Monitor display of Windows 10 settings

Ask @WinObs: What Can Windows 10 Do to Help My Family Tech Support Woes?

(Bloomberg) -- Q. I do family tech support - would Windows 10 S be a good OS option for my relatives?

A. This is a great question because many of you as advanced users are likely on speed dial for some members of your family when it comes to their computers and helping them deal with any issues that come up with those devices.

Previously I had discovered that Windows 10 itself can help control many of the routine issues everyday users experience plus the Quick Assist Tool in the operating system makes it easy to connect with a remote system.

However, while Windows 10 itself has good security and you can force a user to use Microsoft Edge to prevent random toolbar installs since all Edge extensions must be installed from the Windows Store, you can still experience some issues such as drive-by downloads of malicious software from questionable websites and the like. In addition, how about those fake pop-ups asking a user to update their Flash install - those can wreak havoc as well.

Well Microsoft launched a variation of Windows 10 back in April of this year which was targeted at educational institutions however, it could also be used in situations where you want to prevent malicious software from entering and executing on the system from any avenue.

Windows 10 S, which Microsoft describes as streamlined for security and superior performance, might be a viable option for some family members who use their devices more like an appliance and not as advanced users.

The biggest difference between Windows 10 S and other versions of Windows 10 is that the user is only allowed to install verified apps that are in the Windows Store. Any attempt to install a desktop program that was downloaded from the web will result in this dialog:

Note: If a similar app can be found in the Windows Store then this dialog box will suggest that app as an alternative to the desktop version.

Windows 10 S continues to work like other versions of Windows 10 including receiving monthly quality updates, semi-annual feature updates, and of course various inbox app updates.

However, there are two restrictions beyond the software installation blocking shown above and that is the requirement to use Microsoft Edge as the default browser and Bing as the default search engine.

I know many of you will balk at these three key limitations but remember how this discussion began - asking the question of whether Windows 10 S would be a good OS option for family members.

If you want to answer this question for yourself then a recent announcement by the Windows Insider team whom manage the Windows 10 testing program might provide you that chance.

When Microsoft released Windows 10 Build 16273 to testers this week, this is a build in the development of the upcoming Fall Creators Update that is expected to be available in September/October timeframe, they added an interesting final note about the availability of Windows 10 S.

Included in this article is a link to download Windows 10 S on devices running Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise. It is a clean install so no existing programs or data is kept so make sure you backup the data for safe keeping. Of course, the programs are not retained because some of that desktop software will not run on Windows 10 S due to requirement to only run apps from the Windows Store.

Note: It would also be a good idea to create a Recovery Disk for any system you plan to attempt the Windows 10 S install on so that you can easily return to the previous operating system in case of any issues.

The other piece of advice I want to mention is to make sure you have drivers for the hardware you are installing Windows 10 S on because many drivers which come in executable archives will not run on Windows 10 S itself. That means you will need to extract those drivers on another device and then bring the entire package over to the Windows 10 S device for any updates that might be necessary. This is exactly what I had to do for testing Windows 10 S on a Lenovo Miix 720. That experiment continues to work running Windows 10 S and apps from the Windows Store.

Windows 10 S may not be a solution for all of your family members but if you are looking to stop your favorite Aunt or Uncle from ending up with regualrly infected systems then it just might reduce the number of frantic calls for assistance you would usually get.

You can learn more about Windows 10 S from these Microsoft resources:

  • Windows 10 S FAQ
  • Supported Devices and Drivers
  • Installing Office
  • Office on Windows 10 S FAQ


Editor's note: We are featuring a past Q&A from Richard Hay. “Ask @Winobs” is available exclusively to paid subscribers of the Windows Secrets newsletter. What you see here is just a small sampling of what Hay’s's writing for the newsletter — go here for more information on how to subscribe.

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