Windows 10 S review: My time with the new edition of Windows

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

Microsoft has finally unveiled Windows 10 S, a new edition of Windows 10 built with one specific purpose: to take on Google Chromebooks in the education market. Education is an important area for Microsoft, and with Windows 10 S (which likely stands for schools), the Redmond giant plans to take back the education industry by storm.

But Windows 10 S isn't just for schools and the education market. Considering Windows 10 S is Microsoft's answer to Chrome OS, you can expect to see it show up on more consumer-orientated devices too. Just like how you can buy cheap or expensive Chromebooks, you'll also be able to go out and buy cheap or expensive Windows 10 S machines as well.

Now, you're probably wondering why we even need to 'review' or go hands-on with a new edition of Windows 10 to begin with. I mean, for the most part they're generally all the same right? That's usually the case, yes. But, Windows 10 S is slightly different in one major way. It's locked to the Windows Store, meaning apps from outside the Store simply won't install on Windows 10 S.

I've been using Windows 10 S (which when I first started using it, was called Windows 10 Cloud during development. Not that it matters, it's the same thing still) for around about a month now, so I feel I've been able to get pretty familiar with the limitations.

This limitation will likely be a pretty big deal for many Windows users. Luckily, most people probably won't encounter Windows 10 S in their daily lives, as this new edition of Windows 10 is aimed mostly at competing with Chromebooks. If you're not a fan of the Chromebook idea, you're likely not going to be very interested in Windows 10 S, and that's perfectly fine. Microsoft won't be forcing it onto you.

It's not what it sounds like

There's a common misconception with this new edition of Windows 10. Many are looking at it as some kind of "lite" version of Windows, as it being locked to the Windows Store means you can't install apps like Google Chrome or Adobe Premiere Pro. While true, Windows 10 S is absolutely not a "lite" version of Windows in any way, shape or form. It looks and behaves just like any normal version of Windows 10.

Windows 10 S can still run your traditional Windows apps and programs, as long as they're available in the Windows Store. That means if Google decides to put Chrome in the Windows Store, devices running Windows 10 S will be able to install it and use it. The only limitation on Windows 10 S is that you can't install the same apps from outside the Store. It simply doesn't let you.

What happens if you try? You get a friendly popup telling you that this specific edition of Windows 10 is designed to help you stay safe, and that means limiting you to the Windows Store for apps and games. How does this make you safer? Well, Microsoft screens all apps that are submitted to the Windows Store, ensuring for the most part that they're safe for use.

If you try and install an app from outside the Store that's actually already available in the Store, the blocked app popup will actually link you to the Store where you can download the same app. Then, the app will install just fine. I've installed many popular Windows programs, including Evernote, Tweeten, Slack and more. They all work just fine on Windows 10 S.

What's more, Microsoft is bringing the full version of Microsoft Office to the Windows Store too. This means you'll be able to take advantage of the powerful Word, PowerPoint and Excel programs, as well as other Office Suite apps, all on your Windows 10 S device. This is most beneficial, especially for the target audience that Microsoft is aiming Windows 10 S devices at.

Now, admittedly there's still a plethora of programs missing from the Windows Store. Programs such as most of Adobe's Creative Cloud suite, Chrome, Firefox, XSplit, and many more. But if you're someone who needs to use those kinds of programs, you're likely not going to be looking at devices that come pre-loaded with Windows 10 S to begin with.

Remember, Windows 10 S is for people who like Chromebooks. It's for lightweight devices where the user spends most of their time in a web browser. That's all Chrome OS is, a glorified web browser. Windows 10 S brings the power of Windows to that same market, where the user can take advantage of things like the full version of Office, Cortana, OneDrive and more.

So let's talk about my usage. I'm what one might consider a light power user. I'm not using three monitors with thousands of keyboard shortcuts, but I do require a few powerful programs that aren't currently available in the Store. I'm often using XSplit and Premier Pro for video producing. So immediately, Windows 10 S is not for me. Or isn't it?

I didn't install Windows 10 S on my main desktop, because that'd be silly. Windows 10 S isn't for that, so why would I put it there? As I've mentioned already, Windows 10 S is designed for devices like Chromebooks. So, instead of putting it on my machine where I expect to be using programs from outside the Store, I put it on my Surface 3 and HP Stream 11 devices instead.

This is where Windows 10 S makes the most sense, on devices where you're likely not going to need any programs from outside the Store. I don't use my Surface 3 to edit videos with Premiere Pro, I use it to browse the web, check email and watch movies. Windows 10 S, on my Surface 3, has been nothing but a pleasure to use. It's fast, lightweight, and secure.

