A new version of Windows may have limited features for inexpensive hardware. If that sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone: you could be forgiven thinking this is an article about Windows RT or Windows S. Nope, it’s something else.
Buried deep within the latest software updates for Windows 10 are several references to “PRODUCT_LITE.” According to unconfirmed reports, this is going to be a new SKU for Microsoft’s operating system that will target the growing competition from cheap laptops running Google’s Chrome OS. Microsoft specialist Brad Sams said that “Lite” is intended to be the low-end arm of the company’s new “Core” OS system, the successor to the long-running Windows 10.
To find out more about Core, check out our breakdown here. But in a nutshell, it’s a modular system that will allow Microsoft to develop a single piece of software that can add compartmentalized features based on what specific users need, allowing it to run unified code on everything from tiny smartphones to huge media creation desktops. The “Lite” version is speculated to be on the high-end tablet, low-end laptop portion of this spectrum, pretty much exactly where Chrome OS is sitting right now.
“Lite” (notably lacking the Windows brand) would only be able to run Universal Windows Program applications and progressive web apps—conventional full-power Windows programs like Photoshop aren’t welcome. Again, this mirrors the packaged approach to applications and extensions that Chrome uses, more similar to mobile app stores than current desktop operating systems. Windows RT tried something similar years ago and failed spectacularly, and Windows S was less limited, but still flopped. The UWP platform, an earlier attempt to create a system that works across multiple hardware levels, has been abandoned by almost everyone except Microsoft itself.
But the market is changing. The fact that many users can do just fine on an operating system built around a web browser shows that most of the “work” we do on full PCs can now live on the web. The iPad Pro has enough juice to handle media creation, if not the ideal interface for doing so, and even full-power PC games can be streamed on a decent connection. Microsoft sees the writing on the wall and is preparing for a future when $1000 laptops are largesse for most users. Microsoft’s failure in the past with low-power Windows alternatives doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth another try.
Most of the news around Lite and Core OS is pieced together and speculative at the moment. It’s possible that Microsoft could pivot to a new platform, or it could get cold feet and double down on Windows 10. We’ll see in the next few years.