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While Microsoft Windows has been a continual success on laptops and desktop PCs, it's fair to say that the company has struggled to adapt to a world where such devices exist on an increasingly wide spectrum that now includes mobile phones, tablets and smart speakers.

Even in the laptop arena, Microsoft's entry-level partners have been consistently undercut by Google's Chrome OS, which is given to manufacturers like Samsung, Acer and Lenovo for free. These "Chromebooks" are not only cheaper because Chrome OS is free but also much more compact than Windows has managed to get because of Google's slim OS.

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The more compact your operating system is, the less a manufacturer needs to spend on storage chips, which usually reduces the retail price even further. It's not unusual to find Chromebooks with only 32 gigabytes of space -- and because Chrome OS is so heavily oriented toward cloud-based storage and apps, the user doesn't need much extra capacity on the device itself.

So how does Windows compete against Chrome OS? According to a new report from The Verge, Microsoft is working on a "Windows Lite" to cut down on how much storage its operating system uses up. This would purportedly allow the operating system to fit into the tablet category, where Windows has historically struggled to leave room on the device for apps, games, and media.

The existence of Windows Lite doesn't come as a surprise, as ZDNet reported on its emergence in late February. But with The Verge getting independent confirmation, Microsoft's plans to fight Google look increasingly central to its long-term goals.

The apparent emphasis on dual-screen devices is also timely, with multiple phone manufacturers now releasing or announcing handsets with this functionality (and in the case of the Samsung Galaxy Fold, we have a display that can literally fold in on itself when not in use).

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Of course, the market may not necessarily embrace Microsoft's operating system on another platform anyway. While Windows Phone struggled in part because it simply arrived too late, experienced techies still remember the old Microsoft that built the foundation of Windows with an emphasis on ruthless and legally ambiguous business tactics, rather than leading with innovative software design principles.

In this context, a new evolution of Windows must compete with more than Google, Apple and Linux. The biggest obstacle may be Microsoft's own checkered past.

Takeaways

  • According to reports from The Verge and ZDNet, Microsoft is working on a stripped down version of its operating system dubbed "Windows Lite," to compete mainly against Google's wildly successful Chromebook laptops and tablets.
  • However, since Windows arguably became triumphant because of Microsoft's ruthless business tactics, rather than on its own merits, it remains to be seen if the company's operating system can succeed beyond the territory that it originally carved out for itself.

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.