Windows 10 in S Mode was first unveiled as a standalone operating system by Microsoft back in May 2017. Ever since then, the thin client version of Windows 10 has been met with mixed reception. This is mostly due to the restrictions it places on anyone trying to install any programs not found on the Windows Store.
Windows 10 S Mode will limit you to apps found on the Microsoft Store, rather than just letting you install whatever. Now, PC traditionalists will probably never use Windows 10 S Mode, but it makes sense for the right kind of user and device – something like the Microsoft Surface Go.
Windows 10 S Mode also takes advantage of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update. Along with a handy new ‘Your Phone’ app that lets you sync your Android phone with your PC, you’re also getting a cloud-connected clipboard, which should be awesome for anyone that works on multiple Windows 10 S devices.
Because Windows 10 S Mode is such a major part of Windows 10 these days, we’re going to dive in and explore everything you need to know about Microsoft’s lightweight OS. So, be sure to keep this page bookmarked, as we’ll update it with any new information that comes our way.
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.2
Microsoft has plans to allow users to switch out of S Mode through a simple UI switch, but that’s not quite ready yet. If you’re looking for a quick and easy way out of S Mode, just head to the Windows Store on your device and search for ‘switch out of S Mode’. As for when the switch will get implemented, no one knows, but Microsoft may sneak it in at a later date – we don’t think it’ll be in the October 2018 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.
Bill Thomas and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this article