Quick Hands-On with Windows 10X for Single Screens

Posted on January 14, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 58 Comments

Let there be no doubt now: The initial release of Windows 10X is nothing less than a Chrome OS clone that runs web and Microsoft Store apps. And that makes sense: As I wrote earlier today in Windows 10X for Single Screens Leaks, that was the original plan all along.

Thanks to this week’s leak, Brad and I were both able to get this early version of Windows 10X up and running in Hyper-V. (Currently, this is the only way to use the system, but I’d love to see it perform on real hardware.) It’s still early, and the virtual version of Windows 10X is very slow. But here are a few quick first impressions.

Setup. Setup is clearly derived from the Windows Setup used by mainstream Windows 10 versions, with the same basic steps, but using a cleaner and simpler user interface. As one should expect, you need to sign-in with a Microsoft account to use this system.

Desktop. Like Setup, the Windows 10X desktop is simpler. The taskbar displays icons centered by default, as God intended, but you can’t really “use” the desktop for storing files as you can with mainstream Windows 10 versions.

Start. The new Start experience almost fills the screen and looks just like the similar interface in Chrome OS. It has My apps and websites and Recent views, and is somewhat similar to the Office app too, when you think about it.

Apps. All apps run full-screen in Windows 10X, even apps that look goofy that way, like Calculator.

Files. This is the super-simplified version of File Explorer. It only works with OneDrive-hosted documents and files, and a small handful of local folders, like Downloads, Documents, and Pictures.

Microsoft Edge. It’s reasonable to assume that most Windows 10X users will be spending a lot of time in Edge, and from what I can tell upfront, it’s a full-featured browser. It supports normal Edge extensions, for example, and you can install PWAs.

Microsoft Store. The Store app looks and works normally. Oddly, I can see my purchased desktop apps, like Affinity Photo, in the Store. And Edge lets me download desktop apps like Chrome. But in both cases, when I try to install them, nothing happens. If true, this confirms the rumors that the Win32 container is not included in this initial release.

Task switching. Windows 10X supports both Alt + Tab and, via a default taskbar button, Task View (but not Timeline).

Action Center. Ever use Chrome OS? Then this UI will look awfully familiar too.

I’ll have more soon but I wanted to get this out as quick as possible for obvious reasons.

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Comments (66)

66 responses to “Quick Hands-On with Windows 10X for Single Screens”

  1. L Gilles

    I’d love that for my Intel NUC (Pentium J5005 ?) but why call Windows ? Microsoft OS or Edge OS ? It’ll confuse every one.

  2. hrlngrv

    If ALL apps run maximized, then this is NOT a Chrome OS clone. Chrome OS has no problem running apps in windows much smaller than full screen, showing multiple, overlapping windows on screen at the same time.

    If Windows 10X can only display apps maximized, it's Windows RT with iconify and close buttons in the app title bar.

    Finally, I'd like to believe the taskbar could be moved to left or right sides rather than bottom or top. It's always struck me as asinine to waste relatively scarce vertical screen space on excessively wide monitors. Also, given the bottom-most screenshot above, the one showing the system tray icons to the left of the time rather than below the time, asinine to waste at least 8 pixels above and below the icons in the taskbar.

    IOW, I'll stick with Chrome OS, thanks.

  3. rickeveleigh

    'The new Start experience almost fills the screen' -- IT'S WINDOWS 8 ALL OVER AGAIN ;-)

  4. fishnet37222

    I hope when they release it they give you an option to align the taskbar icons to the left.

  5. omen_20

    At this point I'd say 10X is more a web machine than ChromeOS. If you have to choose between the world of Android apps that may not look the best when blown up, or the dearth of UWP apps, it's a pretty obvious choice.

    Not to mention Assistant and smart home access that will come with it.

  6. hidp123

    At the moment it looks like chromeOS with a Windows label.

