Microsoft today released its first emulator for Windows 10X, which developers can use to get a first look at the new operating system variant for dual-screen devices. Microsoft wants to give developers a head start in optimizing apps before devices launch later this year. Therefore, this basic emulator provides an early look at Windows 10X before it is finished.
My first thoughts? Windows 10X feels like a slightly more modern version of Windows 10 that has been cleaned up for future devices.
Windows 10X is designed only for foldable hardware and hardware with two screens, and Microsoft has therefore adapted them. One of the biggest noticeable changes is the new Windows 10X start menu. The animated live tiles from Windows 10, Windows 8 and Windows Phone are no longer included, and the appearance is now easier.
The Windows 10X Start menu contains apps that you can pin in place, as well as a list of recently used documents. It is much more like a task launcher than what is currently in Windows 10. You can search for apps, documents, or even web content. This also supports basic voice input. However, Cortana is nowhere to be found, not even in the Windows 10X settings area.
Apart from a new start menu, Windows 10X feels very similar to Windows 10. There are visually dark and light modes to choose from, but the biggest UX changes in Windows 10X are the way you multitask with apps. Unlike Windows 10, apps can't just hover anywhere on a screen. By default, apps open on a single screen, and you can drag them across the two displays with a mouse or a keystroke so that they span completely across two-screen devices.
Microsoft also uses gestures for multitasking, and some of them are similar to those of Windows 10 and Windows 8. Except there are tiny minimize and close buttons that can feel difficult in 10X at times.
When talking about gestures, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to access the Start menu or the list of running apps on the taskbar. You can also access an updated Action Center from the taskbar, which provides quick access to settings such as volume, brightness, Bluetooth, rotation lock, and more.
The task view, which allows you to view apps running on Windows 10X, has also been updated and you can use it to call apps on a particular screen. If you're used to the old Windows desktop or File Explorer, both have disappeared into Windows 10X. If you right-click the desktop in Windows 10X, you will only be greeted with the option to change a background in the settings. No app icons or documents are saved here.
Likewise, the traditional File Explorer has been replaced by a modern File Explorer, which guides Windows 10X users to content libraries and supports external devices for file transfer.
The other new addition to Windows 10X is the Wonder Bar. It is designed to appear above or below a hardware keyboard or as part of the software keyboard in the operating system. It is similar to Apple's Touch Bar and offers extensive input options such as GIFs or Emoji or even a software trackpad.
In the emulator it is currently quite simple and it is difficult to test apps that have not been optimized for this. Microsoft imagines that environmental information from apps or apps such as Netflix is displayed here and uses the picture-in-picture support to simply dock in the Wonder Bar. Even apps like Windows Calculator, which have an always-on-top mode, could dock here. I think this is the really interesting part of Windows 10X, but it will depend on developers really connecting with it and making it useful.
Windows 10X Wonder Bar
Overall, Windows 10X feels like a more refined and modern version of Windows 10 in its current early state. It also feels a bit more secure and streamlined, but still unmistakably Windows 10. This is just a very early copy of Windows 10X, and it's currently running in a base emulator, and Microsoft plans to ship the operating system later this year.
Microsoft is probably keeping part of its Windows 10X work away from the public eye with this emulator, as it currently feels rather bare. Many of the big changes are also under the hood, deep in the operating system. This includes a separation of apps, operating system and drivers so that Windows 10X updates can be installed and completed in less than 90 seconds.
Microsoft also offers container technology for running Win32 apps in a lean virtual machine. The Microsoft container is used to ensure that older apps work correctly on two-screen devices, including how battery life is affected and how apps appear on screens. However, this new approach means that there will be some app compatibility issues that some developers will have to address.
While developers continue to work on Windows 10X, we see new animations and design changes for the operating system. This will continue in the coming days as developers discover more. However, we hope to learn a lot more about Microsoft's ambitions with Windows 10X at the company's build developer conference in May.
If we discover more secrets in this Windows 10X emulator, we will definitely pass them on.