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A first glance at Microsoft’s new Windows 10X dual screen operating system

Microsoft today released its first emulator for Windows 10X, allowing developers to take a first look at the new variant of the dual-screen device operating system. Microsoft wants to give developers a head start in optimizing apps before devices are launched later this year, so this basic emulator offers an early look at Windows 10X before it is finalized.

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 has been exclusively designed for folding and dual-screen hardware and Microsoft has therefore adapted it. One of the biggest noticeable changes is the new Windows 10X Start menu. It no longer contains the animated Live Tiles on Windows 10, Windows 8 and Windows Phone, and it now has a more simplified look.

The Windows 10X start menu contains apps that you can pin and a list of recent documents. It looks a lot more like a task starter than currently in Windows 10. You can search for apps, documents, or even web content, and this also supports standard voice input. Cortana is nowhere to be found, not even in the settings section of Windows 10X.

Apart from a new Start menu, Windows 10X is very similar to Windows 10. There are visually dark and light modes to choose from, but the biggest UX changes in Windows 10X can be found in the way you multitask with apps. Unlike Windows 10, you can’t just let apps float anywhere on a screen. Apps are opened on a single screen by default and you can drag them across the two screens with a mouse or touch to fully stretch and run across multiple screens.

Microsoft also uses multitasking gestures, and some of them resemble what exists in Windows 10 and Windows 8. Apart from the fact that there are small buttons for minimizing and closing that are sometimes difficult to touch in 10X.

Speaking of gestures, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to open the Start menu or the list of active apps on the taskbar. You also have access to an updated Action Center from the taskbar with quick access to settings such as volume, brightness, Bluetooth, rotation lock and more.

Task View, which allows you to view apps running on Windows 10X, has also been updated and you can use it to access apps on a specific screen. If you are used to the old Windows desktop or the Explorer, both have disappeared in Windows 10X. If you right click on the desktop in Windows 10X, you will be greeted with the option to change a background in settings and no app icons or documents will be saved here.

Similarly, the traditional file explorer has been replaced by a modern file explorer that will guide users of Windows 10X to content libraries and support external file transfer devices.

The other new addition in Windows 10X is the Wonder Bar. It is designed to sit above or below a hardware keyboard or appear 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 still fairly simple at the moment and it is difficult to test without optimized apps. Microsoft imagines that environmental information appears here from apps, or apps such as Netflix that benefit from picture-in-picture support for easy docking in the Wonder Bar. Even apps such as Windows Calculator that always have a top mode can dock here. I think this is the really interesting part of Windows 10X, but it will depend on developers who really connect to it and make it useful.

In general, Windows 10X in its current early state feels like a more refined and modern version of Windows 10. It also feels a bit more locked and tweaked, but still unmistakably Windows 10. This is just a very early copy of Windows 10X and it is now running in a basic emulator and Microsoft is not planning to send the operating system until later this year.

Microsoft probably keeps some of its Windows 10X work away from public eyes with this emulator, because it feels rather bald right now. Many of the major changes are also under the hood, deep in the operating system. These include a separation of apps, the operating system and drivers so that Windows 10X updates can be installed and completed in less than 90 seconds.

Microsoft also incorporates container technology to run win32 apps in a lightweight virtual machine. The Microsoft container is used to ensure that older apps work correctly on two-screen devices, including the impact on battery life and the way apps are displayed on screens. However, this new approach means that there will be some compatibility issues with apps that some developers will have to go through.

While developers keep digging in Windows 10X, we are see new animations and design changes for the operating system. That will certainly continue in the coming days as developers discover more, but we also hope to learn much more about Microsoft’s ambitions with Windows 10X at the company’s Build Developer Conference in May.

Anyway, if we discover more secrets in this Windows 10X emulator, we will definitely share them.