What's more, since you can't install rogue Win32 programs from outside the Store, battery life should be slightly better too. So, I've been using Windows 10 S on devices where I know my usage scenario won't require me to be downloading apps from outside the Store, and on those devices, Windows 10 S has felt exactly like any other edition of Windows 10.

You can upgrade it

Most importantly, Microsoft doesn't actually limit you to Windows 10 S on a device that comes preloaded with it. If you really, really want to, you can go ahead and upgrade yourself to Windows 10 Pro, unlocking the ability to run programs from outside the Windows Store. This is excellent for devices like the Surface Laptop, a premium device, where users may want to take advantage of apps from outside the Store.

The upgrade isn't super expensive either. It'll only be $49.99 if you're a consumer, and free if you're a student. So Windows 10 S really isn't all that bad. In fact, I'd say it's better than normal Windows 10, depending on the device you're using it on of course. It's definitely more secure, as it can't run any install executables unless it came from the Store.

I'd definitely say Windows 10 S is a better OS for light web browsing compared to Chrome OS, because Windows 10 S comes with the added benefit of being Windows. It's still Windows 10, with all its Windows 10-ness, minus all the complicated Windows 10 fluff like CMD, Regedit and more. You just get Store apps, and the familiar Windows desktop, which I think is great for a huge chunk of "average" users.

And "average" users is exactly what this version of Windows 10 is targeting. Students in college, people who just use apps and browse the web, will benefit most from Windows 10 S. Now I know there will be people who disagree, and that's fine. But this is a version of Windows 10 that exists, and it exists to cater to that demographic. I've enjoyed my time with Windows 10 S on my Surface 3 and HP Stream x360.

Windows 10 S will be available on the new Surface Laptop, and hardware from 3rd party OEMs this year. Stay tuned to Windows Central for more.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

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.