    And all apps full screen, wasn't that an issue with windows 8 if I remember correctly? I guess this OS is more for tablet sized screens at the moment then.

  7. bluvg

    "The taskbar displays icons centered by default, as God intended,"

    But this goes against the Fitts' Law benefits of the Start Button in the corner. What does clicking the lower left corner do?

  8. sfernley

    Regarding trying this on physical hardware, I wonder if you could boot up to WinPE and capture an image using DISM then just deploy that image to a regular pc.

  9. compunut

    "The taskbar displays icons centered by default, as God intended".

    I hate the idea of having the icons centered. I am fine if it is an option and it is fine if this platform never amounts to anything but an OS to run a browser, but I hope that never makes it to Windows (unless it is optional). Why? I know that there is less mouse travel most of the time and that would be great, but muscle memory if FAR more important to me. The stuff I have open most of the time should stay in exactly the same spot all of the time. If I am opening and closing random transient applications, that would make the icons move around when they are centered. Yuck!

  10. tghallin

    Windows (all versions) has networking and driver capabilities that iOS, Android and Chrome OS do not. Window 10X appears to lose those advantages of Window 10 without being as useful as an iPad, Chromebook or Android tablet. It will need a lot more capability than what you and Brad showed today before it approaches my Samsung Galaxy Tab S6.

    • tghallin

      In reply to tghallin:

      I just looked at Brad's settings screen and it looks like maybe 10X will support the networking and devices that regular Windows 10 does. I will be curious to see if network drives and network printers work the same as regular Windows.

      • Paul Thurrott

        I feel like it should be able to do that, but I can't figure out how. WINKEY + E brings up the new Files app, but there's no address bar. The Run app (WINKEY + R) isn't present. And if I try a known-good network location from the search bar in Start, it launches a web search.
  11. hrlngrv

    In reply to MutualCore:

    For certain applications like check-in systems, restaurant kiosk, point-of-sale, . . .

    Only if Windows 10X licenses are no more expensive than Android licenses for SINGLE-PURPOSE devices.

    FWLIW, the Charles Schwab offices near me (which I haven't entered since last February, so who knows what's changed?) have Chromeboxes in the lobby for customers' use. Could Windows 10X machines replace them? Maybe, as long as they're no more expensive to buy and no more expensive to maintain and administer.

    Chrome OS upgrades have been extremely robust in my experience (based on just 2 devices since 2014, so merely anecdotal) precisely because rebooting is a necessary step in upgrades. Why? Because upgrades are distributed as new entire partition images, downloaded in background. The reboot process changes run level, which means OS partitions can be remounted read-write, at which time configuration files can be changed to set the new partitions as the ones mounted. If Windows 10X continues the conceit that Windows can be upgraded robustly without rebooting, Windows 10X is likely to be less robust than Chrome OS.

  12. benisaacs

    I wonder what the recovery options are like - can they all connect to the internet to download the latest version if the install is corrupted (like macOS internet recovery) or is there USB recovery like the Xbox consoles have? So many questions left unanswered!

  13. sevenacids

    In reply to MutualCore:

    You can accomplish all of that using standard Windows 10 today. No need for a new SKU, especially when your existing Kiosk application is based on Win32.

  14. hal9000

    I know Paul disagrees, but I think it looks lifeless without live tiles... It would be cool to have a calendar, weather, news and photos live tile for example. But whatever.

    Other than that it looks nice. I guess it will be fine for running web apps, but other than that... no comparison with the iPad or Chrome ecosystem of course.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Tiles aren't about looks, they're about functionality. And they make sense on smartphones, where you pick them up, glance at them, and put them back down. Microsoft has been trying since Active Desktop in 1996 (or whatever) to make such an interface make sense on PCs, but never has. It doesn't even make sense on tablets. So this isn't me disagreeing with you, it's me observing this failure and just making the point that live tiles will never make sense on a PC or PC-like device. Not because of my preferences, but because they just don't work.
      • hal9000

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Perhaps on a PC it does not make sense. In fact, I never look at the tiles on my Windows 10 PC and don't know anyone who does.

