Microsoft is creating Windows Lite for dual-screen and Chromebook-like devices

Windows Lite mock-up.

Microsoft is preparing a new lightweight version of Windows for dual-screen devices and Chromebook competitors. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the software maker is stripping back its Windows user interface with dual screens in mind. This new hardware could launch as early as later this year, depending on chip and PC maker readiness.

“Windows Lite,” as it’s codenamed internally, is a more stripped-down version of Windows that is initially being prioritized for dual-screen devices. Intel has been pushing OEMs to create this new hardware category, and machines could appear much like Microsoft’s Courier concept, dual-screen laptops, or even foldable displays in the future. Either way, Microsoft wants Windows to be ready for PC makers to take advantage of it.

Intel dual-screen concepts.
Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

Microsoft has gradually been creating a new Composable Shell (C-Shell) and Windows Core OS, a more modular version of the existing Windows Shell that powers many parts of Windows 10 today. Parts of this Windows Core OS are now powering hardware like the HoloLens 2 or Microsoft’s upcoming Surface Hub 2X.

The Windows Lite interface will be similar to Windows as it exists today, but it will be more of a blend of what Microsoft does with its Surface Hub shell and the limited functionality of its Windows Phone Continuum user interface. Petri’s Brad Sams originally revealed the Windows Lite codename late last year and recently mocked up some of the interface changes Microsoft is experimenting with. We understand the mock-up is accurate and close to how the Windows Lite interfaces look right now, but things could change a lot by the time it eventually ships.

Windows Central first revealed that Microsoft is using the “Santorini” codename as part of Windows Lite. Santorini is part of the shell work that Microsoft is building to make it look and feel a lot different than regular Windows 10. ZDNet also reports that Microsoft could ship a dual-screen laptop-like device with or without Windows Lite.

Microsoft’s original Courier concept.

Microsoft might be targeting dual-screen devices initially, but the longer plan is for Windows Lite to help the company better compete against Chromebooks. Microsoft has previously tried restricting Windows 10 with an S Mode to just Microsoft Store apps, but most of the legacy of the Windows interface remains. Microsoft is now looking to ship something a lot more basic with Windows Lite and build on top of it for more complexity down the line.

It’s not clear exactly when Microsoft will ship Windows Lite or what it will eventually be named. The software maker has been experimenting with these ideas for years, as it has watched Chrome OS grow in popularity throughout schools in the US. Microsoft is holding its Build conference in Seattle in early May, and that would be an ideal opportunity to start revealing parts of its Windows Lite strategy, especially if it wants developers to build native app and web experiences for dual-screen and Chromebook-like devices.

Comments

I think the key to this strategy lies in two areas:

1. Switching Edge’s rendering engine to Chromium. It would make it a worthy Chrome OS competitor as well as a solid platform for web devs
2. Fully adopting PWAs as the defacto Microsoft desktop platform for developers

Stay tuned, going to be an interesting 2019 in Redmond.

PWA is even weaker than UWP, are developers really that lazy?
Win32 continues to hang around because there’s no decent replacement yet.

It’s not about laziness, it’s about the promise of write-once-run-everywhere. For a business trying to maximize the value their developers generate, this is a no-brainer.

It’s laziness, there’s not a single UWP "app" available that can meet or exceed the features and functionality of whatever win32 program its trying to replace.
Even Microsoft can’t make a decent mail "app" or media player with UWP, everything is half-baked and incredibly weak, PWA’s are even worse.

Is that correlation or causation, though?

The write-once-run-everywhere promise has failed a number of times before. The problem is you end up with apps that don’t feel native and are reduced to the least common denominator of the features available on all supported platforms.

Kinda hard for Microsoft to push PWA as the defacto standard with a straight face when to date they don’t have a single PWA app of their own. As for 3rd party, to my knowledge there’s only two major PWAs on the MS store… Twitter and Hulu. Are they hoping enterprise devs will miraculously embrace PWA? Things change even slower in enterprise than they do in consumer.

This thing needs to run UWP natively and Win32 in emulation to stand a snowballs chance in July.

Aren’t Skype and Teams pwas?

