FAQ: Windows 10 S
Windows 10 S is Microsoft’s answer to Chromebooks in school. BRAD CHACOS rounds up everything the software giant has unveiled
Microsoft is taking aim at Chromebooks and MacBooks alike with Windows 10 S, a new version of Windows 10 designed foremost for educational use. But schools alone aren’t the firm’s target audience, and while the new operating system shares the same underlying bones as the standard version of Windows 10, there are some stark differences too. Over the following pages we reveal everything you need to know.
What’s the S for?
Windows chief Terry Myerson claims it stands for four different aspects of the operating system:
Superior performance Streamlined for simplicity “The soul of Windows 10”
And sure, those all apply. Even the last one. But really, the S could stand for ‘Store’.
What is the difference between Windows 10 and Windows 10 S?
The key change in Windows 10 S over standard Windows 10 is that you can download and install apps only from the Windows Store, which helps to keep the machines ultra-secure. Apps then run in a safe container that prevent them from affecting overall performance of the machine. Microsoft says Windows 10 S laptops will offer the same performance on their first day out of the box as they do their last day of life.
If necessary, teachers can switch to Pro mode to install other apps, but children will not have this luxury. Upon attempting to install a program from an .exe file a warning pops up that says the app cannot be installed, offering alternatives within the Store.
While Windows 10 S can run any web browser found in the Windows Store, the company specifically pointed to some Microsoft Edge features that were designed with students in mind, such as annotation and sharing for research purposes.
Windows 10 S machines can support devices and peripherals in the same way as can standard Windows 10 devices including, for example, the Ohbot Arduino robot designed to help children learn coding and VR headsets. The settings for a group of Windows 10 S laptops can be centrally managed, allowing you to quickly make changes on every machine. Teachers can also set up a preconfigured environment in as little as 30 seconds by plugging in a USB stick to each machine.
Microsoft also announced that Office 365 Personal will be coming to the Windows Store soon, while Office 365 for Education will be free with Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Intune for Education is also available now, the company announced. An added bonus for students using Windows 10 S is a one-year subscription to Minecraft Educational Edition.
What does the S stand for?
According to Microsoft, the S in Windows 10 S stands for three things:
Streamlined for simplicity Secure
Microsoft says Windows 10 S will be available on new laptops from its partners this summer, which means they will be in student hands for the next school year.
What if I want to run desktop software?
You can’t, unless it’s been packaged as a Windows Store app. Trying to run other software will prompt a pop-up telling you it’s banned, and a suggestion for a similar app in the Windows Store.
If you really need to run desktop software,
Microsoft makes it easy to upgrade from Windows
10 S to 10 Pro. (There’s no apparent way to convert to Windows 10 Home.) A link at the bottom of the aforementioned pop-up will bring you to the Windows 10 Pro upgrade page in the Windows Store, where an administrator can start the install process. No, schoolchildren won’t be able to do it themselves, and that’s a good thing – this is a one-way process. Once you’ve switched to Windows 10 Pro, you can’t go back to Windows 10 S.
Depending how where your Windows 10 S device came from, however, that Windows 10 Pro upgrade may or may not cost you money.
For schools already running Windows Pro PCs the new operating system is free. New laptops running Windows 10 S will be available from $189 (£TBC).
You won’t be able to buy Windows 10 S by itself, only on devices that come with it preloaded.
What Windows 10 S laptops are there?
Microsoft immediately muddied the messaging waters with the Window 10 S flagship device, the £949 and up Surface Laptop, which has much more in common with Apple’s MacBook Air than the legion of Chromebooks most Windows 10 S computers will compete with.
Look for Windows 10 S laptops to arrive over the summer, perhaps starting with the Surface Laptop, (page 4). It’s unclear if PC makers plan to sell many Windows 10 S laptops to consumers, or will instead focus on direct sales to schools.
Other things to look out for
Not many – Windows 10 S is largely just Windows 10. It offers Cortana, Windows Hello biometric authentication, and all the other usual Windows perks. But there are a few things to watch out for.
Most notably, Windows 10 S restricts your browser to Microsoft Edge, and your search results to Bing. You can of course navigate to, say, Google’s search page in the browser if you want, but you can’t change the default browser, and all system interactions that point to a browser will always point to Edge. The point’s a bit moot, however, as major browsers like Chrome and Firefox aren’t in the Windows Store anyway.
You may also run into issues connecting hardware to your device – probably more so with older hardware. “Many hardware peripherals (such as printers) that work with Windows 10 today will work with Windows 10 S, but may have limited functionality,” Microsoft warns.
What’s in it for teachers?
This article focuses more on Windows 10 S from a consumer standpoint, but Microsoft is supporting the Windows 10 S push with numerous benefits for schools.
Most notably, Windows 10 S supports a slew of advanced features found in Windows 10 Pro, but not Windows 10 Home, like mobile device management, BITLOCKER encryption, Azure active directory domain join, and the crucial Windows Update for Business, which allows administrators to fine-tune exactly when they want feature updates to roll out, and defer normal updates for up to 30 days. It can all be managed through the cloud
Intune for Education
with Microsoft’s new Intune for Education (tinyurl.com/y7eomxk8), and admins can configure a system image using a wizard, then slap it on a USB key that can be used to install that customized version of Windows 10 S on any PC in under 30 seconds. Not too shabby.
There are benefits for students, too. Microsoft’s including a one-year subscription to Minecraft: Education Edition with Windows 10 S laptops and making Office
365 for Education free to schools. What’s more, these laptops are configured to save files to students’ ONEDRIVE account by default, making it easy for them to pick up where they left off while hopping from classroom to classroom and PC to PC.
Is this Windows RT reborn?
That’s the million-dollar question. Windows RT launched alongside Windows 8, was also limited to Windows Store apps and died a quick death amid consumer confusion.
There are some key differences between Windows 10 S and Windows RT. Since these laptops are powered by normal PC processors rather than Windows RT’s mobile ARM chips, they can run traditional desktop software found in the Windows Store, as mentioned previously. That may be splitting hairs for everyday users, though. Being restricted to the lacklustre Windows Store is still being restricted to the lacklustre Windows Store, though Microsoft now offers a bridge tool to help developers quickly port traditional desktop software over. Another key difference: Windows RT had Windows 8’s dreadful tablet-first interface. Windows 10 S is designed for PCs, though it can still switch into tablet mode if desired.
Locking these devices to the Windows Store makes sense for school solutions, and Windows 10 S could finally weaken developer resistance to the Windows Store if the push proves successful. Selling Windows 10 S devices directly to consumers feels tricky, however. If people start buying these low-cost laptops at stores and get angry at the idea of paying to use ‘real’ software like Steam and Chrome, the reputation of Windows 10 S could go downhill fast. Time will tell.
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