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Why Microsoft's Windows 10 S should be free

Windows 10 Wallpaper
Windows 10 Wallpaper (Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 10 S is a new edition of Windows 10 that looks and feels just like any other edition of Windows 10, but with one major difference: Windows 10 S is locked to the Windows Store, meaning if you want to download an app or a game, it needs to come from the official Windows Store.

This is a huge limitation for many people. The Windows Store is still pretty bare when it comes to apps and games, and although it's improving, it's still not "full" of the apps that people want and need. Google Chrome, for example, isn't in the Windows Store. Neither is Photoshop, or Premiere Pro, or XSplit, or Steam. There's a lot missing, so the limitations of Windows 10 S are a problem for some.

However, Windows 10 S isn't designed for people who use those kinds of apps. Windows 10 S is meant for use by schools, students, and Chromebook users, consumers or otherwise. There's also a lot of people who will want to use Windows 10 S based on its security enhancements alone, thanks to the fact that rogue Win32 programs can't be installed on devices. You can't buy Windows 10 S on its own, so you'll have to buy it preloaded on specific hardware.

From the forums: Should Windows 10 S ship with ALL Windows laptops?

Free Windows 10 S is good for Microsoft and users

And this is where I feel Microsoft should change its strategy slightly. Bundling Windows 10 S onto hardware is fine, but not allowing people to download and use it for themselves is a bad idea. Microsoft is missing out on something big here. I strongly believe Microsoft should make Windows 10 S a "free-to-use" version of Windows 10 that anyone can download and install.

And it's not like Microsoft would lose money if it did this. With Windows 10 S being locked to the Windows Store, users looking to download and use Windows 10 S would be required to use the Store for everything anyway. Microsoft takes a cut of everything purchased in the Windows Store, so it would make money back via services built into Windows.

What's more, offering Windows 10 S as a free version of Windows gives more people an incentive to try out the OS and get familiar with the ecosystem. If after a while they like it, they can upgrade to the "full" version of Windows 10 (a.k.a. Windows 10 Pro) for whatever Microsoft decides to charge.

This way, more users will engage with the Store, and as a result, more developers will want to build apps for distribution via the Windows Store. It's a win-win situation.

I honestly feel like Microsoft should release a free version of Windows 10. It'd encourage new users to try it out, and hopefully boost engagement with the Windows Store.

What do you think? Is this a good idea or something that will never happen? Or both? Let us know.

