Microsoft officially pulled off the curtain on its oft-leaked and already-tested lightweight version of Windows 10 on May 2. Originally expected to be called Windows 10 Cloud, it is instead simply named Windows 10 S.
The company issued invites to the press early that month, and TechRadar was in attendance to provide the latest news and impressions from its New York City briefing.
Since its release, we’ve learned a few more details regarding Windows 10 S that Microsoft didn’t exactly wave and scream about during its reveal of the operating system (OS).
Cut to the chase
- What is it? A new, lightweight version of Windows 10
- 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 debuted on May 2, with devices using the OS available on the same day. Microsoft’s event invitation itself was titled “#MicrosoftEDU”, making no misgivings about its aims with the new OS.
However, to be clear, Windows 10 S is not for individual sale, but rather will be found on new devices issued to IT administrators in education as well as those on shelves. It’s no coincidence that Windows 10 S is focused on the education sector, where Google’s Chromebooks are currently ruling the roost.
With an event name like that, it would have made sense for Microsoft to make Windows 10 S available at the start of the 2017 school season, but we’ll take an earlier launch no problem.
Windows 10 S price
Windows 10 S doesn’t cost a dime. Well, not to schools sporting Windows 10 Pro already, that is. The cost of the OS is, more than likely, being subsidized by hardware makers in its pricing albeit for far less than Windows 10 proper if not for free.
As Windows 10 S is competing directly with Chrome OS, Google’s operating system for its Chromebook platform, it makes sense to use the same business model. Google doesn’t sell that OS individually for customers to install on machines themselves. As such, Microsoft seems to have followed suit.
In short, you won’t be paying for Windows 10 S so as much as you’ll pay for the hardware running it (with whatever Microsoft’s charging its partners, if anything, to license the software baked in that price somehow, too).
Save for the new Surface Laptop, the laptops running Windows 10 S start at $189 (about £146, AU$251) and cap out at $299 (about £239, AU$396). Premium category laptops will also be joining the Windows 10 S family, though no pricing information on those has been confirmed at this time.
What is Windows 10 S?
As we said, Windows 10 S is a more lightweight, pared down version of Windows 10. Specifically, the OS can only support apps downloaded from Microsoft’s Windows Store and those already baked into the OS.
In fact, Windows 10 S users won’t even have the choice of which browser or search engine they use, with Edge and Bing being the only options, respectively. But hey, at least converted Apple users can take solace in the fact that their Spotify music libraries can now be accessed through 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 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 positioned Windows 10 S as a more secure PC operating system. Already though, ZDNet found a hacker able to break into Windows 10 S’ security in under three hours using infected macro-based Word documents. Still, Windows 10 S proved to be a much tougher egg to crack than vanilla Windows.
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 Pro – i.e. the Windows 10 we know that can install any app – for a fee. It’s $49 for individuals, a fee that’s waived for Windows 10 S devices sold to schools.
Better yet, Microsoft more recently made it possible for Windows 10 Pro upgraders to make the move back down to Windows 10 S. So if you change your mind after installing Windows 10 Pro on that shiny new Surface Laptop, you can rest easy knowing that you aren’t tied to your decision one way or the other.
That said, what can you expect to see included in laptops and/or tablets 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 niceties like Maps and Mail and Calendar are shoo-ins, too. (Oh, and Cortana!)
Windows 10 S even 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 – File Explorer UI and all.
Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article