204 Comments
  • Out of interest, what file browser does it have? The Windows 10 Explorer.exe process is a Win32 program...
  • The fact is that it is still full blown Windows.. Other apps are just blocked, but it is still fully capable.... With that said, nobody said that it couldn't run Win32 apps, rather that the consumer couldn't install them with this version... That doesn't mean that MS, and it's partners can't....... 😲😲
  • so....HP can still install McAfee ?
  • Let's ask ourselves, why not?... I'm sure whenever you go into the store to "upgrade" to pro, it just "patch" the OS, unlocking certain elements.
  • When you are only running apps from the store, what is the point of installing a 3rd party antivirus software?
  • Lets see... scan your e-mails for malware and dodgy links, check your Office documents for devious macros, check web sites you visit for infected ads, ...  There are plenty of vectors for malicious code to get on your computer besides bad applications.
  • Defender is adequate for that. Anyway, virus are still PE executable so unless the attack vector is a buffer overrun in a sandboxed app, it can't execute.
  • Defender adequate?  That made me laugh.  
  • Man, I've used defender for years, and have never had a problem. It's not the best, but does the job adequately enough for probably 90% of users (don't quote me on figures). 
  • The Defender in Win 10 is based on the cloud-based Advanced Threat Respond technology (can't remember the name) used in Office 365. If you're thinking of the one in Win7 or before, that's an older tech, which scores poorly on AV ratings. The new one in Win10 has a 95-96% detection rate. I will give you one nugget to laugh about though. ;) Removal rate is still far better with commercial software like Norton, Trendmicro & Karpersky.
  • Dude chill... These antivirus companies fill up your head that they are the final stop for the redemption. I think the windows OS or Linux have a lot of tightened security within themselves. I never require anything except the windows Defender. Moreover, the browsers today have become too vigilant. Gone are the days of Wibdows xp dear...
  • Simple. No Win32 program execution apart from the store means you will not have to worry about malware even if they are in your e-mail or on the web. For everything else, there is Windows Defender.
  • I wouldn't be so sure. Even with Store apps, it's still possible for virus to inflitrate your PC even it's combined with other attack vectors. Need I remind you that in the past 4 years, we have seen more than 10 instances of Android apps being infected and at least 3 or 4 cases in IOS.
  • McAfee couldn't get their ant-virus to work on my computer. That could be because this on has an Evaluation copy on it, but it didn't work on my laptop either & that has Windows 10 Home on it, The other thing they and some other anti-virus sellers don't mention is, they say it works on Smart Phones. When I asked if it would about downloading it on my Lumia 650 & 950 they told me they are not Smart Phones. I wonder if Microsoft knows that? They did give me a refund though,
  • I get that but the point of these devices are lower power requirements. Having a load of Win32 processes running at startup won't do much to save power... as you say once OEMs start pre installing stuff the OS won't be that much more efficient than full Windows
  • But, that goes back to the questions, who says they will run a load of 32 processes at startup, and who says OEM'S will load them up with 32 applications??.... I'm just saying that the ones that are necessary, like the file system, and Edge, definitely are there.. That tells us that any pre installed 32 apps are a limited set, compared to Pro... It's a non issue. Battery test will prove if claims are true, or not. No need in "worrying" about how MS does it.
  • I'm hoping Win 10 S don't need to refresh its watchdog and performance monitoring as much. There is ALWAYS disk IO going on. Take a look at your Resource Monitor. Without Win32 programs running, it should have a quieter IO and reduce power.
  • It is "full" Windows 10 but with Win32 access blocked.
    Since MSFT is the one that created the Win32 file explorer in the first place, we can assume it's "Safe". LOL
    .
    Remember, it's got full Edge too!
    .
    And do note, this is upgradable to W10Pro for free this year and for $49 the next year.
  • It blocks apps when they try to run, so there is a white-list of various system apps.
    Also, a few months ago they already figured out how to get around the process that blocks unapproved apps from running. This won't be a problem.
  • This still doesn't make sense to me. In the education market, schools will "upgrade" in order to run all of the enterprise and security software and the "average" user would just want the "average" version of windows.
  • Think in terms of cost... And, it's a tricky little plan indeed.. You see, MS, and it's partners, are selling the idea that these machines are low cost, and you can upgrade them to Pro for free... It's reverse psychology, a smooth little marketing technic MS is using.. So, the average person is gonna think they are pulling a fast one on MS by buying a cheap machine, with total intent to upgrade it immediately.. Haha, well played consumer, bravo👏🏾.. Fact is that that's exactly what MS wants you to think you're doing, and they just actually heavily influenced your purchase😂😂... See, they will sell more machines by making you think you're getting something for nothing, than having you think you're just buying a chepo machine running full Windows... Hahahaha! Well played, MS! Well played, indeed! MARKETING IS KEY!
  • $2199 for 16GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, Core i7 ain't cheap, Rod.... 😜
    .
    Or you must be a rich kid. Lol.
  • I think he's referring to the cheaper devices that will be coming out from the OEM's.
  • I'm more interested in Win10S coming to larger laptops. I mean, if you want to update your laptop to Pro, considering consumer laptops rarely have a Pro option in store, you'd want to grab one with W10S over Home for the cheap upgrade to Pro (not the free update for students, but the cheap upgrade for everyone else). I could see this becoming a real option on the shelf.
  • Good point. Didn't think about that🤔🤔🤔🤔
