Containers on the desktop? You bet — on Windows 10X

Microsoft has invented a new kind of container for its dual-screen Windows 10X operating system, mainly to enable legacy Windows apps to run. The implications for Windows’ future might be big.

IDG Tech Spotlight  >  Containers + Virtualization [ Computerworld / March 2020 ]
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Although containers emerged from the land of Linux, Microsoft has wholeheartedly embraced them. Beginning with Windows Server 2016, the company began offering two types of Docker-compatible containers: Windows Server containers and Hyper-V containers. And six years after that fateful day when Microsoft declared its love for Linux, developers today routinely plug apps in Docker containers on any Linux distro supported by the Windows Linux Subsystem or the Azure cloud.

But…containers on the desktop? That would be a sea change in the way Windows handles desktop applications, enabling Windows apps to install as quickly and effortlessly as mobile apps. In fact, this appears to be the plan for the quirky Windows 10X, scheduled to arrive with a wacky new Surface device this fall. 

Announced in October 2019, Windows 10X was developed for Microsoft’s Surface Neo, a picturebook-like device that opens to reveal two side-by-side, tablet-sized screens. The Neo’s little brother, the Surface Duo, runs a modified Android operating system instead of Windows 10X (and includes telephony features, although Microsoft wisely refuses to call it a phone). Interestingly, at Microsoft’s 365 Developer Day last month, the company announced that its dual-screen SDK for Xamarin.Forms can be used to develop applications compatible with both devices.

So where do containers come in? Well, first off, these are not Docker containers. Instead, Microsoft appears to be using containers to demonstrate that it has learned from past attempts to drag developers into a new world that breaks sharply with the past (Universal Windows Platform, anyone?). Rather than force developers to build new applications from scratch for Windows 10X, they can wrap those apps in containers that include a backward-compatible file system and registry that enable Win32 apps to run with little modification. More ambitious developers can write to the new 10X APIs so apps can span the dual screens and access other native features.

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