When Microsoft held their education-focused event yesterday, the newest member of the Windows 10 family was the common connector between the hardware and services announced. Windows 10 S is going to be a big deal.
It is on the new Surface Laptop, compatible with Intune for Education and the Set UP School PCs app, and it will be installed as the operating system on several affordable OEM devices from companies like HP, Acer, Asus, Dell, Toshiba, Samsung, and Fujitsu.
Included with the purchase of any of these Windows 10 S based devices students and teachers will also get the following for free:
-- Free one year subscription to Minecraft: Education Edition
-- Free Office 365 for Education with Microsoft Teams
-- Free Windows 10 S upgrade for schools on their current Windows Pro devices
-- Free trial of Microsoft Intune for Education
The freebies also extend out to consumers who purchase a Surface Laptop which will be running Windows 10 S. They will be eligible for a free one year subscription to Office 365 Personal and a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro until 31 December 2017.
The key feature of Windows 10 S is the fact the OS will only run apps installed from the Windows Store. If you want to run Chrome, iTunes, or any other desktop software, you have one oftwo choices: Hope it's in the Windows Store (which is possible if the developer used the Desktop Converter App to convert it to a Store app), or upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. Fortunately, you can do that at 50% of the normal $99 upgrade price.
Of course, initial commentary from users and interested parties suggests that the S in Windows 10 S stands for 'scam,' arguing that users have to pay a $50 upgrade fee for Windows 10 Pro if you want to run desktop software. The other sentiment that has been popular is that Windows 10 S has a $50 fee to install Chrome, iTunes, or any other desktop software of your choice.
So, let’s start this look behind Windows 10 S by comparing its feature set against the other two versions of Windows 10 available to consumers – Windows 10 Home and Pro.
I am using information for this comparison from Microsoft’s Windows 10 S FAQ and the Windows 10 Pro product listing in the Windows Store.
|Windows 10 Feature||Home||S||Pro|
|Windows Store and Apps||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Multiple Desktops & Snap||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Mobile Device Management (MDM)||Limited||Yes||Yes|
|Install and run desktop software||Yes||No||Yes|
|Windows 10 Pro Upgrade via Store||Yes ($99)||Yes ($49)||N/A|
|Join On-Premise Domain||No||No||Yes|
|Microsoft Store for Business & Education||No||Yes||Yes|
|Windows Update for Business||No||Yes||Yes|
|Join Azure Active Directory/Domain||No||Yes||Yes|
|Enterprise State Roaming with Azure AD||No||Yes||Yes|
|Shared PC Configuration||No||Yes||Yes|
|Default Browser||Configurable||Edge (Locked)||Configurable|
|Default Search||Configurable||Bing (Locked)||Configurable|
As you can see, Windows 10 S shares more features in common with Windows 10 Pro than it does with Home. I believe this is a signal that Windows 10 S will eventually become the de facto consumer version of Windows 10 and replace Home.
For advanced users, that replacement option will allow them the flexibility to have access to advanced tools normally only found on Pro but also be just one step away from a $50 upgrade to Windows 10 Pro to run desktop software. That upgrade will end up costing them 50% less than it currently does for Home users ($99 in the Windows Store).
(I still need to get my hands on Windows 10 S so that I can explore another important area for advanced users: the ability to defer feature updates or pause Windows Updates which are both possible in Windows 10 Pro in the Creators Update.)
This also makes a lot of sense for everyday users. The locked-down Windows 10 S is a step toward a very specific type of security, i.e. one which eliminates outside threats. There's the restriction to only run apps from the Windows Store; there's securing Microsoft Edge as the default browser; there's Bing as the default search engine. Windows 10 Home running Edge is already much more secure than other browsers and this will make that much more effective.
Note: Many of you reading this are not everyday users, but many of you support these types of users, i.e. members of your family and your friends. Based on my own experience of how Windows 10 and Edge reduced the periodicity of assistance calls I received in one specific circumstance - this will make the general population of Windows devices much more secure.
There are a few sites labeling Windows 10 S as a lightweight version of the operating system which is why it is supposed to run well on low end devices from OEMs. That could not be further from reality and all you have to do is look at the chart above and see that Windows 10 S actually has more features in it then Windows 10 Home. I also spent time on several OEM devices at the #MicrosoftEDU Showcase. All of these devices were built for Windows 10 -- not optimized for Windows 10 S -- and they ran very well for the use cases they are intended to support such as web browsing, word processing, and light gaming.
The other thing to keep in mind when it comes to upgrading Windows 10 S to Pro is that is a one-way journey according to Microsoft. What is not 100% clear is if that means you then clean install Pro on that device and have a digital entitlement to the Pro version of Windows 10 or if you have to come back to Pro by reinstalling Windows 10 S. Based on the way upgrades and digital entitlements have been handled with Windows 10 since it was released I expect a clean install of the upgraded version of the OS will be all that is necessary. Of course, the Reset option in Windows Settings will reset the device to the currently installed genuine OS as well.
My next step is to get some serious hands on time in Windows 10 S so that I can figure out additional feature parity such as the blocking of Windows Update and future feature updates which I mentioned earlier.
What do you think of Microsoft's new operating system and its restrictive features?