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Windows 10|Windows Client OS

What is Windows Lite? It's Microsoft's Chrome OS Killer

For more than a year, we have been hearing about Windows Core OS and how it is a modern version of Windows. As Microsoft continues to build out the platform, it’s time to take a look at what the secret project actually includes and how the company is positioning the platform.

In Microsoft’s feverish attempts to shove out insider builds at an impressive rate, the company doesn’t always do a great job at scrubbing the finer details from the builds. Because of this, and some help from a couple insiders, I have been able to piece together what Lite is and where it’s headed.

Microsoft is working on a new version of Windows that may not actually be Windows. It’s currently called Lite, based on documentation found in the latest build, and I can confirm that this version of the OS is targeting Chromebooks. In fact, there are markings all over the latest release of the insider builds and SDK that help us understand where this OS is headed.

If you have heard this before, it should sound a lot like Windows 10 S and RT; Windows 10 Lite only runs PWAs and UWP apps and strips out everything else. This is finally a truly a lightweight version of Windows that isn’t only in the name. This is not a version of the OS that will run in the enterprise or even small business environments and I don’t think you will be able to ‘buy’ the OS either; OEM only may be the way forward.

The reason Microsoft had to kill off Windows10 S was to make way for this iteration of Windows. The goal of Windows Lite is to make it super lightweight, instant on, always connected, and can run on any type of CPU. Knowing that this week Qualcomm will announce a new generation of Snapdragon that can run Windows significantly better than the 835, fully expect to see this new chip powering many of the first devices running the new OS.

And there’s something a bit different about Lite that we haven’t seen from every attempt at launching this type of software in the past; it may not be called Windows. With a new name and a different UI, uses WCOS, and is going to be Microsoft’s next ‘big bet’ in the Windows space.

The good news here is that this also means that UWP still has a future. During the past 18 months or so, it looked like the company’s new app format was going to go the way of Silverlight but with Windows Lite, the future is alive and well.

The question is how will Microsoft make Windows Lite a success where Windows RT and Windows 10 S have failed? Much like Surface, success may come after three iterations.

With previous versions, this ‘modern OS’ attempt looked like Windows, acted like Windows, but wasn’t Windows. By significantly changing up the UI, the name, and everything else, it should hopefully ‘feel’ like a fresh start and not a hacked-together attempt at modernizing Windows. Microsoft is removing the baggage from the OS by not naming it Windows, while a risky move, it shows that the company understands that Windows is not its future.

This also helps to explain why Microsoft is aggressively pursuing the PWA platform with Edge, it will be a central part of the Windows Lite experience. Think of it this way, if ChromeOS can do it, so can Windows Lite; Microsoft is finally going to take on ChromeOS at every value proposition, not just one or two.

And like previous versions of Windows, Microsoft needs new hardware to showcase the OS. While we have been hearing about Andromeda, the larger brother that I wrote about in my recently released Surface book, is called Centaurus and is going to be a show-piece for the software. Andromeda is not dead either, it simply doesn’t have a release date at this time.

The remaining question is when will we first see the new generation of a Microsoft operating system. Timelines are still a bit murky but Build 2019 is the current target for announcing the new direction for Windows; it’s going to be a wild show.

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Comments (15)

15 responses to “What is Windows Lite? It’s Microsoft’s Chrome OS Killer”

  1. nmcain

    It will possibly be the windows 10 that runs on low end chromebooks via Campfire/altOS

  2. lsab4007

    By reusing the Windows codebase (being just another Windows SKU), which is already if not officially the past of MSFT, how would it be able to compete with Chrome OS, which GOOG has been investing heavily to make it the future. Not to mention the Edge team has been poorly organized and has a very bad internal relationship with the Windows team.

    • RNE247

      In reply to lsab4007:

      A Chromebook requires a Google Account to use and the productivity apps (Google Docs) and storage (Google Drive are from Google too. Some folks would rather use their Microsoft Account and Office 365 apps + OneDrive. Microsoft would compete on the quality of its cloud services and the integration of these with Chromium OS.

  3. bart

    Very intrigued by this. Would love to have a PC run Lite. But, and here we go again, the app store is going to be critical to make it a useful platform.