        I was thinking of Windows X running on a tablet though, and when I use my iPad I like that I have the weather forecast, my next appointments and todos at a glance on the home screen for example, without needing to constantly open the apps. I find that useful and it makes sense to me.

        But ok I get it, this thing is aimed at Chromebooks. It is definetly easier to compete against those, and I suppose they even might have a chance at succeeding this time.

  15. codymesh

    Honestly if this supported Win32 apps from the store it would be pretty great.

  16. andrey_medvedev

    Oh, God. Are we back to the days of the Windows 8 27-inch Calculator?

  17. StevenLayton

    I work in IT education in the UK. Budgets are not great and we need a way to give IT access to the most students in the cheapest way possible. To date that has been through the use of shared banks of sub £250 11" Chromebooks. We're a Microsoft 365 school and we can use M365 and Teams on them without issue and have been successful with it. Chrome management was basic, but is improving all the time, although in truth beyond basic securing of the device, very little management has been needed. For Windows 10X to be successful in similar schools to the one I work in, we need devices at the same price point that perform just as well on very low end devices.

  18. melinau

    This looks interesting. As a long-term Windows fan, I sincerely hope they manage to release a decent product, at least as good as ChromeOS on Chromebooks (which I quite like). The option of using a lightweight OSsystem whose main aim isn't slurping-up my personal data is very attractive.

  19. rmlounsbury

    I've been rather interested in the Windows 10X more ChromeOS-like concept for awhile. Especially since the company I work for has already moved to M365 for Office and we are going to migrating to a cloud based ERP platform in late 2021/early 2022 this could be perfect timing.

    We have been looking at making our warehouse more mobile based vs. static stations. If Windows 10X ships in the first half of this year and proves it is up to handling our use cases we could very well look at deploying 10X devices in the warehouse vs. ChromeOS or Android devices.

    I very much look forward to see how this evolves and what first gen devices end up getting released later this year.

  20. behindmyscreen

    Seriously....this might be a great way forward when they get Win32 container up and running. Perfect machine for my parents.

    Need a NUC style device for it too though.

  21. johncon50

    Talk about shooting the horse before it gets out of the gate.. Can we please cease with sensationalism. NO WHERE did Microsoft say, or will say, this is our Chrome OS Killer. Nothing has to die. Honest.

    What happens if Microsoft does not 'kill' Chrome OS, pundits will say it lost, it's a failure.

    Really. No.

    Yes, Microsoft would love to be the #1 provider of this cloud / education / inexpensive market. But even if 10x or whatever name comes out it provides some choice and gets better over time than this beta, it's a win. Giving institutions a viable option to Chrome OS, or Ipads, can still be considered a win if they don't have majority of market share, as long as they don't loose any more market share. This Sith-like comparison of options is not helping anyone other than driving more click bait.

  22. igor engelen

    "You can't 'use' the desktop for storing files "

    Yes! Nice backgrounds shouldn't be covered with gazillions of files ?.

  23. crp0908

    To summarize, Microsoft removed a bunch of functionality from regular Windows, made the taskbar start button look like a MAC, and made the interface behave like Chrome OS. If I wanted Chrome OS, I would use Chrome OS, not Windows. To me, this feels like it will have success similar to Windows RT and Windows Phone.

    If this is 'the future version of Windows,' then goodbye Windows. Long live Linux!

  24. thomalexday

    Well this looks terrible...

  25. navarac

    With Microsoft's track record with Windows RT, Windows 10S, Windows 10 S Mode and all of the other failures (without going into Phones), I think I'll give this a miss for upto 5 years after introduction.

    I think Chrome is far too embedded and that once again Microsoft "has missed the boat".

