Microsoft on Wednesday unveiled the Windows 10X operating system, which will work with the new dual-screen devices, expected to be available in late 2020. Windows 10 X is part of Microsoft's multiyear journey to change the architecture of and make it more modular, as we've already seen with the HoloLens 2, Surface Hub and Xbox. The OS is specifically created for dual-screen devices, Microsoft executives said during an event in New York.
The event also saw the launch of thedual-screen Android phone. More conventional new products included the , tablets, and the .
Previously codenamed Centaurus, the dual-screened Surface Neo devices were reportedly demoed internally a few months ago. Many had speculated that they would run a "lighter" version of Windows built on Windows Core OS -- a successor to Windows OneCore that would make Windows more modular to work across phones, desktops, headsets and other devices, similar to Chrome OS. This appears to be Windows 10X, known internally as Windows Lite and Santorini.
"Our goal is to fuel a new era of mobile productivity and creativity across two screens," Carmen Zlateff, leader of the software experience on the Surface Neo, said during the event.
Windows 10X supports all Windows applications, including Office, Zlateff said. While an app will open on the screen you call it up on, an interaction called "spanning" lets you stretch applications across two screens, with Neo reflowing the apps across the screens and optimize the layout.
For example, if your email is open on one of the screens and you click a link, it will open in the other screen, without interrupting your inbox. If you're watching a show in one half of the tablet, you can move it to the bottom half or the toolbar feature to do other work.
"We think this experience appeals to mobile professionals who want a device that can keep up when they're on the go," Eran Megiddo, corporate vice president of Windows and Education, wrote in a Windows blog post. "We see these people looking at multiple charts and data at the same time to study complex problems or viewing a presentation on one screen while on a call and seeing the meeting participants in full video on the other, or having a reference article open while commenting on a document."
The notion of a dual-screen Microsoft tablet might sound familiar: In 2009, Microsoft developed the Courier tablet, which opened up its two screens like a book -- right around the time the first Apple iPad launched. However, the Courier was ultimately cancelled in 2010, before it ever came to market, as it was running a modified version of Windows and didn't align enough with Microsoft's Windows and Office product lines, CNET reported at the time.
The Surface Neo tablet will be a Surface device. Meanwhile, Dell, Asus, HP and Lenovo are working on similar devices, all projected for a holiday 2020 release. In May, Lenovo demoed a foldable ThinkPad X1 prototype -- a 13-inch tablet with a bigger screen than the Samsung Galaxy Fold phone.
The Neo will run on Intel's Lakefield chip, designed for dual-screen devices. This is a significant move for Microsoft, though not a surprising one, as Arm-based laptops from HP, Lenovo and Asus have not performed as well as those with Intel processors. The Lakefield chip features all-day battery life, thanks to much lower power usage when a device is waiting on standby.
However, the Microsoft Surface Pro X devices announced at the event will still run on Arm-based chips, with a Microsoft-custom version of the Qualcomm Snapdragon SQ1 processor. While Arm chips normally run at the 2-watt range, the SQ1 Arm-based chip runs at 7 watts, Panos Panay, chief product officer at Microsoft, said during the event.
Windows 10X will be available on dual-screen and foldable devices in fall 2020, according to the blog post. It will only be available on new dual-screen devices, not as an upgrade to PCs already on the market.
CNET's Dan Ackerman contributed to this report.
Originally published Oct. 2 at 8:14 a.m. PT.
Updates, at 8:29 a.m. PT: Added more information from the Surface event; Oct. 3, 5:09 a.m. PT: Added quote and availability information from Microsoft blog post.