On May 2, 2017, Microsoft officially revealed the long-rumored Windows 10 S. Since then, the thin client version of the ever-popular Windows 10 home computing operating has been met with mixed reception as a result of the limitations it imposes on those looking to use traditional x86 and x64 applications.
Rather than allowing you to download and install any program that you would like, as is custom in the Microsoft Windows ecosystem, Windows 10 S restricts users to applications obtained in the Windows 10 Store. However more secure that may be than the alternative, it’s clear that PC users aren’t entirely sold on the concept.
After all, the Surface Laptop, which was originally debuted alongside Windows 10 S, is now being sold without it. Better yet, with reports of Microsoft developing a second cloud-based operating system known internally as Polaris, it’s likely ‘Windows 10 Cloud’ – what we all thought 10 S was going to be called – isn’t dead just yet.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? A new, lightweight version of Windows 10
- When is it out? Available now
- What will it cost? Free to all schools using Windows 10 Pro
Windows 10 S release date
Windows 10 S debuted on May 2, with devices using the OS available on the same day and others – such as the Surface Laptop – released in the months thereafter.
Microsoft’s event invitation itself was titled ‘#MicrosoftEDU’, making no misgivings about its aims with the new OS. While Windows 10 S is not for individual sale, it is issued to IT administrators in education as well as laptops found in stores and online.
It’s no coincidence that Windows 10 S is focused on the education sector, where Google’s Chromebooks are experiencing outlandish success.
Windows 10 S price
Windows 10 S doesn’t cost a dime. Well, not to schools sporting Windows 10 Pro already, that is. The cost of the OS is, more than likely, being subsidized by hardware makers in its pricing albeit for far less than Windows 10 proper, if not for free.
As it’s competing directly with Chrome OS, Google’s operating system for its Chromebook platform, it makes sense that Windows 10 S would use the same business model. Google doesn’t sell that OS individually for customers to install on machines themselves. As such, Microsoft seems to have followed suit.
In short, you won’t be paying for Windows 10 S so as much as you’ll pay for the hardware running it (with, again, whatever Microsoft’s charging its partners, if anything, to license the software baked in that price somehow, too).
Save for the new Surface Laptop, laptops running Windows 10 S start at $189 (about £146, AU$251) and cap out at around $299 (about £239, AU$396). PC makers across the board, including Dell, HP, Asus, Acer and Lenovo, have all launched Windows 10 S-powered notebooks at this time.
Premium category laptops were said to be joining the Windows 10 S family as well, but aside from Microsoft’s own Surface Laptop, they’ve been few and far between up to this point – save for Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 laptops, like the Asus NovaGo and Lenovo Miix 630.
What is Windows 10 S?
As we said, Windows 10 S is a more lightweight, pared down version of Windows 10. Specifically, the OS can only support apps downloaded from Microsoft’s Windows Store and those already baked into the OS.
This talk of a version of Windows that can only download Microsoft-approved apps is familiar, isn’t it? Microsoft believes it has mastered this approach since the turbulent days of Windows RT and Windows 8 with Bing – both of which tried to position Microsoft as the sole provider of apps through curation.
The good news is that this allows for a startup time of under 5 seconds as opposed to the 30 – 40 second startup time of Windows 10 Pro. Not only that, but configuring settings (such as Wi-Fi, webcam, etc.) across an entire classroom of students is as easy as inserting a USB stick in each of their laptops.
Being in competition with Google’s Chrome OS, Microsoft has, of course, also positioned Windows 10 S as a more secure PC operating system. However, its resilience to viruses is mostly a side-effect of the inability to install apps not approved by Microsoft. Historically, Windows viruses have tended to erupt from untrustworthy internet downloads
Should you find a must-have app that isn't available in the Microsoft Store in Windows 10 S you can switch from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro – i.e. the Windows 10 we know that can install any app – for a fee. It's $49 for individuals, a fee that's waived for Windows 10 S devices sold to schools.
More recently, Microsoft also made it possible for Windows 10 Pro upgraders to make the move back down to Windows 10 S. So if you change your mind after installing Windows 10 Pro on that shiny new Surface Laptop, you can rest easy knowing that you aren’t tied to your decision one way or the other.
That said, what can you expect to see included in devices running Windows 10 S? Well, the Edge browser, OneNote and Windows Ink are all givens. The standard Movies and Groove Music apps, as well as Maps and Mail and Calendar are shoo-ins, too.
Of course, we won’t see x86/x64 program support on a Windows 10 cloud operating system until 2019 when the aforementioned Polaris is expected to touch down and implement a ‘virtualization container’ for each of your favorite legacy applications. That means that, yes, should everything work out perfectly, there will be a Windows 10 cloud OS that can emulate the .exe’s of the past.
Despite its constraints, Windows 10 S still features File Explorer, and although many of the laptops that come with the lightweight OS pre-installed may ship with smaller capacity SSDs, Microsoft’s forthcoming introduction of OneDrive Files On-Demand will make it so files can be stored in the cloud, but still viewed the same way as locally stored content.
All things considered, there are still questions looming around in regard to the viability of Windows 10 S. Fortunately, as new developments emerge to (hopefully) address those criticisms, you can count on us to cover them right here on this page.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article