    Any more news about MS crawling the web to add PWA apps Brad? It has gone awfully quiet on this front

  4. valisystem

    One of the important reasons that ChromeOS is successful is that all settings are stored online. Setting up a new device only requires signing in; apps, taskbar, shortcuts, and everything else flows in immediately. Schools have embraced Chromebooks because the devices are cheap, sure, but also because there's no provisioning process for a student - they literally can just pick one from the stack and be up and running.

    Windows has an architecture built on local storage of all settings in the registry and AppData folder. Only a handful of things sync online when we log in with an MS account. MS has taken some steps with OneDrive to get files online in a more or less natural way, by syncing the Desktop/Documents/Pictures folders, but setting up a new laptop is still an exercise.

    I'm not sure it's possible to make Windows so light that it competes with ChromeOS for low-end laptops and schools. Its legacy roots go too deep. Google did what MS theoretically could do - started over to design an OS from scratch that was built for the online era. If MS only tries again with "Windows 10S but even lighter!", I can't see any momentum developing that will carry Edge and the app store further than they are today.

    • RNE247

      In reply to valisystem:

      Chrome OS is actually built atop a Linux kernel, so it's not totally new. And you can spend as much on a Chromebook as you would a Windows 10 PC.

      But to your point, the Chrome OS configuration is stored in the cloud and most folk are there already as they use the Chrome browser, which is a pseudo OS already with its extensions and other capabilities. It's arguably the most important application on a PC for many users. If Microsoft wants to skin Chromium and Chromium OS with its own services that would make perfect sense.

  5. Sharramik

    'The reason Microsoft had to kill off Windows10 S was ..NOT.. to make way for this iteration of Windows'

    it is because 10s was a complete failure just like RT before it, Windows strength is its diversity, producing a cut down feature limited version just makes people realise the limitations of (those cut down) versions without any usability benefits or killer features to make it worthwhile. Microsoft needs to reinvent a new Windows if it wants to really take on chrome is, otherwise better keep to a fully featured Windows as it is.

  6. Puppy2018

    Microsoft already announced the end of Office UWP apps so it doesn't make sense at all. PWA is terrible crap anyway and there is low interest to develop real UWP apps due to endless Microsoft consufing messages to customers and developers about mobile devices future.

    The wrong decision to kill Windows 10 Mobile was the last nail in the UWP coffin.

  7. dcdevito

    Makes sense, especially now that Edge is being killed off and replaced with a Chromium based browser. Now this makes perfect sense.

  8. colonelpepper

    This is the next rodeo and whoever comes out on top gets to wear a big silver belt buckle and have bragging rights. I'm just a spectator that enjoys the show.

  9. RNE247

    So, if Microsoft is embracing Chromium in favour of Edge, why not go the whole-hog and embrace the open source Chromium OS project too? If Microsoft were to do so, it could then utilise App-V and Windows Containers technology together with Azure services and Microsoft 365 to deliver all manner of capabilities if that's what the customer wants. And if they just want to run Office 365 on their browser-based PC, then that's a no-brainer too as anyone using the Office Online Chrome Extension will tell you.

    To see the possibilities, just look at how Google has taken Chromium OS and added support for Android apps in Chrome OS (its flavour of Chromium OS) on Chromebooks. Indeed, Chromebooks are more like PCs than most people realise. Yes, they have a simpler keyboard, less storage, and a "tamper chip", but that's about it.

    Anyone who's looked at CloudReady from Neverware will know that just about any PC manufactured over the last 10 years can become a "Chromebook". In fact, because they have higher specs, most PCs make better Chromebooks than Chromebooks in my experience. If you've got 15 minutes to spare, grab yourself a coffee and take a test drive by booting from an easy to create CloudReady USB device. This won't lay a finger on your Windows 10 install and it'll show you how easy it would be for Microsoft to pivot into the 'browser-OS' market.


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Brad Sams has more than a decade of writing and publishing experience under his belt including helping to establish new and seasoned publications From breaking news about upcoming Microsoft products to telling the story of how a billion dollar brand was birthed in his book, Beneath a Surface, Brad is a well-rounded journalist who has established himself as a trusted name in the industry.

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