Yesterday, Microsoft held a product introduction event focused around the use of Windows in educational environments, and they took the opportunity to announce some new hardware and software. The most important announcement coming out of the event was the new Windows 10 edition that they’ll allow OEMs to bundle with devices, called Windows 10 S. Windows 10 S is a less feature-full version of Windows 10 Pro aimed at educational institutions which wanted an alternative to Google’s ChromeOS on Chromebooks, as well as regular consumers and businesses that just want a version of Windows that only runs applications available in the store.
No, I’m not making that up – this is a version of Windows that will be available on store shelves pre-installed on devices that cannot run Win32 applications like Google Chrome or Steam. It is almost, but not quite, a return to the Windows on ARM product that debuted with the Surface RT-style devices several years ago.
“S” in stands for “streamlined” according to Microsoft, and this version of the OS is as slim as you can get in the Windows world. It has no other applications installed aside from the defaults that come with Windows. It has a lighter payload of drivers and software for legacy devices, and it runs a limited selection of background services to improve system responsiveness and security.
Windows 10 feature comparison
|Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 S||Windows 10 Pro|
|Run Win32 apps||Yes||No||Yes|
|Run only Store apps||Configurable||Yes||Configurable|
|Azure Active Directory domain join||No||Yes||Yes|
|Default browser||Edge (configurable)||Edge only||Edge (configurable)|
|Default search engine||Bing (configurable)||Bing only||Bing (configurable)|
|Windows Update for Business||No||Yes||Yes|
|Mobile Device Management console||Limited features||Yes||Yes|
|Bitlocker drive encryption||No||Yes||Yes|
|Enterprise Azure/AD roaming profiles||No||Yes||Yes|
|Shared PC configuration||No||Yes||Yes|
Like Windows 10 Pro, Windows 10 S is able to be used and configured through the same management consoles like MDM or Azure Active Directory, and you get a lot of the same security features like Bitlocker drive encryption. The inclusion of “Shared PC configuration” is interesting, because that feature allows anyone with a Microsoft account to sign into any PC connected to the same domain, or the internet, and have their desktop applications and files synced through OneDrive available at a moment’s notice (subject to your connection speed, of course). That feature was deprecated on Windows 10 Home, and it’s only available for Pro, Education, and Enterprise installations. Windows 10 S joins that group now.
Who is it for? Microsoft says their targets with this version of Windows are schools and universities (the ones currently under the thumb of Google’s ChromeOS), but that it’s also for people who are looking for an OS that’s more secure and consistent (read: fool-proof). Looking at the short feature break-down, there’s a third type of customer in there as well – small to medium enterprises who don’t want to pay for a volume license agreement from Microsoft, but still want a lot of the same features found in Windows 10 Pro.
There’s also the possibility that these same organisations will also go through the trouble of packaging their custom applications into the Universal Windows Application platform and control its distribution and update schedules remotely. They’ll be able to hand out licenses and applications to users on a case-by-case basis using the MDM console, and revoking access in case of an employee change or theft is trivial. However, in this scenario I’d argue that any business or educational institution already doing this has infrastructure capable of supporting Windows 10 Pro, which has all of the same features, can be configured and managed identically, and still will run normal Win32 applications.
The inclusion of Windows Update for Business is a nice addition though. Through it, you can defer upgrades to a new version of Windows for several weeks, avoiding the pitfalls of the regular Windows 10 Home edition that is on a rolling release schedule and will update as new patches become available.
To aid in the lack of professional applications for the Windows Store, Microsoft also announced that they’ll be porting the full-featured Office applications into the UWP framework using the Desktop Bridge porting software, which will allow any Win32 application to be converted into a UWP application that can be pushed through the Store, or side-loaded just like an Android APK. Consumers who have their own custom applications or require access to specific apps will be able to do the same themselves using Desktop Bridge, but you need a full version of Windows 10 to be able to do this, and you need to be able to insert self-signed certificates that Windows will accept during installation.
Devices running Windows 10 S will become generally available starting in June 2017, and Microsoft’s hardware partners will have many options available for consumers and businesses alike. For consumers who purchase hardware with Windows 10 S and want access to Win32 applications, they can pay a $50 fee to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro on the spot.