Microsoft's Windows 10 S is Windows RT done right

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

Windows 10 S being locked to the Windows Store is an interesting concept. However, Microsoft has done the very same thing before with another version of Windows that went by the name Windows RT. Nobody liked Windows RT, and the entire idea was abandoned just two years later.

So why is Microsoft doing the same thing again with Windows 10 S? It isn't ... at least not exactly.

Windows 10 S vs. Windows RT

I've noticed lots of people refer to Windows 10 S as the new Windows RT, and while I understand why that connection is being made, calling Windows 10 S the new Windows RT is entirely wrong. Sure, both Windows RT and Windows 10 S are locked to the Store, but the similarities end there. That's like saying planes and cars are the same things because they can both get you from a point A to a point B.

Windows 10 S is so much more than just another go at Windows RT — it's Windows RT done right.

Windows RT was bad, but only because it was locked to the Windows Store with no other options. Windows 10 S has options, including the ability to not be Windows 10 S anymore. If you buy a Windows 10 S machine, you will never be "locked" to Windows 10 S forever. Users have the option to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for a discounted price.

Windows RT never offered this way out. Once you purchased a Windows RT device, that was it, you were locked into Windows RT for the remainder of that device's lifecycle. What's more, Microsoft did an incredibly poor job at explaining to users the difference between Windows RT, causing confusion. Above all, developers simply didn't take advantage of the Windows Store in Windows RT, which ultimately led to its failure.

Windows 10 S is a better OS

Windows 10 S avoids all these problems by simply being upgradable to Windows 10 Pro. But even in a scenario in which the upgrade to Windows 10 Pro isn't possible, Windows 10 S is still so much more than what Windows RT was. For starters, the Windows Store can now house more than just modern apps, it can house Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps, and even Win32 programs, too. This means you can get iTunes, Spotify, and more directly from the Windows Store.

Plus, Windows 10 S runs on a much larger selection of device types, including those with x86 processors. Windows RT was very much locked to ARM32 based devices, which meant, for the most part, Windows RT was experienced on very underpowered hardware. With Windows 10 S, you can find it on anything from low-end devices to high-end devices with the Surface Laptop, so users should never notice any slowdowns.

In short, Windows 10 S has plenty of benefits over Windows RT In fact, Windows 10 S and Windows RT share only one similar aspect: they're locked to the Windows Store.

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.

