The great promise of Microsoft with Windows 10 has always been a version of Windows that will run on multiple devices. While we've seen Windows 10 powered devices like the HoloLens, an Xbox One console or even the phone's hardware, Microsoft has often created separate interfaces and software to sit on the underlying core of Windows. That means that the Xbox home screen looks different from the Xbox application in Windows 10, and that the mobile version of Windows 10 has always felt like a truly separate version of Windows. Microsoft's vision of the future now includes smart modes for intelligent hardware.
Sources familiar with Microsoft's Windows plans tell The Verge that the software giant is developing Windows to adapt and operate on a single device with many modes. We've seen early examples of this with Microsoft's Continuum work for Windows 10 tablets and phones, which allows ordinary laptops to be transformed into tablets and phones to become PCs. These existing modes do not always include the features you would expect, nor the same user interface or software.
Microsoft is now creating a composable Shell (C-Shell) for its own developers and creators of Universal Windows applications to use. Windows Central first reported on C-Shell last year, and is essentially a more modular version of the existing Windows Shell that powers the Start menu and notification center. At the moment, Microsoft creates and maintains multiple versions of the Start menu for different devices, but the vision with C-Shell is to create a single start menu that automatically covers different modes and different devices.
Mysterious Microsoft Surface Patent
This idea of modes is particularly relevant when considering future Microsoft Surface drawings. It is widely rumored that Microsoft is working on a secret surface notebook device, with dual folding screens. The patents have shown a hardware that closely resembles the Microsoft Courier concept of a digital notepad, with a clever hinge that powers the two screens. The patents also show that Microsoft's potential device is adapted to become more than just a notebook or a tablet, and a portable form factor. Along with the ability to connect to a larger screen, you could imagine this device, codenamed Andromeda, that adapts to many different modes. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella also promised earlier that Microsoft's future "phones" will not look anything like phones.
Microsoft's Windows vision includes the idea of a game mode to play games with an Xbox controller, a silent mode with a productivity desktop and a child mode that acts more like a tablet with a simple interface. These different modes are designed to scale through a variety of hardware, including hardware that has not yet been released. The idea is that this C-Shell could eventually replace the existing legacy desktop in Windows and be the main shell on all devices. All that depends on C-Shell being adaptable enough, but Microsoft has a code name for this Polaris desktop effort.
A Windows Phone transformed into a PCPhoto by Tom Warren / The Verge
We've seen some early examples of how C-Shell will influence Microsoft's adaptive user interfaces for Windows, but we have not seen any new devices that really show why this project matters to Microsoft. That is about to change in the coming months. Microsoft plans to reveal its Surface Hub 2 in the first half of 2018, and will be the first Microsoft hardware to showcase C-Shell. Microsoft is also expected to unveil its mysterious Andromeda Surface device this year and set the stage for hardware similar to PC makers with adaptive modes.
The existing Microsoft Surface Hub already has Windows 10 technology, which runs its own custom shell. Second generation Surface Hub will give us an early idea of how Microsoft adapts even more Windows 10 for different screen sizes, scenarios and hardware. The changes will be subtle at first, but Microsoft's vision should lead to individual devices that can be adapted (like Surface) to form factors and hardware that do not even exist today.