One week ago a data dump of Microsoft’s future plans for Windows 10 was revealed by Brad Sams over at Thurrott.com, and included details for transitioning over to a future where Windows 10 in S Mode only runs store apps by default, and consumers will have to make the conscious decision to switch over to the fully-fledged version of the OS just to gain access to desktop applications that aren’t available in the store. Along with this, Microsoft is making more changes to how they sell Windows 10 Home to consumers, and it’ll take some options off the table that PC enthusiasts used to enjoy before. And it’s much more confusing as a result.

You can, and should, read Brad Sam’s article about the changes in addition to my column here. It took me a while to figure out how this was, or wasn’t going to work, and I think I understand it pretty well here. To sum things up:

  • Windows 10 in S Mode will be the default moving forward for all versions of Windows 10 (Home, Pro, etc.)
  • Windows 10 Home in S Mode users can upgrade to regular Windows 10 Home for free
  • Windows 10 Pro in S Mode users will have to pay $49 just to be able to install Win32 applications
  • The “S Mode” variants cost the same to OEMs as the regular versions
  • Partners are encouraged to set Edge and Bing as default browser and search engine, as well as pre-install the Store-based LinkedIn app and Office 2016 suite

Confusing, right? Not only do OEMs have to decide which versions of their products receive Windows 10 in “S Mode” and which don’t (because to them it literally doesn’t change the licensing cost), we’ll also get pre-built rigs and notebooks that would have ordinarily come with Windows 10 Pro now instead come with Windows 10 Pro in S Mode, prompting you to budget an extra R600ish for upgrading the operating system to run legacy Win32 applications. It doesn’t matter financially to the OEM which way they decide to go, but for Microsoft there’s a clear interest from their side to push “S Mode” variants because they’ll earn extra money through Microsoft Store purchases or through Windows 10 Pro upgrades.

Microsoft is also introducing changes that increase their license cost depending on the value and capabilities of the machine that it ships with. Prices range from $25 for low-end budget computers and go all the way to $101 for pre-built desktops and notebooks with serious firepower, lots of RAM, and the ability to drive 4K monitors. As a consumer, you shouldn’t have to worry about how much the license costs the OEM, but you will be affected by the internal pricing changes because any increases will get passed on to you. In the past, Microsoft charged OEMs less for bulk pricing across a range of products. Now, because the high-end PC gaming market is getting traction and is quite lucrative, the prices internally have increased to address that.

This is in addition to hardware categories that determine which license options can be applied to a specific machine – the higher the value of the machine, the more expensive the license that comes with it. These changes are expected to come into effect on 2 April 2018, one day into Microsoft’s 2019 financial year.

How does this affect you?

For starters, when you pick up a new machine running Windows 10 on S Mode, if you want to use applications that aren’t available in the Windows Store you have to upgrade your license to the full version of Windows 10. Luckily, that will be a free option for most consumers and a single click away, but for people buying desktops and laptops with Windows 10 Pro in S Mode, you have to pay more. This affects your application choices if you prefer using Google Chrome, Firefox, LibreOffice, Steam, or EA Origin to Microsoft’s own built-in options. There’s still no signs of Google supporting the Microsoft Store, and Gabe Newell was against the idea of Steam appearing in the Windows Store back when Windows 8 launched.

For now, Win32 applications still dominate the use of Windows operating systems, but they’re living on borrowed time now. Microsoft’s hand has been revealed, and they plan on forcing the entire software industry to change with them. It will happen eventually, but not before 2020. Maybe after Windows 7 finally kicks the bucket will Microsoft decide to throw all Win32 apps down the drain and only deliver software from the Store in future.

Given that the versions of Windows 10 that OEMs can pick from all share the same price, it might make sense that more notebooks and desktops come with Windows 10 Pro in S Mode instead. Not only do you gain extra control over your machine including the update schedule, you could actually take that device in its default state to your workplace and have it set up for your environment. If you had chosen a machine with the Home or Home S variant, it wouldn’t be suitable.

Will that happen? Probably not. I don’t have much faith in notebook and desktop manufacturers wising up to the idea of giving their customers a version of Windows that gives them more control over their product, and I think that’s Microsoft’s intention as well.

There’s also the argument that because the versions of Windows are all priced the same from the OEM’s perspective, that we should be able to pick which one we want for the device we want. Instead of buying a Ryzen 7 desktop from Dell with a Radeon RX 580 inside and Windows 10 Home, maybe we should be able to pick Windows 10 Pro without having to pay a severe price penalty for the upgrade? Maybe we should be able to do the same for our notebook of choice if we order direct from the OEM instead of a regular retailer? It would be nice. Windows 10 Home is rather limiting to a power user, and I’m sure no-one wants to pay R2,000 to do it themselves through the Microsoft Store.

Man, this is going to be a pain to navigate when I’m writing my Laptop Buyer’s Guide in April. Should I just move to Linux?

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