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What is Windows Polaris and what can we expect from it?

So, here we are, it’s 2020, and Microsoft is still looking for a way to turn Windows into some form of Skynet.

windows 10 and internet explorer
Image: Windows

Microsoft went from being a humble publisher of BASIC for the Altair computer to one of the biggest brands in computers. Microsoft’s success is due in no small part to the MS-DOS operating system and its GUI, Microsoft Windows, the tool that would eventually become the company’s flagship product.

Windows is a thirty-five years old operating system and has seen a plethora of implementations throughout the years. The rather rudimentary Windows 3.1, the whooping twenty-one diskette revolutionary Windows 95, its less popular and more bloated sibling Windows 98, and the black sheep of the family Windows ME.

For each Window’s success, there is also a catastrophic blunder. We all squirm a little when we get a notification of a new Windows update – and for good reason. Even small scale companies hire offshore software testing companies like BairesDev to proof their patches before shipping, so one is left to wonder, what is Microsoft’s QA doing?.

Still, buggy updates and botched implementations haven’t stopped Windows from growing and becoming the leading operating system on the market with one billion installations worldwide. And there is a good reason for that: warts and all, Windows is still the gold standard for desktop interfaces.

Microsoft isn’t satisfied with being king of the desktop market. They want every single thing with a processor running some form of Windows. Something we know they’ve been working on since 2014 at least. Experiments like the Windows Phone have shown less than stellar results and their UWP one-app-for-all-devices project didn’t last enough to even make a dent.

So, here we are, it’s 2020, and Microsoft is still looking for a way to turn Windows into some form of Skynet. And OneCore might be just that.

Microsoft Core OS

Very little is known right now about Windows 10’s elusive successor, and whatever snippets of information we get are from anonymous inside sources, so take everything about it with a grain of salt.

What we do know is that one of this project’s main goals is to grab all the shared code of OneCore and build a new legacy-free OS sleek in design and very light on processing power.

Think of it this way, Windows right now is an amalgamation of over twenty years of tech, some of it not really compatible, so right now we have this bloated thing that it’s about to burst at the seams (how many home users are using Windows Fax nowadays?). In that sense, Microsoft Core OS is a chance to flush all of that away and begin anew.

But why? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? Well, not really. Implementing Windows in other devices in such a way that apps will work regardless of architecture is not that simple. Just take a look at the current Windows environment. You’ve got your Windows for Xbox, Windows for Surface, Windows for IoT, and so on.

They all look alike, and for the casual user, it may seem like the same thing. But a deeper look will reveal fundamental differences between editions. Software developer engineers have to build a different implementation for each device, and that’s about as unfriendly as it can be for an ecosystem called “Universal Windows Platform”.

Instead, imagine a modular operating system that runs a very basic core with UWP as the foundation, and then, you can add services on top depending on your needs. So, we won’t see win32 go away, for example, as it just won’t be installed as a default. Instead, you, the user, get to decide which of your devices will get to run older apps.

Enter Windows Polaris

Obviously, a brand new OS needs a brand new shell to run on top of it. On the desktop side, that shell is Polaris. For the common user, booting up Polaris will be just like using any other Windows. But, underneath, it’s a very different beast.

For one, all of those arcane processes and services will be gone, and instead, you’ll get a brand new cohesive ecosystem. We’ll see some legacy OS stuff like the file explorer go away, and desktops should run seamlessly since they’ll be running on brand new code.

For regular PCs that may not mean much, but for laptops and small devices that means longer battery life, less heat, and more processing power for running apps.

Chances are that if you lived through the infamous Windows 8 era, the idea of Polaris will ring very close to Metro. But, worry not, from what Microsoft has stated, it seems like they learned their lesson. Core OS and Polaris won’t be substituting Windows 10 anytime soon. The idea is that both OS can survive side by side and target different audiences.

Eventually, Microsoft will try to funnel everyone to a Core OS implementation, but they would rather wait and let it happen naturally than forcing it and then having to take a step back (hi Windows 8.1).

If anything, Polaris will substitute the Store-centric OS Windows 10S at first, and push for desktops once they figure out how to implement win32 seamlessly. It’s not feasible for Microsoft to push for a post-win32 world when the desktop ecosystem it’s so heavily reliant on it.

So, for now, desktop users can put the pitchforks down, and mobile users have a lot to look towards in the next couple of years.

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