Microsoft is reportedly planning to take on Google's Chrome OS at its own game with a branch of 'Windows' built off Windows Core OS called "Lite," according to various documentation that's been gathered together. The documents stem from build files that weren't properly removed from the software in updates delivered via the Windows Insider Program and seem to suggest that the new OS won't be called "Windows" at all. Instead, it appears as though Microsoft is gearing up for a complete overhaul meant to compete directly with Chrome OS gadgets. To begin with, Lite only seems to be capable of running Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps and Progressive Web Apps (PWA). The former of those are the applications that can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store and run on all Windows platforms from computers to the Xbox. The latter are websites that act as though they are applications and can even be downloaded for full screen app-style use.
Background: Google has been pushing PWAs for quite some time now in a bid to make its Chrome and Android experiences better. For Chrome OS, in particular, the software allows a much wider range of functionality from computers that are otherwise very locked down and web-dependent. The 'apps' can be downloaded on either platform and used offline, only syncing up required web data when the opportunity arises. Modern Chrome OS devices also have access to Android apps for increased productivity and fun. The addition of beta support for full Linux desktop apps this year has widened those aspects of the ecosystem considerably and work is well underway to improve that functionality until it can be removed from beta. All of that is further backed by Google's G Suite and G Suite for Education, which has given Chrome OS a serious boost against Microsoft over the past couple of years.
As of early 2017, Google and its partners were able to leverage prowess with low-spec machines and that ecosystem to capture well over half of the education market. Both the operating system and the hardware it runs on have only improved in the meantime. Microsoft seems to be trying to recreate the same experience created by Google but is substituting in its own Edge browser for WPAs and a UWP-based app store instead of Android. But this isn't the first attempt by the Redmond-based firm to reclaim its position at the lower end of the computing price range, either. The company announced in May of last year that it would be launching a new version of its Windows OS called Windows 10 S. While that variant of the ecosystem was initially intended to compete with Chromebooks, it was ultimately a lot like the full-scale version of Windows 10 and hasn't managed to gain any real traction.
Impact: Chrome OS has an obvious head start due to Google's consistent adjustments and improvements on a near-monthly basis over the past several years and the formation of new hardware partnerships. As with Windows machines, Chromebooks are also in the works with LTE support and Snapdragon SoCs for a smooth and 'Always Connected' experience. However, if Microsoft is going to change the opinions of users who are now growing up on in a 'Chromebook era,' then it will need somewhere to start and the Lite version of Windows might be it. While it will likely lack in comparison at first, it will at least provide an alternative to Chrome OS to those who want one. Of course, with this not being the first time the company has tried to offer a more lightweight solution, it it also might not be the last.