Microsoft was once one of the most anti-open source companies operating in the tech sector. Company projects dating back to 2017 suggest the tide may be changing with this tech giant.
There has been a desire to create a lightweight operating system to function well on systems with low storage space. The goal for Microsoft is to compete with Chromebooks and similar portable devices. Successful development could help to pave the way for a new generation of tablet PCs similar to the Surface.
Such a product could prove commercially competitive against the next wave of Apple products. The possibility even exists for a portable Windows dongle that could easily rival the Amazon Firestick for features and ease of use.
The project to create this lightweight version of Windows was initially codenamed “Polaris.” Reported to contain several open-source elements that could function together on a wide range of network hardware devices.
History of Microsoft’s Open Source Efforts
Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer thought the creation of communal code was an open threat to their business model. Reported by The Register in 2001, Ballmer went so far as stating that "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches."
As the industry began turning toward mobile computing, cloud-based services, and embedded systems, the leadership at Microsoft had no choice but to take a hard second look at open source concepts.
Satya Nadella started the push toward more acceptance of the idea as the company made a pivot from Windows to develop new products for the evolving marketplace.
Microsoft began to open source some of its codebases under that leadership. These include Visual Studio Code and the .NET framework. The company also started to invest in Linux development and supported the OSI (Open Source Initiative) among its activities.
GitHub became part of the Microsoft family on October 26, 2018 because of this initiative. The largest host for project infrastructure in the open-source space was purchased by Microsoft for $7.5 billion US dollars. Microsoft continues to be one of the site’s most valuable and active contributors.
Different Names That Provide Similar Results
The Microsoft open-source project has gone by Polaris, Windows Lite, and ModernPC over its 2+ years of development. Windows developers are also using the codename of Santorini as part of the development project.
It is a version of Windows 10 built on its Core OS, which is a modular version that Microsoft can adapt to several different environments.
Instead of tying the operating system to traditional desktop apps, Microsoft uses the Universal Windows Platform to keep the size down. It’s a similar effort to what was done with Windows 10 S, but with more development on the back-end thanks to the presence of CShell.
The current shell used by active Microsoft operating systems was developed for Windows 95. Updating to CShell allows the operating system to scale to almost any device while eliminating all of the redundant features.
That means most legacy apps are not going to work on the final iteration of this project. It will also become one of the most secure versions of Windows that Microsoft has ever produced.
Can Windows Challenge ChromeOS?
Even with the embrace of open source concepts, the Windows open source project continues its struggle to get off the ground. The initial release for the operating system was pushed back in both 2018 and once more in the spring of 2019.
Parts of the Windows Core OS are powering hardware already, like the Surface Hub 2X and the HoloLens 2. Those successes suggest that a PC user interface for a Windows Lite product could be released in the near future.
We may see the first version of the new operating system with the release of the Centaurus, which is the dual-screen, pocketable Surface device that Windows has yet to acknowledge publicly.
The struggle to release this new OS is still evidence of an overall reluctance by Microsoft to fully embrace open source concepts. The environment is improving toward the idea, but the leadership cannot be 100% behind the effort with all of the issues related to the lighter version of Windows they keep trying to release.
BitTorrent Distributed Windows
Open-source operating system distribution is fast and easy when using the BitTorrent protocol.
Most reports of BitTorrent involve the illegal sharing of copyrighted content via Windows torrent apps. The protocol itself is advantageous in the sharing of large files. Game companies like Blizzard have used the torrent sharing network for more than a decade to distribute their content and patches.
BitTorrent allows anyone to distribute a large file on the Internet without significant bandwidth or a dedicated file server.
Microsoft may eventually look at this idea after successfully demonstrating a version of xCloud at the 2019 E3. This cloud-based gaming service could help you to play games on Android and iOS devices. It could also be an attempt to revive the popular family-based features found on the discontinued Windows Phone project.
Windows Open Source Availability
The Windows open source project might eventually get off of the ground with their next generation of devices. Are you hoping for a Microsoft operating system that looks and feels like a Chromebook for your PC?
Then you might be waiting another year or two before a download becomes available. It all depends on how quickly the Microsoft open-source ideas can develop into something useful.