  • You should be able to upgrade to Pro. Just go to System -> Change Product Key or Upgrade your edition.
  • see the $300 Acer Windows 10S version
  • Where in my comment did I mention cheap???... And, I'm really referring to the more affordable offerings. So😛😛😛😛😛😛😛😛.... And, I'm actually gonna be 40 next month😂😂.... Immature, I know, but y'all can't outsmart me!
  • upgrade for free until a limited time period.. and the Surface line aint cheap. I dont care about other OEMs like Acer.. Acer has plenty of laptops with full W10 for around 399, no need for this. Basically this is just an upgraded idea of RT and will end the same way as the RT did  
  • Nope. The prob. with RT was that it was locked to Store Only for good due to having the wrong CPU in it. This won't have the same issue as everyone can upgrade for cheap if needs increase (ignoring the 'free' student thing). In fact, for cheaper than Home. So why would a person wanting W10Pro on a consumer PC buy a Home version? It's just a more expensive route to the same end version of the OS, being Pro. Home then becomes useful for those who need W32 but know for sure they'll never need Pro. They can upgrade to Pro of course, but it'll cost more for no benefit.
  • Please... RT was Windows on ARM...
  • Then those schools obviously wouldn't be interested in Chromebooks, which is the market they're going after. Those schools that want full blown Windows have always had that option. Nothing changed for them today.
  • Windows 10 S is pretty much all i need for a travel device. I dont take real work with me when i travel, so office is all i need.
  • In that case, you need to look towards the offerings from HP, DELL, Acer, etc
    $999 for a travel device is a bit too much if you really travel a *lot*. $300-$500 is okay.
  • nah, I'm not in a position where I need to pinch pennies on a device. I want something interesting and premium to take on the road with me. This device fits that perfectly, especially with that battery life, overseas flights can be VERY long
  • me too, I want premium newness...Just like people still buy the new iPhone or new galaxy when they already have a perfectly functional phone (even last year model) still go out and replace that same working phone with the new premium version...SL pre-ordered...!!!
  • I'm assuming that you're referring to the newly annouced Surface Laptop?  Here is a simple comparison to HP and Dell's ultrabooks.  Dell XPS 13 - with i5, non-touch starts at $999. HP Elitebook Folio G1 - with Core M5, non touch starts at $1039.
  • welll, in this case you could buy a cheap tablet with Android on it, or you could buy a much cheaper made in china laptop with full W10 for as low as 299
  • how does one put it on the surface 3?
  • You can't. This comes pre-installed. And if you go from W10S to W10Pro, YOU CAN'T GO BACK.
    .
    That being said, I'm sure it's possible to hack your way back if required.
    .
    Not recommended.
  • You can easily go back in the settings, where you can tell Windows to only install apps from the store. Anybody on the Creators Update can do that.
  • Just make sure you cover the screen of your Surface 3 to protect it, then the Surface laptop should balance right on top just fine.
  • Why would you want to?
  • It is already on Surface 3. There is no difference other than being limited to the store until it is unlocked. You will see no benefit.
  • This is incorrect information. Surface 3 is running windows 10 home not windows 10s (windows 10s hasn't been officially released yet and the surface 3 came out 2 years ago) . And there will absolutely be a few benefits to doing this: fewer resource-hungry processes running in the background resulting in better performance (especially if you have the 2GB RAM surface 3), less chance of viruses because of being locked to the curated applications in the Windows Store, and a more direct upgrade path to windows 10 pro if you find you need to run applications external to the windows store, or need to join an AD domain. There are also downsides to installing windows10s in place of windows 10 home, most notably the inability to run non-windows store applications (bye bye chrome), and being locked to one search provider (bing).   
  • Windows 10 is Windows 10. There might be some small differences like being able to set defaults, but they are basically the same. If you want to restrict any Windows 10 device to the app store, the setting is in Apps & Features for any device on the Creators Update. There will be minimal differences at that point.
  • There's a setting in W10 to "only install sw from the Store", that'll essentially give you W10 S. Make sure you start from a clean slate, then enable that setting, walla...
  • Or install the non-store apps you need and then lock it down.  I'm wondering if this setting in Creators update affect all user accounts on the machine or just the one where the setting is done...
  • Seeing that surface 3 is a x86 processor, and if you now how to re-image a laptop, then you could install it on your surface 3 just fine. I'll be putting it on my little dell venue8pro as soon as the image is available.
  • You do whatever you can with your so called Panduit's and genius tech gurus, remember only one thing that your future belongs to mobile devices only.
  • AR devices.
  • This could be a segue to mobile.....
  • And there was me thinking laptops were mobile devices.....
  • So why do you need a whole new OS verison when there is an option in Settings in the current version that can restrict you to apps from the Store only? Or did everyone conveniently forget this feature that was touted during the review of the Creators update? Not seeing the logic in buying a restricted OS to later have to pay for an upgrade when the same capability is present in current versions of the OS.
  • Price. Cheaper for manufacturers I guess. Also, W10S is a cheaper consumer route to Pro, so unless you know you'll never need Pro why would a person buy Home?
  • This OS version is targeting at the education sector, obviously the big factor is the cost.
  • As every article on this has stated, to compete with Chromebooks. People would ask themselves why do i need a pc with a full blown OS when all I use it for is basic school/work and web...then buy a cheap Chromebook. Now they can consider a price comparable Win10S device, with the prospect of upgrading to the full OS if their usage changes.
