Microsoft May Plan a Return to Phones With New Windows 10 Lean

Microsoft May Plan a Return to Phones With New Windows 10 Lean

The latest build of Windows 10 suggests Microsoft could be working on a new Windows 10 version or operating mode intended to shrink Windows 10’s footprint and possibly move the OS into new markets — including mobile. This new version of Windows is dubbed Windows 10 Lean, and its base install is 2GB smaller than Windows 10’s typical footprint.

Over the last few years, Microsoft has made several attempts to launch into new product markets, with poor results. First, there was Windows 10 Mobile, which was intended to shrink the gap between desktop and mobile operating systems to the point that you could seamlessly transfer work from one OS or device to the other. Last year, MS announced Windows 10 S — a locked-down version of mainstream Windows 10 intended for education markets or as a secure device alternative for people who often find themselves plagued with malware. Windows 10 Mobile died when Redmond decided to withdraw from the phone market, while Windows 10 S will now be offered as an optional mode rather than a stand-alone product. So where does Windows 10 Lean fit in?

Image by Lucan
Image by Lucan

According to Twitter user Lucan, who spotted the OS variant, Windows 10 Lean (also referred to as Windows 10 CloudE), lacks certain capabilities. RegEdit, the registry editing program, is missing and so is the Microsoft Management Console. There are no wallpapers in Windows 10 Lean, but functions like CMD and Reg work perfectly — which means the OS variant isn’t subject to the same lockdown as a typical Windows 10 S installation. And as Ars Technica notes, the latest build of Windows 10 contains support for the telephony APIs required to support cell phone operations. That’s significant because those APIs aren’t included in the base Windows 10 installation — they’re used in Windows 10 Mobile, but not included in the standard OS builds.

Does all of this mean Microsoft is planning to re-enter the phone business? I’m still dubious. On the one hand, Windows 10 Mobile was, by all accounts, a better operating system than it got credit for. I’ve always felt as if the first iteration of Windows Mobile never deserved its market share, while the later iterations of Microsoft’s mobile operating systems (Windows Phone and Windows 10 Mobile) were unfairly tarred with a worse reputation than they deserved. The platform still has some die-hard fans that would love to see Microsoft launch a top-tier phone.

But Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, hasn’t left much reason to be hopeful on this front. As far as we can tell, the Windows 10 Mobile team has been dismantled and Microsoft has stopped manufacturing devices. And therein lies the problem. Microsoft fought for years to build support for Windows Phone in the face of Android and iOS. It partnered with other companies to build competitive flagship devices, and when that strategy didn’t seem to be working, it pivoted towards lower-end devices at affordable price points. Some of these devices reviewed quite well, with reviewers noting that they offered much snappier performance on lower-end hardware than what you’d expect from the same SoC’s running Android. Neither strategy helped Microsoft build market share and the company eventually quit.

But having dropped out of the market altogether, it would be an even heavier lift for Microsoft to start over. Whatever Microsoft is building, we’d be surprised if it was just a conventional phone.

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