Initially revealed as a standalone operating system in May 2017, the lightweight version of Windows 10 faced some mixed reception upon release. However, Windows 10 S has evolved quite a bit since then, and has helped Windows 10 reach an impressive 800 million installs. Still, much of the criticism has boiled down to restrictions it places on anyone trying to install third party programs. But, now that you can switch out of Windows 10 S Mode, it’s a much more attractive OS.
Despite its restrictions, Windows 10 S makes a lot of sense for the right kind of user and devices – either with the Surface Go, or a Raspberry Pi 3 running Windows 10. And, even for people using dual-screen devices, we’ve seen reports that Microsoft is working on “Windows Lite”, which will reportedly function similarly to Chrome OS.
Windows 10 S Mode will also be able to take advantage of any Windows 10 updates, like the October 2018 Update (even though that update is being adopted pretty slowly), the upcoming Windows 10 April 2019 Update, and even the untitled 2020 update that just started beta testing.
Windows 10 S Mode is a major component of the Windows 10 experience these days, so we thought it would be a good idea to dive in and explore everything the lightweight operating system can do. Be sure to keep this page bookmarked, and we’ll update it with any Windows 10 S news that shows up.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? Windows 10 without x86 and x64 apps
- 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 first launched on May 2, 2017, with devices using the OS trickling out over the following months. And, now, Windows 10 S is bigger than ever, a fact that we expect Microsoft to celebrate with new Surface devices at Tuesday’s press event – these lower-spec Windows 10 devices are more versatile than ever before.
There are plans to allow Windows 10 S users to switch out of S Mode through a UI toggle, but that’s not available at the time of writing. Luckily, you can still easily switch out of S Mode – just head to the Windows Store on your device and search for ‘switch out of S Mode’. As for when we’ll see the switch get implemented, who knows? However, Microsoft may sneak it in at a later date – we don’t think it’ll appear in the April 2019 Update, though.
Now, as for the reveal of Windows 10 S itself – Microsoft’s event invitation 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 essentially doesn’t cost a dime. The cost of the lightweight OS is more than likely subsidized by hardware makers, assuming they’re not getting it for free. Basically, you don’t really pay for Windows 10 S Mode, instead you’re paying for the hardware running it (with, again, whatever Microsoft is charging its partners to license the software).
Save for premium devices like the original Surface Laptop, you can find devices running Windows 10 S Mode starting at just $189 (about £146, AU$251) and cap out around $299 (about £239, AU$396). PC makers across the board, including Dell, HP, Asus, Acer and Lenovo all have Windows 10 S Mode-powered devices in their stables.
But, now that Windows 10 S Mode is a thing, it’s a toggle that doesn’t cost anything extra. Both Windows 10 Home and Pro S Mode users are able to go to the Windows Store and opt out of S Mode, though the conversion only works one way – out of S Mode – right now. Though, there will be a switch in the settings app of a future build, that will let users go back and forth.
What is Windows 10 S?
Microsoft intends Windows 10 S to serve as a lightweight, more secure version of Windows 10 for lower-end devices. While in “S Mode,” Windows 10 will only support apps that are downloaded from the Windows Store.
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 8 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 Home or Pro by just going to the Windows Store and searching for “switch out of S Mode”. Microsoft used to charge a fee for this service, but now it’s free for everyone.
Microsoft will also allow users that upgrade to Windows 10 Pro to move back down to Windows 10 S. And, now that Microsoft is rumored to be working on a Windows 10 Lean Mode, which will be even more lightweight and locked down.
Oddly enough, the shiny new Surface Laptop 2 now ships with Windows 10 Home, not in S Mode like the previous.
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.
- Images Credit: Microsoft
Bill Thomas and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this article