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

95 Comments
  • I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday. This does seem like the best option. I would go a step further and say that Windows 10 S should be the default OS that Microsoft gives away to OEMs and comes preinstalled on every future Windows device; it'll lower prices across the board and let users choose if they want to spend $50 on Windows 10 Pro. And it would really light a fire under dev's asses to migrate their programs and apps to the Windows Store.
  • Disagree about every Windows device - gamers, for example, need Steam, which isn't UWP, let alone downloadable from the Store -, but yeah, it'd be a good idea for devices targeted towards the casual user.
  • a gamer laptop or other kind of PC that is made for gamers will be shipped with windows 10 pro, and this will be included in the price, i think the free version of windows (windows 10S) could help to others that couldn't upgrade their PCs to windows 10 because they have windows XP or vista.
  • To my knowledge, a gaming laptop does not come with Steam pre-installed, so that shouldn't stop an OEM from selling their gaming-quality laptop with S, and let the end user decide to upgrade to Pro as an option at purchase, or after acquiring it.
  • I agree with that!
  • I had the exact same thought and wrote a forum post about it: http://forums.windowscentral.com/windows-10-s/457955-every-single-laptop...
  • I agree it's a good idea long term  to do so. But thinking right now is to make sure to get OEM support. An initial lock in, may be how to get OEMs on board. Once devices become a success for them, then open it up when know OEMs won't leave.
  • I agreed with Zac whilst reading the article, but seeing your comment, I realise I hadn't considered OEM support.  Most OEMs get advertising money by pre-installing software (bloatware) on the systems they sell, like McAfee.  So, I can see how having an OEM offer S would be similar to the Microsoft Signature version of systems with no bloatware.  That would hurt an OEM, which in turn could cause the device to be more expensive.
  • Yes but at the end I prefer to pay let's say 25€ - 50€ more and get signature bloat free version
  • But if Microsoft stopped selling OEMs Windows 10 Pro licenses and only only let them use Windows 10 S for free they'd have no justification for jacking up the price to compensate for the cost of the Windows license.
  • So they made S available only for new devices to get some income
  • Agree.
    Not only Windows 10S must be 100% free, but MS should pay something to any partner (DELL, HP, SAMSUNG, ..) that is using it.
    Same apply to any new apps listed on Windows Store. MS must wave any fees for UWP apps.
    MS must become aggressive again.
  • I'm not sure what you mean.  What fees do you suggest Microsoft waves for a UWP app?
  • The 30% they take on any purchases.
  • Best Option: Windows 10 S Free for OEM - 49$ for Retail User Upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro JUST49$  Upgrade From Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Home Just 29$ This Will be Great. GOOD for Every ONE... MS - Users - Devs I'm User  + Developer
  • Wow, someone with some actual sense on this site. I can 100% agree with this.
  • Ability to "downgrade" from home or pro for free. Older underpowered tablets could benefit from this.
  • yesss....i would like this...i have an intel atom device which runs slow with full version windows 10 pro...
  • I totally agree with you Sir. Windows 10 S is the future. 
  • Would be perfect for the parents PC.
  • Parents be like: Would be perfect for the kids PC.
  • My mom resisted around 2 years ago to switch away from her surface RT she didn't see the reason to switch lol until windows 10 that is.
  • That is the one and only way to fill up the store with apps...
  • Attracting engaged users is the only way to fill up the store with great apps and dedicated developers. Gimmicks will not attract developers or users.
  • Would Steam even be allowed in the Store? It IS another store, after all.
  • why not..it is a good thing
  • Store rules, for one. I agree that it'd be a good thing, but when we have articles about how Chrome likely wouldn't be allowed in the Store even if Google wanted because Store apps must use Microsoft's EdgeHTML engine you have to wonder.
  • It's the same on IOS. Chrome on IOS use safari engine
  • Micorosft should just buy Steam or find some way to intergrate it with the store. Or Steam should just make a UWP app already.
  • no no no just dont buy it please everything Microsoft buys will end within 5y. time period... look at Nokia -) Lumia -) Dead.
  • lol ok ok nix that thought.
  • Not everything, but certainly if they acquired Valve/Steam, that would die a horrible death.  It is competition for the Store.  Although if they could simple out-compete it in their own Store, I could see how that could be promising.
  • Hi, a history lesson to you: PowerPoint and Visio were both originally developed by companies that were later purchased by Microsoft. They're still here, 25 years later.
  • Nokia is not dead and Microsoft did not buy Nokia.
  • I honestly wonder if Microsoft could afford steam. It certainly wouldn't be cheap and what with all the other acquisitions they have acquired, I doubt they have the cash. But I could very well be wrong too.
  • Not really, both Valve and Microsoft can enter conditions to make Steam on Windows 10 store a success here is why: Game studios publish their games through Steam, in this case, Microsoft doesn't has to convince all game studios to put their games on Windows Store, since Windows 10 users will just download Steam from the store and now the games will be installed through Steam. This will game gaming PC's more secure against viruses and hackers. Just my 2 cents.
