Did you know that most versions of Windows have more than one edition? In a computer store, most laptops on the shelf run Windows 10 Home, but there’s also a Pro edition with more features. Aside from these, Microsoft has also released limited flavors of some Windows versions.
Just like Windows RT was a stripped-down form of Windows 8, Microsoft has just announced Windows 10 S as a lighter version of Windows 10. Let’s find out how this version differs from the established ones, and whether you should buy a device running it.
What’s Windows 10 S?
Windows 10 S is a lightweight version of Windows 10 that’s designed to compete with Google’s Chromebooks. It’s the Windows 10 interface that everybody knows, but with one massive limitation: you can only download software through the Windows Store. Programs downloaded from anywhere else on the web simply won’t work.
By limiting software to the Windows Store and preventing use of any browser except Microsoft Edge, Microsoft claims that Windows 10 S will be more secure than standard versions.
Microsoft is aiming this operating system (OS) version at the education sphere, which is evident for two reasons. First, students benefit from the lockdown security features. Kids who don’t understand internet and computer safety can’t install rogue software on a Windows 10 S device.
Second, Windows 10 S makes standardization easy in schools. With fewer programs available, plus some enterprise features built-in, this version of Windows makes it easier to manage a large number of devices.
If schools choose to do so, they can switch from Windows 10 Pro to Windows 10 S at no cost when it arrives.
What Are the Benefits and Limitations?
The biggest advantage of a lighter OS is that it runs faster, since fewer programs run in the background. Microsoft claims that Windows 10 S loads a user’s profile 15 seconds faster than the same machine running Windows 10 Pro.
While we can’t prove this claim (hardware affects load time, too), it sounds pleasant enough. However, this isn’t really a “feature” so much as an effect. If you don’t have any desktop software installed that runs at startup, of course your computer isn’t going to take as long to boot.
As a bonus, Windows 10 S devices also come with a free subscription to Minecraft: Education Edition and include Office 365 for Education.
You’ll find several big limitations, though. As we mentioned, Windows 10 S doesn’t allow you to use any desktop software. Everything must come from the Windows Store. While there are some great Windows Store apps, we can’t imagine that any seasoned Windows user could get along with only Modern apps.
Because you can’t download any desktop software, that means you’re limited to Microsoft Edge for browsing. While you could download a browser app from the Store, most big browsers (like Chrome and Firefox) aren’t available on that platform. Plus, since it’s stuck as the default, any links you click always open in Edge.
Further, you can’t remove the Bing default search engine setting, so fans of Google should beware. Microsoft’s FAQ page also mentions Internet Explorer, so it’s safe to assume that old IE will be sticking around for Windows 10 S, too. However, it’s only for compatibility reasons — you should use Edge over IE given the choice.
How Can I Get Windows 10 S?
Windows 10 S isn’t launching until summer 2017. But once it does, you can’t purchase it online or on a store shelf. Instead, Windows 10 S will be pre-installed on certain devices. Thus, if Windows 10 S interests you, you should seek out a specific device made for this flavor of Windows.
Notably, you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for a $50 fee if you decide that Windows 10 S is too limiting. While it’s nice to have a way out instead of being trapped in a stripped-down OS, we wish that you could upgrade to Windows 10 Home instead. Most people don’t need Windows 10 Pro’s extra features since they’re aimed at enterprise use. A $20 fee for upgrading to Home is more realistic for the average user.
Announced Windows 10 S Devices
Since Windows 10 S is a recent development, only a few hardware manufacturers have announced machines built for it. Devices reportedly will start at $189.
HP and Acer have each announced a cheaper copy of an existing laptop, with the only difference being the presence of Windows 10 S. HP’s ProBook x360 Education Edition has an 11-inch screen, 1366 x 768 display, 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of flash storage. These are similar specs to what you’d see in cheap Chromebooks. This edition is $299, while the standard one is $329. Is it worth saving $30 for a slimmed-down OS?
Acer’s new laptop features similar specs, but is a better deal. The revamped TravelMate Spin B1 Convertible is also $299, and features a 1080p touchscreen with a stylus. Since the normal machine is $399, the $100 savings on the new model is significant.
Microsoft has gotten into the game with its new Surface Laptop, too. Unlike the cheaper Chromebook competitors, this is a premium machine. It features a 13.5 inch screen and the same type of keyboard as the Surface Pro 4 keyboard cover. You can use the Surface Pen to draw on the screen, it features a new Core i5 or i7 processor, and supposedly has better battery life than the MacBook Air.
While it’s certainly an attractive device, it has a price to match: $999 gets you the i5 Surface Laptop with 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB SSD. It’s a pretty high price for less-than-average specs, and remember that it includes the watered-down Windows 10 S. However, Microsoft is allowing Surface Laptop owners to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free until the end of 2017.
Comparison to Chrome OS
Clearly, Microsoft is trying to compete with Chromebooks here. When you view these Windows 10 S devices as school-friendly machines, they make a lot of sense. Having a light version of Windows that only lets (theoretically) safe and approved apps installed thanks to the Windows Store is perfect for student use. Whether these will take some of the market share from Chromebooks, though, remains in the air.
Everyone knows Chrome and Google Search, but most are ambivalent towards Edge and Bing. OneDrive will serve the same purpose as Google Drive on Chromebooks, and you could say that Windows Store apps are equivalent to Chrome apps since they let you expand the base OS functionality. Chromebooks are already perfect devices for the elderly and anyone who wants a basic machine to browse the web — does Windows really need to adapt to fit this mold?
Chromebooks work so well because you can do a surprising amount with them. Most run Android apps now, bringing tons of extra functionality. You can also install Linux on them to have access to a “full” OS when you need it. Windows 10 S doesn’t have either of these perks.
Is Windows 10 S Worth It?
For most people, then, it’s hard to get excited about Windows 10 S. The Windows Store is full of dead and scam apps, making it feel less like a pleasant place to find apps and more like a dangerous minefield you must navigate.
And even decent apps, like Adobe Photoshop Express, pale in comparison to their true desktop counterparts. You can’t install essential software like Audacity, Paint.NET, CCleaner, or CrashPlan, severely limiting your options and productivity. Windows PCs, like Macs or Linux machines, are built for desktop software, not phone apps.
If you’re looking for a laptop around the price point of these Windows 10 S machines, consider whether a Chromebook would be better for you. Using just Microsoft Edge and Store apps could be limiting even for basic computer users. The hardware here isn’t anything to get excited about, and the Surface Laptop is pretty but costs a lot of money for unimpressive specs and half an operating system.
Windows 10 S could be a great development for education. But for the average user, the limits are too great to justify the slight savings. If you need a basic computer, get a Chromebook. If you need a full desktop environment, get a standard Windows machine.
What do you think about Windows 10 S? Does this limited device appeal to you, especially compared to a Chromebook? Let us know if you’d consider this OS for your next laptop down in the comments!
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