    • eric_rasmussen

      In reply to navarac:

      ChromeOS also lets you use tiled Windows and on modern Chromebooks you can install and use Android apps and games.

      My parents had a PC work Windows 10S but they couldn't get their printer to work with it. The printer driver couldn't install because S was blocking it. My dad told me that the printer box said that it was compatible with Windows so he was confused.

      If they use the Windows name on an OS that, once again, cannot do Windows things then they will have a bad time. ChromeOS can do more than Windows 10X can do, which should not be the case for a late-comer that's trying to gain a share of that market.

    • Sprtfan

      In reply to navarac:

      Chrome is embedded in education but I think there is an opportunity for Microsoft with Windows 10x with businesses. They might be able to hold onto what education market they still have if this works out also.

  26. bart

    I really like the look of the OS. Simplicity is key here.

    Let's hope MS won't mess up this system with all kinds of Windows 10 legacy features.

  27. chrisltd

    The question is, without an easy way to run existing Windows apps, what does this offer that ChromeOS does not?

    At this point ChromeOS runs Chrome/Web stuff, Android apps, Linux apps, and Windows apps through Parallels.

    • Paul Thurrott

      It offers no Google tracking, longer support, and Microsoft Store app compatibility. In the future, it will offer Windows desktop app compatibility.
      • luthair

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Exchanging Google tracking for Microsoft tracking seems like a lateral move.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Microsoft Store app compatibility

        Gosh, that sine qua non which made Windows RT and Windows Phone such run away successes!

        You wrote that with a straight face, did you?

      • sevenacids

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        So we get Microsoft instead of Google tracking :P Store app compatiblity is not a big deal because most of the non-Win32 stuff that's in there is not really worth it.

        I doubt the success of this system if it doesn't come with Win32 application support right from the start. Without it, it will be no different from Windows RT or Windows 10 S, and it will be hard to reverse the perception of Windows 10X from "the Windows that cannot run (Win32) Windows applications". If it could Android apps... well, this would be a different story and make it a true competitor to Chrome OS. Because Windows just doesn't have the apps.

        • Paul Thurrott

          We can joke about it, but this is real. And for many commercial entities---not just businesses, but governments and educational institutions---that both rely on and trust Microsoft, a Windows Chromebook is a viable option. I mean, we'll see how it does in the real world, and I will point out that this is several years too late. But still. Also, there are key differences between this and Windows 10 S. The simpler UI, of course. But also the promise that a future version/update WILL run Windows apps. I practically begged Microsoft (and, privately, Terry Myerson) to let Windows 10 S users (or administrators) open individual Win32 app "holes" in 10 S so that users could have the benefits of the system but still run that one crucial app they needed. But that never happened.
    • MikeCerm

      In reply to chrisltd:

      Remote Desktop on Chrome OS is totally broken by the lack of a Windows key and a proper delete key on the keyboard, and this makes Chrome OS completely unusable for me. If I can connect to a real computer using RDP, then having the ability to install apps to my laptop doesn't matter nearly as much.

  28. stevek

    I don't get the fascination with not having tiled windows. Everybody knows how they work now; and it's a huge huge loss not having them. Having a more simple system for management of the device is great; why do we have to stab ourselves in the foot for productivity on device usage at the same time then?

  29. mcerdas

    I think this system would be great for tablets. I would love a cheaper Surface running this.

  30. Chris_Kez

    Any idea if there will be a Windows 10X version of Powerwash, or how quickly support people can refresh a 10X device for a new user?

    • Paul Thurrott

      If you go to Settings > Reset & recovery, there is a single Reset this device option, which launches a very simple, Powerwash-like experience. I haven't tested it yet because it wipes everything out. But it's not Reset This PC.
      • IanYates82

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Given you're running this in Hyper-V, couldn't you just right-click the VM in Hyper-V and take a snapshot, do your reset to see how bad things get, and then rollback to the snapshot point?

        Testing things in VMs using this functionality is wonderful :)

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