  • That's not the problem, the problem is that Steam still installs Win32 games. It wouldn't work unless the devs offered their games as UWP apps through Steam.
  • Steam just needs to make a Windows 10 version so it can be sideloaded then the games would have to be the windows 10 versions as well since the x86 version wouldn't install even if you had steam installed.
  • I agree, Steam should be in the Windows Store under special conditions, this doesn't mean Microsoft will get any royalities since Steam gets income from its own publishing business model which lets game studios sell their games through Steam to help reduce online piracy.  If Steam is on Windows store , it will help both companies Valve and Microsoft to get Developer trust in Windows 10 S
  • I agree it should be free, however a different question can I move from windows 10 home or pro to windows 10 s?
  • Kind of, yes. Windows 10 CU can turn off x86 installations.
  • Technically there's no downgrade path, but as Xsled replied, there's ways to reduce W10 Home/Pro to pretty much what S does.
  • Currently, no.  Windows 10 S is not available to consumers.  You can't buy or download it.  At least, not now. The closest option is as Xsled mentioned, on 10.1703 CU, go into Settings > Apps > Apps & features, and changing "Allow apps from anywhere" to "Allow apps from the Store only".
  • Agreed this version should be free, the cost is at the Windows Store
  • Agreed this version should be free, the cost is at the Windows Store.
  • Sure it sounds nice because i like free stuff, but from a business standpoint this is a terrible idea. Unless they want to change the upgrade price from Win10S to Win10Pro to $199.99 otherwise its too easy to just download 10S on a new PC build and then upgrade for the $50 fee. Id be more inclined to say they should sell 10S for something like $50 in store, but to install it on a device it would have to wipe EVERYTHING off of your PC, the switch is one way for a reason
  • No, they need to make Windows 10 as accessible as possible, free is the only way to go. I think $50 is reasonable for Windows 10 Pro; Windows license sales already make up a relatively minor and continuously declining portion of revenue compared to Office 365, Xbox Live, and Azure. Moving forward they need to transition from relying on License sales to Store sales as the main source of Windows revenue; and that's exactly what Windows 10 S is designed to do.
  • This is the most obvious no-brainer of-course-they-should-do-this ever, so of course MS won't do it. They just can't get out of their own way, do the right and obvious thing, and stop punching themselves in the face all the time. So, so frustrating. I'm still holding out hope they do plan to do this with Windows 10 S though.
  • This is the most obvious no-brainer of-course-they-should-do-this ever, so of course MS won't do it.
    LOL! I can just picture a Microsoft Executive saying at a meeting. 
  • Windows 10 S also locks the search engine of Edge to Bing, similar to that weird "Windows 8.1 With Bing" release. Which was also free.
  • In that edition, the end user could choose to use a different search engine, or a new browser entirely. 
  • Can always use Google.com. What's the big deal.
  • I totally agree. And if there is ever another phone, it helps give MS a shot.
  • They should give the ability to create shortcuts of UWP apps too :3
  • They should give this for free for any PC.
  • High five 👋🏻👍
  • This a brilliant idea! Why didn't I think of it or better, why didn't Microsoft think of it? This would be awesome for the eco system. I need to submit a feedback request! Also isn't there a Home edition of Windows 10 why not offer different tier upgrades like $29 for Windows 10 Home (or Basic) and $49 for Pro etc. I doubt most people need the Pro edition. https://aka.ms/D6evc3
  • I assumed it was free, silly me.
  • Definitely a good idea. We do need developers to take the store serious, and this is Microsoft's chance. I do also think that the surface laptop (and the other devices running Windows 10 S) will sell like hot cakes, and so developers will have an audience. Also I see steam in the store everyday, so I dont get why others are saying its missing.
  • Windows 10 S is worth at least $50 IMO. Not everything needs to be free. If you don't like your free OS options, then pay for something better. Why is that such a horrible concept even for education? You kids are spoiled enough already. Lol. The fact that you can only download from the Windows Store doesn't make Windows any more useless the iPad when it first launched. While not free, Windows 10 S still could be the missing catalyst for igniting more developer interest in the Store as well finally giving Mozilla and Google another reason to submit their browsers as to it. If that happens, MS would be wise to allow the browsers JS engines, etc to be included intact unlike how Apple allows Chrome and Firefox to be listed in name and appearance only.
  • What good are developers when you don't have users? 10S isn't going to attract users so it won't attract dedicated developers.
  • This is certainly a good idea. I don't see why Microsoft wouldn't have a free version of 10S. Then they can charge a fee ($150 maybe) to upgrade to 10 Pro. If you buy a device with 10S, the upgrade needs to be free. Charging people extra to use their new laptop the same way they have always used Windows is going to be a bad experience. It is going to do nothing but create bad feelings and negative publicity. They didn't learn anything from RT?
  • @bleached, I don't think the upgrade from 10 S to 10 Pro should be free -- the customer already got the laptop at $100 off because the manufacturer didn't have to pay for the OS and the retailer didn't add a fixed % markup. And if MS were to give that away, it would remove the incentive for the user to try using the Store first. I think MS set a reasonable price -- $50 -- not so cheap there is no incentive to try to get by with just the Store first, but not so high it's going to be perceived as a significant barrier for users who do need more, especially because system + upgrade are less than buying the same system with Windows 10 Pro in the first place.
