Windows 10 is already fairly unified across product families. At its core, the operating system is running the same code whether it's installed on a PC, phone, Xbox One or HoloLens. The company's new CSHELL (Composable Shell) will take this a step further though.
At present, Windows uses a distinct shell on each device family. The shell can be described as the interface you interact with. On a PC, it's the Windows desktop environment whereas phones have a full-screen Start screen and no multitasking support. The Xbox One and HoloLens get their own unique interfaces, tailored to their special use cases.
Under CSHELL, this could change. Uncovered by Windows Central
, CSHELL will be a single "adaptive" shell that provides a standardised framework for every device. Windows will be capable of adapting to the kind of device it's currently running on, potentially switching between shells as required.
There are some clear reasons why Microsoft wants this technology. It is already working to bring device families together, as shown through its Continuum software for Windows 10 Mobile. Compatible phones can morph into a PC and run full-screen Universal Windows apps when connected to a monitor. In some ways, it's as if Windows 10 Mobile's shell gives way to a scaled-back desktop shell.
Recently, Microsoft announced
Windows 10 on ARM, a project that allows the full PC version of Windows to run on ARM smartphone processors. Combined with CSHELL, it's possible to predict where Microsoft may be heading for next.
Now Windows 10 can run on ARM, the company could feasibly build a smartphone that's powered by the desktop version of the software. This wouldn't provide a good experience on a phone but could open new opportunities in Continuum, giving you a full desktop PC in your pocket. By adding CSHELL, the whole idea makes a lot more sense though. Windows could change its shell as required, acting as a phone in standalone mode but transforming into a true desktop PC on demand.
CSHELL could allow for a new generation of multi-purpose devices that adapt to meet your needs. Microsoft has been talking about the concept of "One Windows" for years. The company may now be heading towards a time when that's really possible. A single distribution of Windows could transform itself into any other version while in use, allowing new kinds of device to be created. Perhaps this is what Satya Nadella's
"ultimate mobile device" will turn out to be.