  • I always have a twisted view of school work because being in  programming my school work implied development with development tools, so I never really saw homework as Word/Excel things :-)
  • Also don't forget the extra battery life and quick startup time. That is from what MS said and not tested yet but if it is true, I would love that extra battery life.
  • It must be better in performance... It wont be running all those resources which is made for win32 and the security.
  • Does Windows 10 have a switch to turn it into Windows 10S?
  • haha!! yes
    it does have one in settings ;)
  • Technically yes, there is a switch in the settings that can limit Win10 Pro to the Windows Store 
  • Will I see performance improvement on my AMD A4 netbook if I switch it Windows 10S? (Although, now that I think of it, that's no use, because I'm planning it to use as sort of remote controle for Netflix via Chromecast, but it needs Chrome for that. Never mind.)
  • The switch is in Windows 10 Home as well.
  • The switch does not lower the cost.
  • Yeah windows 10s has this turned on but the switch is really rusty you cant turn it off. Haha
  • Wonder if this was written before event? The specs of the laptop that runs it is far from it just using cloud/web based products. The only Chromebook comparisons I see are IT support/maintenance and battery life etc.
    When only using store apps, windows performance and security are guaranteed.
  • Cool article. But can I ask you for that sick looking wallpaper? :O
  • While I have no plans at this point to use it myself, I still think it's a great idea designed for just a certain niche corner of the market - and I think it will be at least fairly successful. If nothing else, it'll make that space a whole lot more interesting, and if they're worried about losing the kids to Google when they grow up, this is as good a strategy as any to combat that! So yeah! Bravo, Windows 10 S! Perhaps we'll buy the kiddo an "S-book" or whatever the heck they're gonna be calling these things! :-) Cheers!
  • The concept makes sense, in theory. I like having an easily accessible version of Windows to promote app usage, but the only way people will be happy with the OS is if they aren't constantly reminded by the shortcomings of the app marketplace. It's a catch-22, potentially just like it was on mobile or RT. I hope my concern is proven to be unfounded. Also, you can't really say that it's not a "light" version if one of its main features is that it can be upgraded to the "full" version. Just saying.
  • It's targeted at schools but I see a big market in enterprise here. Students and workers want snappy Windows PCs with full Office apps. School and enterprise IT administrators want to be able to tightly lock down what apps can be installed. Microsoft just created an incentive for itself to dramatically improve the quality and quantity of Windows Store apps and head off consumer complaints about Windows 10 S. I'm positive about this for now!  
  • Get alot of schools and businesses using it, and apps will come. Not everthing, but maybe enought to get a small wave with some momentum.
  • Sorry, but the apps need to be there first.  School districts aren't going to switch to windows devices until their software tools are available in the store first.  Also, if the current number of Windows 10 users isn't large enough to attract developers, adding schools won't change things.  Microsoft has been down this road before.
  • It is still a full version.  The store packaged Win32 apps still require the Win32 layer be present to run.
  • Is it possible to run PowerShell on this OS?
  • Literally windows 10 with the option to install additional programs from outside the store behind a paywall. If you can do it on a clean install of 10, you can do it on 10 S.
  • While Windows 10 S is primarily being portrayed as a competitor to Chrome OS and geared toward the education market, I actually see it as having an interesting place in an enterprise role, potentially. If a company can ensure its own internal apps and any other required productivity apps are available via the marketplace, it might be more secure, easier to manage, and more restrictive for employees (in a good way for administrators). I would not have said this had devices been limited to Chromebook-like specs, however. So the Surface Laptop with an i5 or i7 processor might actually be good for enterprise.
  • This also bring all the OEMs on board, with competitions the products offered will only get better or cheaper, Google will be losing their pie very soon.
  • If you hv time, watch the launch. Intune for schools will be launched in June and provisioning of laptops can be done using a thumbdrive, instead of over LAN. So yeah, it may come to Enterprise market in future.
  • Does no-one see the convergence with Windows 10 Mobile????
  • I do. And I see it as a possibly good way to get app momentum. First school and business apps that may be useful generally by the public at large, then enough of a user base to encourage others - for example Babbel, a language app, would be good for students, it's on WP 8 but not in the Windows 10 store. It does not work well on my Surface RT. It is on Android, which is why I just bought an Android tablet.
  • I thot noone will bring it up! :) Yes, now we're just waiting for CShell.  
  • I didn't install Windows 10 S on my main desktop, because that'd be silly. Windows 10 S isn't for that, so why would I put it there?
    For easy management or something like a kiosk. There are reasons. Simplified workstation once office is here for instance :).
  • he was referring to 'his' main desktop. He uses it for photo/videos editing and other stuff which is not possible on 10 S. That is why he called it silly. For others (and I feel vast majority) it is not the case and they may want to have W10 S on their main PCs
  • Anything less then full on Windows is just not Windows.  Not being able to install software outside the store will kill the idea almost as soon as it get's advertised.  Most lab and schools I've been at already have Windows desktop PCs with either Windows Pro or Home edition.  An OEM copy can be had online for as little as $69 (single copy) and far less if you're a school administrator building out 25 or 50 machines so what's the point of a stripped down version? Once a tech company starts ch