  • That isn't​ how people are going to see it. They don't know how much Microsoft charged the OEM and don't care. They are just going to be frustrated they are immediately being shaken down by their new computer purchase.
  • Exactly! Forcing users to pay extra to use a "new" computer the way they've been using their "old" computer would just confuse and frustrate them like Windows RT. They'll NEVER adapt such a downgrade, they'll simply return such device and microsoft will have another $0.9B write down, if not worse. Only place it'll make sense is on laptops purchased by schools, which funny enough, are getting Windows 10 pro for free.
  • Completely agree. It should be free. Make it efficient and free, Microsoft. That until the store is filled with wonders :D
  • MS is not ready for getting Windows free because they do not have any business model to replace Windows yet.
    So free Windows might be the last and best bet they still have but MS think it is too risk for their own business in short terms.
  • Umm yes please! I want to throw this on an older 8in tablet I have.
  • Shared the link of this article in feedback hub.
  • Agreed. I'd put it on my mom's laptop for security and performance, but to be fair with Creators Update you can already do it blocking non Store apps, can't you?
  • It makes too much sense for Microsoft to do it...
  • Maybe the reason they haven't done this relates to the installation experience for users. Unless there's an exception to the Store-only rule for signed driver installs, this could make installing the OS and the latest MoBo and other device drivers difficult for a user on their own hardware. Let's say I want to install it, just as you've described, Zac. If all the drivers needed are included with Windows, great, but if my custom rig includes any hardware that requires downloading the drivers, depending on how the manufacturer makes their drivers available, I may need to either know how to extract the drivers from their EXE. No problem for people familiar with this process, using something like 7zip... for the desktop. So maybe MS is planning to make it avialable to everyone, like you've said, but wants to wait until at least most drivers are readily available without requiring users to jump through extra hurdles. Or, maybe you can correct my core assumption and let me know that at least signed device driver EXEs can be installed directly by the end user, bypassing the Store limitation.
  • Yes, but they can kill off the Home SKU at that point.
  • Agree, it should be made free and Windows Store/Mobile department will benefit from it,
  • Ageed. It should be free. Such a huge potential for really pushing UWP.
  • I'm a big fan of this idea. For a good amount of people in the groups you said, it would be exactly enough. For me, it would probably be too, for the most part.
  • Yeah, they should make it free for everyone. It'll benefit both Microsoft and us.
  • Make it free for OEM, 49$ for Retail
  • Then Make Upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro just 49$... Will be Great idea
  • Great idea.
  • When I first read about Windows 10 S, it was one of the first things that came to mind. Microsoft charging for Windows in the days of dominance of the free Android, is actually quite stupid IMO.
  • T H A N K  Y O U !
    I'm saying that a week. Same thoughts here.
  • Even visual studio is not on the store yet.
  • 100% In agreement! It needs to be free, for consumers, for OEM, for business users (I think the issue is the join domain functionality) for everyone. This will grow the user base. They need to do it yesterday! Good post.
  • Win10S being "free" makes more sense when the Win App Store is more highly populated with Win32 centennial apps. OEMs should not be rewarded with free windows here passing $50 to consumers later. That is a fail.
  • They kind of took this stance by releasing the Windows Insider builds, but those of course have an expiration date and questionable stability as its in-progress software. Free 10 S would make much more sense, and heck, users should be able to load it off a USB stick as well to use Windows on the Go.
  • I agree!
  • Come on Apple, please bring iTunes to Windows 10 S Come on Google, please bring Chrome to Windows 10 S Come on Mozilla, please bring Firefox to Windows 10 S 500 million users are using Windows 10, if this is not enough for you, then how much more users do you need? ChromeOS has failed in the desktop, Windows 10 S is the way to go.
  • RT 2.0....It will be dropped 6-8 months down the line, didn't the learn their lesson with RT ? Maybe if it was free but, if not sold to consumers, then it will be on the cheapo tablets and laptops... I would not pay $700 for a laptop with a stripped down OS on it..
  • Yes. I completely agree.
  • Yes, that's a perfect idea. And they should start begging developers to support the "ecosystem". Probably on their knees.
  • It should be free, because no device ever should ship with FreeDOS... 😂
  • I think it's a great idea. I have a Surface RT that I'm still using. I bought it in 2013 when they first came out.
  • Lol @ all of the above delusional fanatic comments demanding Windows 10 S come on every Laptop. That'll work with consumers as much as Windows RT did. Soon as the consumer realises that can't install their desired applications, they get confused and frustrated and immediately return the new yet stupidly limited device. In the end, it'll get nowhere and have no effect on devs.
  • Windows 10 S is pretty much Windows 8.1 with Bing renamed, but you have to pay for it this time.