Microsoft nixes Windows 10X

Windows 10X was expected to launch in the spring of 2021 in place of the year's first-half Windows 10 feature upgrade. Didn't happen.

Microsoft Windows 10X logo, with a blue spotlight background.
Microsoft / Atakan / Getty Images

Microsoft will likely abandon Windows 10X, the concept operating system that was to serve as a streamlined, simplified rival to the likes of Chrome OS, according to a recent report.

"Microsoft will not be shipping Windows 10X this year and the OS as you know it today, will likely never arrive," wrote Brad Sams in a piece on Petri.com last week. Citing "people familiar with the company's plans," Sams then added, "The company has shifted resources to Windows 10 and 10X is on the back burner, for now."

Editor's note: On May 18, Microsoft confirmed Sams' report in a blog post.

Sams' account was not a huge surprise. Previously, reports about Windows 10X had claimed that the operating system would launch in the spring of 2021; in fact, its debut was to take the spot usually devoted to the year's first-half Windows 10 feature upgrade. That went by the wayside when earlier this year Microsoft announced plans to issue Windows 10 21H1 on the usual timetable.

Windows 10 21H1 is expected to begin reaching customers' PCs this month.

10X's changing message

At Microsoft's 2019 announcement of Windows 10X, the OS was positioned as "the best of Windows 10 built to enable unique experiences on multi-posture dual-screen PCs." In plain English, that meant 10X was to power a new hardware category of two-screen, tablet-notebook hybrids that both Microsoft and its partners — the Lenovos, the Dells, the HPs — would manufacture. But Microsoft's entry, dubbed the Surface Neo, was later scratched.

Then, a year ago, Windows 10X morphed into an operating system for single-screen devices which, at least by Microsoft's terse description, sounded very much like Chromebook competitors. "We need to focus on meeting customers where they are now," said Panos Panay, who had been made the head of Windows and Microsoft's device group three months earlier. "Our customers are leveraging the power of the cloud more than ever, and we believe the time is right to lean into this acceleration in a different way."

Another year on, and Microsoft has, by Sams' telling, bagged Windows 10X, if not permanently, then certainly for an extended period. What. The. Hell?

Why?

Taking a stab at explaining Microsoft's motive(s)

It's unlikely that Microsoft will answer that question. And even if it does, the rationale won't be a full telling of the story. That's how corporate works.

We've ranked the probable reasons for the Windows 10X retrenchment or retraction, or whatever one wants to call it.

The usual trouble with Windows. Microsoft's tried to reduce Windows before, shrink it, shrivel it, pare it, deflate it. The attempts haven't gone well.

  • 2012: Windows RT. Launched alongside Windows 8, RT was meant for devices powered by the 32-bit ARM architecture. But by barring traditional x86 apps that made Windows, well, Windows, RT crafted an unforced error of massive proportions. Ironically, the OS, while long dead in reality, will be supported by Microsoft for another year and a half, until Jan. 10, 2023.
  • 2017: Windows S. A lot like Windows RT — if something bombed, hey, let's try it again — Windows S was an attempt to craft an OS spin-off that prohibited x86 Windows applications and instead relied solely on apps from the Windows Store. Initially envisioned as "inspired by students and teachers, streamlined for simplicity, security and superior performance," and thus aimed at the educational market where Chromebooks have done best, it wasn't long before Windows S was demoted to a "mode" by Microsoft's marketing and pitched as a godsend for businesses, too. Since then, the company has essentially stopped talking about Windows S. Officially, S remains alive.
  • 2019: Windows 10X. Microsoft touts the new concept. But it doesn't get even as far as RT or S, since it's dropped before users lay a hand on it.

Clearly, Microsoft has a problem producing a scaled-down operating system; the three strikes show as much. Why that is so, however, is decidedly unclear. One guess: Microsoft's barring of traditional Win32 applications, of which there are thousands, and the substitution of the usually-subpar Windows Store apps.

Not broke. Not gonna fix anything. Maybe Microsoft decided that an increased emphasis on something that wasn't Windows 10 wasn't worth the effort it once believed was necessary, what with the bounce 10 received from the COVID pandemic.

The coronavirus and resulting lockdowns, the latter which lead to working remotely and remote schooling, started a surge in sales of new Windows 10 PCs as families hustled to (ideally) equip each member with a machine. Industry research firms noted the massive year-over-year increases in PC shipments — Gartner pegged the increase at 32% for the March quarter — and in its latest earnings call Microsoft put non-Pro Windows OEM revenue (sales of Windows 10 Home to computer makers) at +44% compared with 2020's first calendar quarter.

With gains like those, what rush was there to muddy the revenue picture with something untried, like Windows 10X? None, apparently.

Windows isn't the tail that wags Microsoft's dog. The latest earnings statement illustrated Windows' place in the company's hierarchy. The part of the firm that includes Windows — dubbed "More Personal Computing" — accounted for 31% of total revenue, placing it third among the three divisions. There are better places than Windows, then, where Microsoft could invest resources, such as "Intelligent Cloud," which generated 36% of all revenue.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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