Microsoft last week admitted that it would not, after all, launch Windows 10X — the concept OS it first touted in 2019 and months later morphed into a competitor to Chrome OS.
The admission confirmed a report earlier in the month by Petri.com, which cited “people familiar with the company’s plans” to claim that 10X “will likely never arrive.”
That report nailed it, Microsoft then confirmed.
“Instead of bringing a product called Windows 10X to market in 2021 like we originally intended, we are leveraging learnings from our journey thus far and accelerating the integration of key foundational 10X technology into other parts of Windows and products at the company,” John Cable, the executive who leads the Windows servicing and delivery group, wrote in a May 18 post to a company blog.
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Cable buried the 10X news in the back half of the announcement of Windows 10 21H1’s launch that same day.
Windows Parts ‘R Us
Microsoft’s not known for rebutting rumors, but for ignoring sourced-from-inside-the-organization reports, especially those that rely, as many do, on the company’s inner workings, on circumstantial evidence and/or outright speculation. Even rarer are the times Microsoft acknowledges setbacks from previously-announced plans.
No surprise there on any count. Running down industry chit-chat is like Whack-a-Mole at the arcade and confirming errors is, at best, embarrassing, at worst, potentially damaging to the stock price.
Windows 10X began as an October 2019 announcement, when Microsoft called the future operating system “the best of Windows 10 built to enable unique experiences on multi-posture dual-screen PCs.” It was supposed to power a fresh hardware category of two-screen, foldable, tablet-notebook hybrids that Microsoft and its partners were to design.
Microsoft’s entry, the Surface Neo, was later scratched.
In May 2020, Microsoft spun a different story, saying at the time that because “the world is a very different place than it was last October when we shared our vision for a new category of dual-screen Windows devices” — presumably referring to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent remote working, remote schooling — the new OS would be used to “pivot our focus toward single-screen Windows 10X devices that leverage the power of the cloud.” To many, that sounded like a call to compete with Chrome OS and Chromebooks.
Thus, the latest 10X declaration was another in a line of expectation resets. Rather than a new streamlined OS running on a new kind of hardware, or one that emphasized cloud-based computing, Windows 10X would be, if anything, cannibalized for parts — digitally chop-shopped — with some bits parceled out to Windows 10 and others, presumably, simply scrapped.
Microsoft, of course, put it differently.
“Following a year-long exploration and engaging in conversations with customers, we realized that the technology of Windows 10X could be useful in more ways and serve more customers than we originally imagined,” asserted Cable. “We concluded that the 10X technology shouldn’t just be confined to a subset of customers.”
Parse that however one will,but that’s some serious chutzpah — telling customers just 19 months after broaching Windows 10X that the project, ahough dead, would live on as salvage handed to its Windows 10 ancestor because, well, that was simply the right thing to do.
There’s no doubt circumstances changed between 10X’s introduction and today. The fact everyone now knows the word pandemic and has memorized its definition are the proof. Virtually certain, too, is that customers queried by Microsoft told the company they had better things to do during the crisis than show interest in a new OS. Having been spurned, Microsoft decided to give customers 10X anyway, albeit in bits and pieces.
Nor, apparently, will Microsoft stop there.
Down with Windows 10! Up with Windows … what?
Earlier this week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella used a few tidbits of a 30-minute recorded keynote for the company’s Build developer conference to tease future news of Windows. “And soon we will share one of the most significant updates to Windows of the past decade,” Nadella said. “We look forward to sharing more very soon.”
What that will be is unclear, although reports have been rife of a revamp of Windows user interface (UI) and user experience (UX), and of an event as early as June where Microsoft might unveil, if one takes Nadella at face value, changes more sweeping than those of 2015 when Windows 10 debuted.
It’s more than a little odd that only days after acknowledging the unviability of one proposed OS evolution, Microsoft’s chief executive promised yet another. (To be fair, by prefacing news of “one of the most significant updates” with the 10X admission, Microsoft at least shut the door on speculation that Nadella’s pledged refresh was, in fact, of Windows 10X.)
But it is entirely in Microsoft’s DNA to forge ahead on whatever it has planned for Windows, whether that’s strictly a UI/UX overhaul or something more significant, like the abandonment of Windows 10, designated as the “last Windows ever” by its maker early on, for an 11 or 2022 successor later this year. (No surprise, but Microsoft has not uttered the “last Windows” line, a foolish promise to begin with, in years.) Microsoft has always tried to tart up Windows, make it sexier than it has a right to be as a PC operating system. That seems likely to continue.
If one asked IT admins to rank changes or improvements to Windows 10 and gave them a list that included “a new UI” or even the vague “five great new features,” we’d wager that they’d drop them to the bottom. Change has always been anathema to enterprise, which values stability and utility above all; change is what’s led to the tension between Microsoft and its commercial customers over the always-mutating, ever-updating Windows 10.
Signals that Microsoft understood customers’ concerns came during 2020 and this year, with two consecutive minor upgrades. But those were quickly masked by the decision to halve support for the Long-term Support Channel edition of Windows 10, implying more, not less, change. And now comes whatever Nadella teased at Build? More change?
Computerworld has been increasingly puzzled by Microsoft’s desire to continually rework, redesign, rebuild, refresh Windows — as if it catered to consumer-centric enthusiasts eager for more cult of the new — when its core customers, really its only customers that matter, want what they have now, only of better quality.
It appears that the demise of Windows 10X represents a brief glimpse at rationality. Small victories.
Related: Windows 10 Microsoft Operating Systems
Senior Reporter Gregg Keizer covers Windows, Office, Apple/enterprise, web browsers and web apps for Computerworld.