160 Comments
  • Thanks for this! It seems like there have been all of these debates around this, and this is a great way to clear that up.
  • Hey Zac,
    How many times you are going to re-cycle the same article about Windows 10 S?
  • Only one hundred times!
  • Until there are no more dummies not getting what Windows 10 S actually is. So, it'll be a long time even by judging comments here.
  • 1 Up for daniel....Awesome come back buddy!
  • Sounds like Microsoft's failure. Must get tiring trying to explain their poor messaging and branding.
  • And then there are those that simply can not grasp the concept no matter how you try to explain it.
  • Mostly it is people who pretend that they don't understand so that they can use it as a way of genertating FUD. For example, Microsoft has Home, Pro, Enterprise editions of Windows. People hit web sites such as this one feigning confusion to make it sound as if Microsoft is not messaging nor branding properly. Meanwhile other companies have multiple editions of their products, many options, many configurations, and that is just fine. For example, do you want an iPhone 7, 6s, C, or SE? Can anyone here name the differences off the top of their head? How much RAM does each model have, cpu, gpu? But tell people that Windows is a store only device that you can upgrade for free for the first 6 months, and suddenly it is confusing that only shows that Microsoft is "failing."
  • The iPhone had been around for a decade. People know what it is and how it works. If they bought an iPhone and took it home to find out you can only use web apps because the normal app store was blocked, they would be upset. Windows had been around for a couple decades. People know the Windows paradigm and are going to be confused when they suddenly can't use their new machine the same way. It is really going to be annoying when it attempts to shake you down. That is going to do nothing but piss people off.
  • Can this be loaded onto a surface rt?
  • Windows 10 S has nothing to do with ARM specifically. But it will be interesting what people do with Windows 10 on ARM. I'm sure someone will get it running on the Surface RT or Surface 2. While unofficial, for those brave enough to try it may breathe life into a device that has been pretty well shafted in terms of upgrades. Imagine finally being able to do on the RT what most discovered they couldn't do after they bought it.
  • Those RT devices aren't going to be powerful enough. Even if you get 10S on them, they will be uselessly​ slow.
  • Even though I am a Microsoft fan, I cannot let pass, this poor attempt by your site to aggrandise Windows 10S on flawed logic. Most of the people reading Windows news sites are not dumb, yet you try to fool them with inane arguments like Windows 10S allows you to upgrade while Windows RT didn't. That is not the difference between the two software, you silly, but the difference between the hardware (x86 vs ARM) that they ran on. At the time when Windows RT was shipped, the full Windows OS was not capable of running on ARM processors. And now that they have found a way to run Windows on ARM, they have (quite regressively) locked down even the x86 hardware to the Windows Store. And that is the main difference between Windows RT and Windows 10S, that the lockdown in the former was due to lack of technology (i.e., necessity) while in the latter case it is not out of necessity but out of choice. The necessity for this lockdown is for Microsoft, to somehow popularise Windows Store among Win32 developers. Their previous attempts for the same have not yielded sufficient results, hence this is their latest effort. It is not a consumer feature that you are trying to pitch. The consumer advantages of being locked to Windows Store are protection from malaware, apps running in a sandbox, automatic updates, notifications, clean uninstalling etc, but these advantages were available for Windows Store in Windows RT also. The major change in the two stores is that UWP apps are not supported in Windows RT while its available for Windows 10S, but even that is not by necessity but because Microsoft abandoned Windows RT. This article is written by Zac Bowden but I am responding to a comment by Mr Daniel Rubino because he is supposedly responsible for all editorial content and tenor of the articles. We all love Windows and Microsoft products here. We believe in their vision for the future and wish they succeed in it, but half baked and false defence of the indefensible will not take us anywhere.
  • For the general consumer, the difference is not the availability of new hardware.  For the general consumer the difference is that you can upgrade 10 S, whereas you could not upgrade RT.  They don't know why, and they don't care why, so the article is correct.
  • Windows RT would have been Store-only even if it ran on x86/AMD64. That was the conceptual reason for it. Also, nobody has "locked down" any hardware. You're at liberty to purchase a machine that doesn't run Windows 10 S.
  • Meh, conceptually W10S might as well be W10RT! Popularizing the UWP (previously the WinRT API) and simplifying the OS for consumers by disallowing the installation of non-store software is the WHOLE POINT of both W8RT and W10S. That is why they exist(ed)! When dummies stop getting lost in technical details and consider the far more relevant strategic goals and implications, we might get a reasonable discussion 😉. Both views have merit. One focuses on strategy (as I do), while the other on technical differences. Neither is necessarily wrong.
  • Yeah but at least provide well written article to explain it. A good article would provide a lot of specific, concrete details about why 10S is different and better. All this has its a few poorly organized bullet points.
  • Here's something I've learned about journalism I'll share with you ia. When there is nothing new to write about, you don't write about it. Look at how many articles Windows Central has written about Windows 8 lately (or previous versions for that matter), not a lot right? Why? Maybe because there is nothing new going on with them, and everything there is to say about them has been said. What about Windows 10 S? Something new with that? Yes, so why not write about it? This has been my Jounalism Tips for Dummies for today.
  • I think it wouldbe fair if you are calling Zac out by offering links to his prior WINDOWS 10S that shows and or demonstrate he is recycling. en you explore a topic like this from different angle and clear miscoceptions based on prior feedback or responses, that is not recycling rather rather more indepth investigation and clarification. I have read articles on on this forum where the autor will embed a link of prior article(s) as dated as 2014 that gives side note insight into what is been written about or the new article's progression from the past, they have never been shy about about referencing similar articles in past. So, be fair, share links.
  • Windows RT is sure done right, this may even help the app gap when MS does something with mobile
  • I think you have that backwards.  First the app gap needs to shrink, then we will see mobile again.
  • Good luck 🍀 with windows 10 s. Hope the best .
  • nice PR article, but S is RT the option to upgrade to PRO is a clear sign of it. Dont like it? Dont hate on us, just be so kind and pay us 49USD and you will have a full working W10PRO another thing, users are not stupid. They didnt buy RT because the Windows Store had near to 0 useful app and that didnt change too much in 2017 so instead of blaming users, blame Microsoft
  • I'll just blame you.
  • The only similarity between RT and 10S is the initial lockdown to the Store.  The hardware is different; the upgrade path is different. "users are not stupid."  Let's not go there. ;)
