Here’s what Lite OS could look like – and why Microsoft is ‘feverishly’ working on it

Surface Pro 6
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We’ve heard more from the rumor mill on how Microsoft’s alleged ‘Lite’ OS is shaping up, including a mock-up of what the operating system will supposedly look like.

Again, this comes from the source of previous speculation on Lite OS, namely Brad Sams, a well-respected font of Microsoft knowledge (although we should obviously treat any leaks and insider info – no matter where they come from – with a suitable dose of skepticism).

Okay, that’s the caveat done – now for the quick recap for those who may have forgotten exactly what Lite OS is about: it’s a lightweight spin on Windows designed to rival Google’s Chrome OS and run on (almost) any device.

The latest from Sams is the revelation that the OS will look ‘familiar’ but ‘also different’, a slightly confusing message on the face of it, but the gist is some elements will remain the same, but everything will be very much stripped-down.

Lite OS mockup

Mock-up of Windows Lite OS desktop (Image Credit: Brad Sams/Petri) (Image credit: Brad Sams)

To clarify this, Sams has created a mock-up of what the operating system’s UI currently looks like, which you can see above, and he contends that it will provide a similar experience to Windows 10 out-of-the-box.

Remember, though, while Sam says this is an accurate portrayal of the interface, it is only intended as an idea of how the desktop will appear, and that may well change during development.

Aggressive deployment

Speaking of development, Sams insists that Microsoft is working on an ‘aggressive schedule’ in realizing Lite OS, and that the plan is to begin testing in the summer (with an initial reveal, or at least some info on the OS, expected to be imparted at the Build developer conference in Seattle come May).

Whether the testing will include a public beta, Sams doesn’t know yet, but obviously that’s what many will be hoping for. The underlying message is that Microsoft is placing a lot of importance on this new project, and getting it out quickly (or at least as swiftly as things can move in the complex sphere of operating systems).

Sams talks more about the interface of Lite, too, and while the UI will be very much minimalist, File Explorer is still there, and windows work as they traditionally do in, er, Windows, with components like the Settings options remaining present (although likely much simplified, we’d imagine).

He also clarified what we’d previously believed, namely that Lite OS will just run apps from the Microsoft Store and PWAs (progressive web apps), with no support for traditional Windows desktop software.

However, Microsoft is apparently looking at how the operating system can eventually support full Win32 applications – perhaps by using containerization of the app, or maybe by running it from the cloud.

Getting heavy

We’ve heard previously that Microsoft is working on Lite for two different categories of devices: Centaurus (dual-screen 2-in-1) and Pegasus (which refers to various types of low-end laptops).

In this latest report, Sams further notes that while the focus may be on entry-level devices such as the latter – the core idea is a super-streamlined OS that runs on anything, after all – eventually Lite will expand to target ‘heavy users’ as well.

Microsoft’s current vision is that these heavier users will be on Windows 10, with those who have lesser performance demands using Lite OS – but rather than having these two tiers of operating systems, apparently Lite OS will eventually expand to cover “most of the features that heavy users will need”, in Sams’ words.

Of course, running full-fat Win32 apps will doubtless be part of that development path, but presumably Microsoft will keep more heavyweight features in the domain of Windows 10. After all, there needs to be some differentiation, because it doesn’t seem likely that Microsoft would want to completely sideline Windows.

Although when Sam says, “I don’t quite expect [Lite OS] to overtake the entire enterprise portfolio quite yet”, perhaps he is hinting at a future where Windows is for business and power users, and Lite is for the consumer.

Whatever happens with Lite OS, it will need to remain streamlined enough to run on lesser spec hardware, because that’s obviously the entire point.

At any rate, it’s worth reiterating that we should take all this with a pinch of the white stuff, but the broad plan for Lite seems to be: take Windows, strip it right down, then sort of build it back up again.

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).