Another day, another version of Windows 10.
This time, Microsoft is focusing on the education market, as it announced Windows 10 S at an event in New York City on May 2, 2017. This major new addition to the Windows 10 family joins the Home and Pro variants as an option that OEMs can install on new PCs.
And while Microsoft already took the initiative with the premium new flagship Surface Laptop, several companies have also announced new Windows 10 S hardware, with prices starting as low as $189.
Let’s take a look at everything Windows 10 S has to offer, and where exactly this version fits in.
What is Windows 10 S?
In the simplest of terms, Windows 10 S is Microsoft’s answer to Chrome OS.
In other words, a simplified version of Windows designed for the education market, perfect for use on low-end hardware — simplicity, security and speed, being its three hallmarks.
Think of it as Windows 10 Pro with a locked down configuration that will make it easier for system administrators to manage these devices.
This also makes the platform itself less susceptible to security and performance issues. There are shades Windows RT and Windows 8.1 with Bing in this lightweight operating system, albeit the former was very limited in what it could do.
Windows 10 S is a lot more power packed in terms of options, but at the end of the day, it still borrows some ideas from both of its low-cost predecessors. Including the fact that Windows 10 S is limited to apps from the Windows Store, and will not be able to run traditional desktop software programs that versions like Home and Pro can.
Essentially, Microsoft has traded in app support in the name of security and performance.
Windows 10 S Features
Windows 10 S is defined by one specific design decision: the lack of support for the installation and use of traditional desktop software.
Its configuration comes with a setting that prevents it from running any app that does not come with the OS or is available through the Windows Store.
In fact, users will not even be able to change the default web browser, or even the search engine in Windows 10 S.
Edge and Bing are the deal here.
Microsoft claims that these moves are about security. Limiting installs to apps and games exclusively from the Store means that the OS is not vulnerable to viruses and malware that sneak in through online and offline sources, mostly when installing programs.
But this limitation is not quite as dramatic as it sounds, as third-party developers can easily convert their desktop apps to the Universal Windows Platform and make it available through the Windows Store. All thanks to the Desktop Bridge that Microsoft has created, which allows the porting of these Win32 applications. At the time of this writing, more than 500 such programs have been ported to the Windows Store, with names Slack and Evernote already there, and iTunes, set to debut.
And just like how Chrome OS systems can be managed by the cloud-based device management that Google offers, Windows 10 S machines will support Microsoft Intune to help configure these devices. IT admins will be able to set up machines using a USB drive with preconfigured options, and Windows 10 S will simply detect and customize all settings and make it ready for a school.
Windows 10 S Hardware
Speaking of machines, a whole range of them are incoming. Microsoft named seven hardware partners at its recent even that are bringing their new laptops and other devices to the market. These PC makers will be selling Windows 10 PCs at prices ranging from $189 to perhaps touching the upper limit of $999 that Microsoft has reserved for its Surface Laptop.
Which brings us to this premium new flagship device that the company has created to showcase the Windows 10 S platform. Starting at $999 for the Core i5 version with 4GB of RAM, the device offers an impressive 14.5 hours of battery life, in a package that weighs 1.2 kg. It houses a 13.5-inch display with an aspect ratio of 3:2, resolution made up of 3.4 million pixels, and minimum bezels.
Microsoft calls this the most balanced laptop you will ever find.
But it is clearly the OEMs partners that will offer those interested in the Windows 10 S platform, the full spectrum of hardware choices. A diverse range (mostly targeting the low end of the market, with some higher end creations too) is set to hit the retail shelves in the very near future.
Windows 10 S Price and Availability
Of course, the other big differentiator is that Windows 10 S is only available preinstalled on PCs by manufacturers. It is not possible for individuals to buy a license individually.
Windows 10 S powered machines will ship with a free one-year subscription of Minecraft: Education Edition, as well as free Office 365 for Education, along with Microsoft Teams.
Full versions of Office are also due for arrival to the Windows Store later this year, which should make Windows 10 S even more enticing for organizations that want a simple, streamlined, low maintenance, highly secured platform.
