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.
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 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.