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Microsoft’s new Windows 10X emulator lets anyone play around with the dual-screen OS

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Developers get to optimize and test apps for Windows 10X

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Microsoft is releasing its first Windows 10X emulator today, designed for dual-screen devices. The operating system is a variant of Windows 10 that has been adapted for new foldable and dual-screen hardware that’s arriving in 2020 and beyond. There are also a lot of interface changes and improvements, including a big change to the Start menu with the removal of Live Tiles.

The emulator is available over at Microsoft’s Windows dev tools site, and it’s really designed primarily for developers to test their apps in Windows 10X. Anyone can install it, but you’ll need to be familiar with Visual Studio, pre-release versions of Windows, and much more to get it running. We’ll be covering all of the changes and features in a separate Windows 10X hands-on shortly.

Part of today’s emulator release is related to Microsoft implementing container technology inside Windows 10X to allow classic win32 desktop apps to run alongside Universal Windows Apps (UWP) and Progressive Web Apps (PWA). The software giant hasn’t revealed exact details about this container technology, but the company is holding a developer day today where it will dive into the technical details.

Microsoft’s Surface Neo running Windows 10X.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

This new emulator lets anyone play around with Windows 10X and test app compatibility. This is going to be an important part of Windows 10X, thanks to the container technology. The containerization essentially means that all win32 apps run in a container, except Edge and Office that use a shim to support older APIs. Microsoft’s container is used to ensure that older apps behave correctly on dual-screen devices, including the hit on battery life and the way apps are displayed on screens.

This new approach does mean that there will be some app compatibility issues that some developers will need to work through. Microsoft is aiming for most apps to just work out of the box, but since the container is essentially a lightweight virtual machine, it doesn’t include the full OS. This introduces app compatibility issues with apps that may want to write to the shell (Dropbox) or ones that install drivers alongside the installer (VPN software).

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Microsoft is releasing this emulator today so that developers can test their existing apps and get ready for Windows 10X. Developers will also be able to optimize their apps for dual-screen and foldable devices, with apps by default occupying a single screen. Microsoft is leaving it up to end users to span apps across two displays, and the company previously revealed its best practices for apps and websites on devices like the Surface Duo and Surface Neo.

It’s now up to developers to optimize their apps and ensure existing installers and apps work fine on Windows 10X. Devices like the Surface Neo and Lenovo’s foldable ThinkPad X1 Fold are arriving later this year, and Dell, HP, and Asus are also working on Windows 10X dual-screen and foldable devices. While everyone can now test out Windows 10X, we’re still expecting to hear a lot more about the OS and Microsoft’s Android work at the company’s Build developer conference in May.