lettering list is on for left handed people like myself, it isn't intuitive to use my left hand to hit the right side of the screen, and the letters are too high up for thumb use).
  • Considering this is supposed to be the modern version of Windows, does the absence of live tiles mean they are going to be abandoned in the modern era of Windows? If yes, why? I think live tiles are much more informative than static icons, why not to keep it as an option?
  • Why not update them so you can at least have music controls or other "advanced" functionality?
  • MS could have done this with live tiles, if they wanted. The reason I like Live tiles better than widgets is because they are all structured within a set of given boundaries, and are scaled to fit as a tile of a given size. A few widgets can be nice, some work well, but widgets on Android can't make up for the live tiles, even if some are more functional.
  • Agree about screen space management of live tiles vs widgets. But don't you think big live tiles are big enough to provide functions as simple as music controls.
  • I prefer live tiles too partially for the screen space management aspect and I would also hope if they do bring it back that they world further advance them.
  • Yes it would work but it would also take time to implement (for MS as well as for devs) and so it probably won't happen. Just like the whole exploding live tiles, extremely cool but just not popular enough (too different).
  • The bounds were terrible. They could only randomly show images. Nothing else. It isn't very Windows like to have such locked down features. Even Apple has full functional widgets. Live Tiles sucked. Face it. Windows phones and Windows wouldn't have failed so hard if they were truly useful. Android widgets could easily replicate Live Tiles, and I am sure there are some that are very similar. Why do you think you never see Widgets replicating Live Tiles?
  • Screen Bounds were good because it allows to cage live tiles in one single vertical scrolling pane or page unlike android widgets which requires multiple pages.
    Large & extra large live tiles are good but they should offer actionable functionality as well. But I hate medium & small live tiles. They serve no purpose other than filling whole screen. They are definitely no different then icons.
  • The small and medium tiles are good to show a number (like x new emails in outlook).
  • That's why I said small tiles are not any different than icons with badge notifications.
  • True, however small tiles will match the bigger tiles better design wise than icons with badge notifications, so you might as well use small tiles than.
  • But that was also the point of live tiles. You. Yes you as the user could decide if you wanted a small, medium, or large tile. If you didn't want a small tile guess what? You didn't have to have one. Choice is good.
  • What makes you think Android can't have vertical scrolling homescreens? I am sure you can find plenty of launchers that work that way.
  • Nah, the tiles are also handy for stuff like the weather app, agenda, data usage and notes etc. Much cleaner and better looking than widgets.
  • Those too were merely images. They weren't interactive at all. Live Tiles were merely images and Microsoft still couldn't get them to work right.
  • Microsoft designed live tiles as an alternative to notification center but they failed miserably at that & ended up making separate notification center and leaving live tiles forever half baked.
    Watch this video
    https://youtu.be/u5n7vdUaQsg
    I wish they had chosen the Orange one ( 4th in the video above ) instead of current start screen. Look how well new notification pops up with those clean icons at bottom of the scre