You missed the entire point of this platform if you think it’s for enterprise applications.

Exactly.

UWP and PWA will evolve over time, but the enterprise is only interested in Win32 right now.

As long as:

  1. the app versions of the Office suites run well on these…
  2. PWA take off…
  3. the hardware costs are reasonable…
    …they should have a winner.

And 4. OEM partners show interest…

After the debacle of Windows Phone, Microsoft Band, flaky and breaking changes to Windows API (particularly UWP), dropping Windows S, etc., it would make sense for OEMs to be a little skeptic about Microsoft’s ventures.

I hope Microsoft succeeds in this, and we have a good alternative to Google in the cheap and light OS category, but Microsoft’s history hasn’t been great, and OEM support is critical to its venture succeeding.

They didn’t drop Windows 10 S, it was just switched as a mode. I don’t think it had any impact on OEM’s either because they could use the same exact hardware as normal Windows 10 laptops.

You point out areas where there was hardly ever had major OEM support in the first place (WP, Band) but somehow glossed over how extremely successful Surface has been to even OEM partners. And Windows S? It’s still totally a thing; it’s just a mode and really makes no difference to OEMs.

Agreed that Microsoft better swear on a stack of bibles a mile high that they won’t just scrap this thing 3 years from now when they don’t see immediate multi-billion $ results. There’s already loads of bitterness by developers toward Microsoft over the last five years of 1/2 hearted efforts followed by outright abandonment. It’s because of that bitterness that I fear this effort is DOA. Developers (especially those of us targeting consumer and education… but even many of us targeting enterprise mobile solutions) don’t trust you anymore Microsoft. We’ve moved onto platforms where the companies that offer them stand behind them.

After the debacle of Windows Phone, Microsoft Band, flaky and breaking changes to Windows API (particularly UWP), dropping Windows S, etc., it would make sense for OEMs to be a little skeptic about Microsoft’s ventures.

I do know what you are getting at, but only one of your examples directly affected OEM`s, and one example (S mode being dropped) is plain wrong.

It’s #3, the problem was always #3. As long as Intel is involved, the hardware costs for OEMs will be unsustainable. MS should know this. As long as they’re stuck on Intel, they can’t compete with mobile hardware, the economics just don’t work. And so we have Wintel device after Wintel device with sub-phone level hardware (2gbs of ram, 64gb storage, dual core) on the low end that no one believes is a good choice for Wintel, and why? Probably Intel is channel stuffing.

The thing is, making a ‘low end’ OS esp an underbaked one, doesn’t automatically change the situation.

The reason Intel left phones is because they couldn’t compete price-wise and maintain their business model and profits. Nothing about this has changed! Low end Windows has been tried before (Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Mobile) and while I like chromebooks, they’re not hugely popular, either. Now it makes less sense than ever – the segment will die in the face of stupidly powerful phones and even more cloud computing. And the layoffs – as cloud computing grows, the IT and ‘super users’ are laid off and then even less local computing is needed. It’s a vicious cycle.

And it frankly begs the question: even if Intel and Microsoft are successful, what becomes of Windows customers and high end local computing? Sometimes you have to cannibalize yourself, sure, but what’s the payoff if $200 Wintel laptops become popular and phones are still dominant? I’m not convinced that the economics work, even if everyone switches to Azure running on Intel Servers.

There are plenty of Intel-based Chromebooks these days. They sell well and are competitively priced.

You do realize even normal win10 runs on ARM already – I’m sure the lite version will do the same…
And I think MS is very aware that the local computing market will shrink in the next couple of years – so canibalizing themselves might be the only viable option to stay future proof

Yeah but I only run Win32/64 applications, I can’t reasonably do that on an ARM system.

I’ll be watching this with great interest. As a student, basically all I need is Word/Onenote and a web browser. I actually much preferred the experience of Windows RT on my Surface 2 to 10 on my Surface 3.

I mean… you could run a Surface Go in S mode and you have basically what you’re needing.

The design in that mockup is taking bland and boring to a new level.

So now that we’ve seen two very similar mockups of what Lite will look like, I feel comfortable in saying that start bar is horrendous. It’s just the standard Windows start bar, but worse.

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