Microsoft’s new Lite OS get first mockup, will reportedly enter “wider testing” this summer

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Microsoft may already be pretty busy with its bi-annual updates for Windows 10, but the company reportedly has other exciting software projects on its plate. One of these is “Lite OS,” a new lightweight operating system designed for a world where thin clients like Chromebooks are increasingly popular.

Lite OS, apparently code-named “Santorini,” is reportedly based on Windows Core OS, the modular version of Windows that will drop legacy components to better adapt to new form factors. Petri’s Brad Sams, who claims to have seen this new Lite OS in person, published the above mockup today.

Compared to the traditional Windows 10 desktop, Lite OS should have a simpler UI while keeping some familiar elements. The bottom task bar will apparently lack the system tray, and the Start menu will also look different, with no more Live Tiles. However, classic Windows features like File Explorer and windowed apps will still be there.

On the apps front, Lite OS is said to be only supporting UWP apps and Progressive Web Apps as of today, though both Sams and ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley have been hearing that legacy 32 apps could become accessible via containerization and/or streaming. No support for Win32 apps would likely make Lite OS a tough sell for PC-like devices. Because yes, Lite OS will reportedly be able to run on various form factors, and Microsoft has already built support for both Intel and ARM chips.

There are still a lot of unknowns about Lite OS, but Sams said today that Microsoft could unveil the OS in the coming months:

I expect Microsoft to begin talking about the operating system this year in the spring, likely at its Build conference in May but more importantly, the company will begin wider testing this summer. While I don’t know if that will include a public preview, Windows Lite is moving forward at a feverish pace as the company understands the importance of this new platform. (…) I’m also hearing that the company plans to seed out hardware with the new OS. That being said, I’m not quite sure to what scale or when they will distribute the hardware but it is being considered at this time.

In a world where there are already more than 1 billion iOS and Android devices in the wild, and still less than 1 billion Windows 10 active devices nearly four years after the OS launched, it will surely be very difficult for Microsoft to introduce a new platform. We still don’t have much details about this new Lite OS, but the Redmond giant may also have a hard time explaining to consumers the purpose of Lite OS. Windows 10 draws its strength from its openess and vast ecosystem of apps, and this is probably what consumers expect from a new Microsoft platform. We’ll see what happens, but Build 2019 could definitely be one of the most interesting developer conferences this Spring.