What, ex­actly, is Win­dows 10 S?

We shed light on the mo­tives be­hind Mi­crosoft’s new oper­at­ing sys­tem

PC Pro - - Windows 10 S -

So what is Win­dows 10 S? In short, it’s Win­dows 10 with­out the abil­ity to in­stall what­ever you like. Win­dows 10 S is built on the same code­base as its par­ent OS – there’s no rein­ven­tion of the wheel go­ing on here. In­stead, Mi­crosoft is hav­ing a second bash at sell­ing the world a locked-down oper­at­ing sys­tem that can only in­stall apps from its Store.

Mi­crosoft’s first at­tempt at this con­cept ended in ig­no­ble fail­ure. Win­dows RT was the ARM-based ver­sion of Win­dows 8 that would only run Store apps and re­worked ver­sions of Mi­crosoft’s own Of­fice apps.

De­spite a (Mi­crosoft-funded?) burst of en­thu­si­asm at launch, few man­u­fac­tur­ers re­leased ma­chines based on Win­dows RT and those that did soon re­gret­ted do­ing so. Sales were dis­mal and many cus­tomers who did pick up an RT ma­chine re­turned it to the re­tailer, con­fused as to why a Win­dows lap­top wouldn’t in­stall Google Chrome, Fire­fox or many of their favourite ap­pli­ca­tions. The re­turn rates were de­scribed as “painful” by a well-known PC re­tailer.

By the end, Mi­crosoft was the sole horse left in the race, its own Sur­face RT tablet be­ing the only de­vice still run­ning the cut-down ver­sion of Win­dows. It was qui­etly shelved with the launch of Win­dows 10 and nary men­tioned again by Mi­crosoft.

Chrome­book killer?

So what’s changed this time around? For one thing, peo­ple have warmed to the idea of run­ning locked-down lap­tops, par­tic­u­larly in schools. Chrome OS ac­counted for 58% of new ship­ments into US schools in 2016, ac­cord­ing to data re­leased ear­lier this year by Fu­ture­source Con­sult­ing. Win­dows’ US mar­ket share dipped to an all-time low of 22%, although it still com­mands 65% of the ed­u­ca­tion mar­ket world­wide.

As Mike Fisher, as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion at Fu­ture­source, noted ear­lier this year, “Mi­crosoft con­tin­ues to face chal­lenges to win back end user mind­share”.

“Chrome­book users and ad­min­is­tra­tors con­tin­u­ally re­fer to the sim­plic­ity and ease of use of the plat­form,” Fisher said, be­fore prac­ti­cally beg­ging Mi­crosoft to get into the game. “A po­ten­tial new OS of­fer­ing ‘Cloud OS’ – a stripped back, sim­pli­fied OS, de­signed specif­i­cally for cloud with ed­u­ca­tion in mind – would ‘square the dots’ on other re­cent moves Mi­crosoft has made in ed­u­ca­tion.” Mi­crosoft clearly heard the clar­ion call.

But, as Fisher noted in his re­marks, the suc­cess of the Chrome­book isn’t due solely to an app lock­down that makes them eas­ier to man­age than con­ven­tional Win­dows PCs – it’s also down to the price of the de­vices and the ad­min­is­tra­tor tools. Our hard­ware guide on p36 pro­vides a flavour of the prices be­ing charged for the first Win­dows 10 S de­vices, and Mi­crosoft claims to have the man­age­ment tools sorted, too.

Along­side Win­dows 10 S, Mi­crosoft un­veiled In­tune for Ed­u­ca­tion, a ver­sion of its cloud-based ap­pli­ca­tion and de­vice man­age­ment suite for schools. Mi­crosoft claims the dash­board has been de­signed for schools who “want to put de­vices in class­rooms and not touch them again for the rest of the school year”, with the dash­board sim­pli­fied to make it ac­ces­si­ble for “teach­ers play­ing the role of IT [ad­min] in the class­room”. It will be priced at $30 per de­vice man­aged, so a darned-sight cheaper than hir­ing an IT sup­port tech­ni­cian.

Con­sumer de­vices

Like Google, Mi­crosoft doesn’t only have its eyes on the ed­u­ca­tion mar­ket. Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from an­a­lyst IDC, Chrome­books out­sold Macs in the US for the first time last year. And although Google doesn’t spell out Chrome­book unit sales, there’s even a sug­ges­tion they’ve been re­spon­si­ble for halt­ing the long de­cline of PCs. IDC re­ported a slight 0.6% in­crease in PC sales ear­lier this year, its first recorded growth in five years. Ri­val re­search firm Gart­ner, on the other hand, recorded a con­tin­ued 2.4% de­cline. What could ex­plain the dis­crep­ancy be­tween the two firms’ fig­ures? IDC in­cludes Chrome­books in its PC count, Gart­ner doesn’t.

Even if hard data is dif­fi­cult to come by, there’s lit­tle doubt that Chrome­books have been mop­ping up some of the mar­ket that was re­served for low-cost Win­dows lap­tops. Which makes it all the more be­wil­der­ing why Mi­crosoft has cho­sen to show­case Win­dows 10 S on its high-end Sur­face lap­top – a 13.5in svelte ul­tra­portable with a Core i5 pro­ces­sor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, with the eye­brow­pro­pelling price of £979 inc VAT. The top-of-the-range Core i7/16GB of RAM/512GB SSD model costs in ex­cess of two grand. Does Mi­crosoft re­ally get this mar­ket?

There are other signs that Mi­crosoft doesn’t quite have the courage of its con­vic­tions. Most no­tably, it’s giv­ing Win­dows 10 S users a rip­cord – if they find the OS too re­stric­tive and want to up­grade to Win­dows 10 Pro, they can do so at any time for $49. How­ever, as An­dreessen Horowitz an­a­lyst Bene­dict Evans noted on Twit­ter: “Am I miss­ing some­thing or is ‘Win­dows 10 S’ ba­si­cally Win­dows but with a fee to change this set­ting?” he wrote, along­side a screen­shot of a set­ting from OS X that al­lows you to re­strict app in­stalls to the App Store. It gets worse: that same set­ting is al­ready in Win­dows 10 ( see op­po­site).

So is there re­ally noth­ing else to Win­dows 10 S than a tick­box that pre­vents down­loads of any ex­e­cuta­bles you might stum­ble across on­line? In all hon­esty, there’s not a whole lot more. Mi­crosoft has re­duced the time it takes for a ma­chine to be us­able if some­one logs in for the first time: it should now only take 15 sec­onds, with ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits for those us­ing a shared ma­chine in the class­room. It also demon­strated how Win­dows 10 S ma­chines can be im­aged from a USB drive in around 30 sec­onds, which is far quicker than your av­er­age Win­dows in­stall.

But the key sell­ing point of Win­dows 10 re­mains do­ing less, not more: Mi­crosoft is try­ing to make a virtue of only in­stalling apps from its Store. So what is life like when you try and live off the Store alone? We’ve been try­ing it out and share our ex­pe­ri­ences over­leaf.

Mi­crosoft is try­ing to make a virtue of only in­stalling apps from its Store

ABOVE The Win­dows Store has apps for big-hit­ters such as Drop­box, Net­flix and Of­fice, which won’t be pre-in­stalled on Win­dows 10 S

ABOVE Un­like the lim­ited days of Win­dows 8, there is now a de­cent range of cre­ative and pro­duc­tiv­ity apps on the Store

RIGHT There’s al­ready a set­ting in full-fat Win­dows 10 that lim­its app in­stalls to the Win­dows Store

BE­LOW Users, es­pe­cially those in schools, have now warmed to the idea of a locked-down, Chrome OS lap­top 33

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