It’s time to put my money where my mouth is—I’ve decided that my next laptop will run Windows 10 S on a Qualcomm ARM processor.
It’s the culmination of the long process of Windows adopting more and more of the hallmarks of mobile devices and operating systems, yet it will be available with a normal laptop form factor and desktop UI.
Here’s a quick refresher on things: Windows 10 devices with Qualcomm ARM chips were first announced in December. They’ll be completely normal Windows 10 laptops, except they’ll use x86 emulation to run traditional Win32 desktop apps, and they’ll have what Microsoft calls the “Always Connected” experience, thanks to built-in LTE radios and eSIM technology. Asus, HP, and Lenovo will introduce these devices later this year
Windows 10 S was officially announced in May. It can only run apps from the Windows Store, and you can’t change the default browser or search engine. It’s available on the Microsoft Surface Laptop, and a bunch of other devices are coming soon. And as of this week, it’s available to install on your own.
We went deeper when Windows 10 on Qualcomm and Windows 10 S were first officially announced. What’s different now is that I realized that a laptop running Windows 10 S on a Qualcomm chip should serve my current needs pretty well, so it’s time to take the plunge.
I’ll mostly lean on browser-based apps—my Chromebook usage has proven this is possible, and I already do that a lot on my current MacBook. I’ll use native apps opportunistically—Windows 10 S can run real versions of Office from the Windows Store, thanks to the UWP Bridge for Desktop Apps (a.k.a. Project Centennial).
The hardest limitations are that Edge and Bing are the default browser and search engine, and you can’t change them. For now, I’ll have to find a bookmark syncing tool that I like, and just set another search engine as my homepage. In the future, I don’t think seeing Chrome or Firefox in the Windows Store is out of the question. Yes, they will have to use the built in rendering engine, but that’s how Chrome on iOS is today, and it’s popular enough.
There are a few potential issues in this endeavor. I haven’t actually heard of any planned devices running Windows 10 S on Qualcomm. However, I tweeted to the expert on this, Mary Jo Foley, and she said that the last she heard was that yes, these are coming.
The bigger issue is that Intel might try to defend its patents relating to x86, so let’s just say this whole thing could get very interesting. If x86 emulation on ARM somehow gets blocked, two things could happen: I could just use Windows 10 S on an “Always Connected” PC with an Intel chip. However, that’s a slight step back from the idealistic, mobile-technology-under-the-hood notion I had.
Or, hopefully Microsoft, Qualcomm, and the OEM partners would forge ahead anyway, without x86 emulation. This would mean that full Office and other apps using Windows Bridge technology wouldn’t work, so that would be a setback, but also it would hopefully force them to speed up plans to make a full-featured Unified Windows Platform version. (Interestingly, this would make all ARM-based Windows 10 devices act a lot like Windows 10 S devices by default.)
Will it be another Windows RT?
A device that only runs Windows Store apps and has an ARM processor sounds a lot like Windows RT, and we know how well that turned out. I already discussed this in past articles, so for today I’ll just reinforce that I think that a lot is different now—Windows 10, web apps, mobile device management, and ARM chips are all 5 years more mature.
Windows 10 S on Qualcomm represents the future (or at least one aspect of it), yet I think it should fit my present-day laptop and desktop needs quite nicely. We’ll see! Now I just have to wait for one of these to actually be announced...