Upgrade Windows 10 S to PRO
And the best part is that if users find Windows 10 S to be too restrictive, they also have an option to enable all desktop software, for a fee. A device running this new operating system, once upgraded to Windows 10 Pro will function like normal, and be compatible with all hardware and software designed for the mainline OS.
The upgrade path is there for all users, costing $49 or less, as Microsoft is offering buyers of the Surface Laptop a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro until the end of the year. Educational customers also have the option of making the switch free of charge, if they want.
A Windows for the Education Market
One look at all these additions to Windows 10 S, and the hardware that Microsoft is helping bring to market, and it becomes clear that the software titan is going after Chrome OS. And even iOS, when it comes to the education sector. Chromebooks and iPads, both, have made major gains in schools, colleges, universities and education institutes in recent years, eating into the market share of the Windows platform.
While some schools do equip each student with their own computer, PCs, by and large are shared resources at most education institutes. Students usually pick up a laptop from a pile, log in and work, and then return it at the end of the class.
This multiuser setup makes security more important for these devices, as opposed to privately owned machines. And it also requires work to ensure that logins are fast and performance impacts are minimized, particularly as these systems also need to offer a full school day of battery life.
To that end, the constraints on just using the Windows Store apps should help achieve this.
Plus, Windows 10 S is designed to be faster for logging in, as Microsoft has tweaked the login process to ensure that a student can log in and have the system ready for use the first time in around 15 seconds.
Along with these improvements, the next major update for the operating system, now known as Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, is also taking steps to limit resource consumption of background applications.
All factors that should help Windows 10 S stand out in the highly important education sector.
Windows 10 S FAQs
1. What does the S in Windows 10 S mean?
While this new version of the OS was previously rumored as Windows 10 Cloud, Microsoft officially unveiled it as Windows 10 S at the launch even thig month. According to the company the S does not officially stand for anything in particular. But it may imply 'School' or perhaps even 'Store'.
2. Can it run all Windows programs?
No. A PC powered by Windows 10 S will not be able to run desktop programs, the software that is run using a standard Windows installers. These types of programs will have to be converted to apps and downloaded from the Windows Store for use on Windows 10 S.
3. Which browsers are available in Windows 10 S?
Microsoft has locked this version to the Edge web browser, providing no other options for desktop web browsers. No indication yet if Internet Explorer 11 is available, but we do know that companies like Google and Firefox will have to develop new Universal Windows Platform apps and launch them on the Store, as their current versions will not run on Windows 10 S.
4. How is Hardware support?
As expected, only some hardware peripherals will work with Windows 10 S. That’s because third-party drivers and utility software will not be allowed to be installed on this version of the OS. Redmond has assured that peripherals and accessories (like mouse, keyboard and printers) will be supported, though.
5. Is Windows 10 S only meant for schools?
Not at all. While Microsoft has positioned this version for the education market first and foremost, the locked down environment of Windows 10 S makes it a good fit for anyone that wants a low maintenance Windows machine.
6. Can updates be managed on Windows 10 S?
Yes. Windows 10 S offers support for Windows Update for Business that allows administrators to choose deployment schedules for feature updates, while deferring the normal, quality updates for up to 30 days. Microsoft Intune is also available for mobile device management of these Windows 10 S PCs.
7. What about BitLocker disk encryption, and domain joining?
The BitLocker feature available in Windows 10 Pro is available for Windows 10 S devices. Domain join, however, is not supported on traditional Active Directory based Windows networks. It is possible for these PCs to connect to Azure Active Directory, and they also have the ability roam an enterprise profile using Azure AD.
8. Will I be able to buy Windows 10 S?
Windows 10 will not be sold at retail, and this means that it will only come preinstalled on new devices.
9. Which companies are creating Windows 10 S devices?
While Microsoft has already unveiled the Surface Laptop, a range of third-party manufacturers have already confirmed their intentions to launch new devices, including companies like Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung, and Toshiba.
10. How to upgrade Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro?
The upgrade is managed through the Windows Store, and costs $49. It is also possible that a valid Windows 10 Pro key can also be used to upgrade a machine. Worth noting that Windows 10 S configuration will not be available once a device is upgraded to the Pro version of the OS.