In-depth: What is Windows 10 S and why does it exist?
Today Microsoft announced a new branch of Windows 10 called Windows 10 S. It’s not replacing anything per se. You can still get Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro, but the new Windows 10 S is something special. Presumably it will be less expensive for OEMs to include on new PCs and it will have some distinct advantages that will make it compete more strongly with Chrome OS and even macOS.
Windows 10 S is mainly targeted towards schools. Managing thousands of full powered Windows 10 Pro computers connected to Active Directory can be a pretty big job. You have to create all sorts of group policy objects to keep users from installing certain programs and whatnot. You might have to set up each PC individually and get it to join the Active Directory domain. That can be a lot of work.
With Windows 10 S, it’s now possible for the administrator to create a USB key that you plug into a freshly booted Windows 10 S computer, and the new operating system automatically recognizes the disk as having all of the configuration and set up information… and proceeds to set itself up automatically. If you’re an administrator at a school, that’s much easier than some of the other methods you might have to consider.
Another big difference about Windows 10 S versus the traditional Windows versions is that it is only capable of installing programs from the official Windows Store. That means if you’ve got some software on a USB disk or you try to download something crazy from a website, you’re not going to get very far.
In fact, Windows 10 S will give you a notification when you try to do something that’s not supported. It will also potentially suggest a similar app that is approved but can be installed from the Windows Store. Only allowing official Windows Store apps is similar to how Windows RT worked in the days of Windows 8 and the Surface RT, but Windows 10 S still functions on x86 processors whereas Windows RT was exclusively for ARM type processors.
Furthermore, developers can now extend access of their x86 apps to the Windows 10 S audience through the Project Centennial bridge.
One of the advantages of having the operating system locked down against installing programs from anywhere but the official store is obviously security. If you can’t install any unauthorized programs, then theoretically nobody will be able to install unauthorized programs. That means no malware, no viruses, no trojans… no bad stuff!
For large organizations that manage many PCs or schools that have kids sharing PCs, that can be a huge advantage. Even home users might want a computer that can still run real programs like the full Microsoft Office, but without the risk of accidentally installing malware.
Another advantage that Windows 10 S brings to the table is speed. Without any unauthorized 3rd party apps clogging up the start-up processes and with a more stripped down operating system, computers running Windows 10 S can be a bit faster.
This is especially true when logging in as a new user. Signing into a fresh Windows 10 S PC with your Office 365 or Active Directory account seems to be much faster than signing into a similar PC running Windows 10 Pro.
Clearly, Windows 10 S has some real advantages when it comes to managing a large number of PCs that will be shared among students or users. That’s one of the big advantages to using Google Chromebooks in the classroom. There’s no real need to set anything up because basically you’re only going to use a web browser.
With Windows 10 S, those setup and management time requirements are practically gone and you get the advantage of much more advanced software… as long as it’s available in the Windows Store. Of course, just like Chromebooks, all of the web-browser accessible content is there as well, though you’ll probably have to use Microsoft’s Edge browser as most other browser alternatives aren’t in the Windows Store.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to upgrade Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro. It only costs $49 to turn your Windows 10 S into Windows 10 Professional, and until the end of 2017 that cost is totally waived (meaning it’s free). That may seem strange to some, since many power users are probably going to want the full Windows 10 Pro straight away. So far, though, HP and Acer have decided to offer Windows 10 laptops they currently sell, but just with Windows 10 S loaded on instead.
Windows 10 S seems to be a great option for OEMs to include on very inexpensive laptops and tablets. For schools, not having to worry about students installing malware is a huge advantage. For home users, that’s potentially a huge advantage as well. Many people could certainly get away with having a computer that only has a web browser and Windows Store apps (which does include the full version of Office.)
What do you think? Will a locked-down version of Windows 10 be a good choice for you or someone you know?
Jules Wang contributed to this article.