For the past few days since Tom Warren shared a quick video of leaked Windows 10X UI elements, people all over the tech-centered internet have all come to agreement on a very central theme: this new, mobile-focused version of Windows looks an awful lot like another OS that is on the rise. Yes, Windows is taking a Chromebook-based approach to the new interface for 10X and the overall look and feel is pretty blatantly copied right from your favorite Chromebook. But we’re not mad. No, in fact, we all think it’s a bit flattering.
That’s the tweet and accompanying video that started it all. Mr. Warren has since put together an article over on The Verge that lays out more of the UI for this new version of Windows that is set to arrive on Chromebook-like devices at some point in the future. These GIFs and the above-mentioned tweet have all combined to make everyone react in much the same way across the board: Windows 10X is Microsoft’s Chrome OS competitor and they are now chasing Chromebooks with it.
Why it feels flattering
Not surprisingly, much of the rhetoric around this not-yet-released version of Windows is negative towards Microsoft for “stealing” or “aping” Chrome OS’ interface. Does Windows 10X look a lot like Chrome OS? Absolutely. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so.
Let me explain. You see, as a fan of underdogs and up-and-coming tech gadgets, I never really get to be in this position. In general, the devices I end up using always feel like they are trying so hard to be something else or catch up to something better. Android tried so hard to be like Windows phone and iOS for so many years that I just got used to it. Chrome OS took queues from Windows, Linux and MacOS for years and I’ve never been mad about it. Oscar Wilde said the now-famous line, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” I was used to using tech that – from a sheer creative standpoint – was mediocrity trying to achieve greatness.
But that all has changed in the past couple years for me. Instead of being an OS trying to unseat or become more like another, Chrome OS has grown into its potential and is becoming its own thing and its own version of greatness. That’s what has put Chrome OS in such a great position of late. The underlying idea for the operating system was/is unique, but the bits and pieces that the users interacted with were just copies of existing ideas for a very long time. Even now, Chrome OS gets new features that simply pull from Android and design aesthetic from other places around the laptop hardware game. Other than it’s web-based roots and cloud-centric operation, Chrome OS isn’t wildly-unique in the way it goes about moving users through the UI.
Yet, here we are in 2021 and because of their rising popularity, Chromebooks are getting the attention we’ve long thought they deserve. Now, becuase people are aware of Chromebooks and Chrome OS (and more importantly, are buying them), we’re finally seeing a response to them that isn’t a write-off or dismissal: it’s a copy. Granted, it is a copy of the parts of the OS that – in my mind at least – are the least inspired parts. But it is stilla copy, an imitation, and an attempt at a steal. Again, imitation is flattery, and this move from Microsoft is indeed a flattering one.
From my perspective, cloud-based computing, web apps, containers, security, speed, and simplicity are what make Chromebooks so great, not the way it all looks or is packaged up. And that’s why it feels so flattering that Windows 10X is taking such great strides to imitate the way Chrome OS presents itself to users. Chromebooks have clearly struck a chord and it seems those in the industry have been forced to sit up and take notice.
Am I concerned about this at all as a Chromebook fan? Nope, not even a little bit, because UI is the thing that I feel Chromebooks are worst at. What Windows 10X needs to copy is the web-based nature of Chrome OS and the forward-looking way that this OS operates. Until it debuts, we won’t know how much of that is at play. For now, we only know that there’s a lot of work that has gone into making it look a lot like Chrome OS on the surface, and that means Microsoft sees greatness in this platform that all of us around here enjoy so much. And, above all else, that is flattering.