  • Once again, you fail at what you're talking about.
  • There are opinions, and then there is a-holery. Your comments belong to the latter.
  • And yet another person who comes here to purposely create FUD to try to scare people away. Just like with every other version of Windows, the trolls are out to try to scare people away. And yet, version after version, Microsoft sells more and more copies.
  • Well, the letter S is between letters RT
  • It must be so embarrassing to be you
  • You're a clueless idiot.
  • Then just don't buy a Windows 10 S device. Consumers should inform them self's before buying stuff. There are plenty of (low cost) devices out there that run Windows 10 Home, buy that instead!
  • Blame also salesmen.  I remember in Windows RT days some salesmen at Bestbuy didn't even know RT wouldn't run normal Windows programs.
  • And we're going to have the same problem here.  People will buy it because it's cheap, not realizing the limitation, and the clueless salesmen won't be any help.
  • Windows 10 S has options, including the ability to not be Windows 10 S anymore.
    That logic makes my soul hurt. Since when is a benefit of a thing not to be that thing? The rest of it is mostly fanboy backend stuff that the average user most likely won't care about or even know. Win10S is WinRT 2.0. No matter how you spin it.
  • That's like saying Windows 10 Home is flawed because you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro in the Store. Same logic, no?
    "Win10S is WinRT 2.0. No matter how you spin it."
    Stating things like "this runs on x86 and not ARM" and "it can run Win32 apps from the Store" is not spin, those are factual differences between RT and S that make a big difference. Spin is not "I disagree with stated facts". If you're on this site, you're a "pro" user and not the demographic for S. Go spend time with "normies" and look at how the real world of computing works for consumers.
  • Not the same logic at all. It's simply an upgrade trying to be sold as a benefit. Similar logic would be something along the lines of "Toyotas are good because you can take them to the dealer and upgrade them to Jaguars". How exactly is that a selling point of Toyotas?
    If you're on this site, you're a "pro" user and not the demographic for S.
    Not necesarily. MobNat (mostly AC, but WC to a smaller extent) runs a bajillion bordeline clickbaity articles like "Which SD card is best for you?" that are solely designed to attract "normies".
    Stating things like "this runs on x86 and not ARM" and "it can run Win32 apps from the Store" is not spin, those are factual differences between RT and S that make a big difference.
    How many "normies" would even know what that means? Joe User standing at Wal-Mart or Best Buy is going to ask the blueshirt what the difference between Win10 andWin10S is. The blueshirt will invariably say "Win10S can only run apps from the Store".
  • But you're putting a user-based, biased judgment on S because YOU don't like it. I don't see it as a "Toyota upgrade to a Jaguar" that's your analogy and I don't agree with it. Windows 10 S is about (1) battery life (2) security (3) reduced PC rot from pre-installed applications. It's a "pure" Windows experience one that is, no matter how much you don't like it, the future of mobile computing. .Exe apps are notice and dying. End of story. If you can't see this future approaching you need to go re-read everything we've been talking about for the last 2 years. This is happening whether anyone here thinks it's the right time or not, it's not an if but the direction of Windows and general computing period. The faster Win32 dies the better. It's old tech, not built for the MR and mobile world we're moving to.
  • Daniel, I have a hard time imagining what you're talking about.  It sounds similar to comparing iOS to MacOS.  Both are locked down, although iOS is much more so.  One is a consuption-based platform.  The other is a creation-based platform. I'm curiously excited, yet concerned, about what the future holds.  There's a lot of power available in Win32 apps, that I haven't seen available in Store apps.  Perhaps this will change, but it isn't ready yet.
  • You do know Win32 apps are available in the Store, right? That's kind of the whole ******* point of 10S. But aside from that, Daniel is correct when he says Win32 is going bye-bye. MSFT has clearly stated UWP is the future development platform. They continually add API sets to the framework and over time it will catch and surpass Win32 in its capability.
  • I came to the comments section to say this. Also will add, for the RT comparison sake, that with Win32 applications available in Store, a W10S can install and run those while RT couldn't. If let's say W8S would have come out instead of WinRT, Surface RT would have seen better days.
  • But you're putting a user-based, biased judgment on S because YOU don't like it.
    I don't have any bias for or against it. I'm mostly on Chromebooks now, I don't have a dog in this race.
    Windows 10 S is about (1) battery life (2) security (3) reduced PC rot from pre-installed applications. It's a "pure" Windows experience one that is, no matter how much you don't like it, the future of mobile computing.
    ...until you do the (beneficial!) upgrade, and most of those either go away or are sorely diminished.
    .Exe apps are notice and dying. End of story. If you can't see this future approaching you need to go re-read everything we've been talking about for the last 2 years.
    I do't dount it, but not any time soon. And more likely than not, i'll be a slow rollout rather than a massive overnight paradigm shift. I love WC, and I love Zac (we used to chat back on WinBeta IRC), but my bottom line is this; all these mostly transparent QoL improvements don't mean squat to most people. Trying to say Win10s is better than WinRT because 1) you can upgrade it, and 2) it's 'teh future!' are mostly meaningless to the public at large.
  • I think that everyone needs to take a good look at what they're saying. Windows RT wasn't all that bad, it had some flaws, but, nothing serious. I still use my Surface RT for some things, and I upped the storage to 64 gig's by adding a 32 gig flash card, to do backups on. From what I've read about the Surface Laptop it looks like a sure bet. So what if you're locked to the Windows store, at least you're 99.99% sure that the apps are safe. I'd rather be locked to a sure thing than take a chance of picking up a virus from a 3rd party product.
  • You must be very patient to use a Surface RT today.
  • The faster Win32 dies the better.
    But the irony of Windows 10 S and Centennial is that Win32 is now guaranteed to live even longer. Before, anyone who wanted to have a presence in the Windows 10 Store needed to create an UWP app. Now, they can just take their unaltered age old Win32 app and put in the store and just let it sit there unaltered. Maybe, just maybe, developers will add some live tile and notifications stuff to it. But turning into a modern UWP app requires a full rewrite. And I have yet to see Microsoft to make a compelling case why any developer or company should invest a lot of money in that rewrite when they have just been given the option to getting their app in the store "for free".
  • Project Centennial is a transitional step towards UWP. Starting there goes a long way already, because although being Win32 application, it runs in sandboxed environment that, technically, guarantees that it cannot wreak havoc on the PC the way a normal .exe can. This puts an end to the ability for users to screw up their system and then blame Microsoft for it, while practically having all the same benefits of yore. So you see, repackaged Win32 apps are are not the same as traditional .exe.
  • You are correct: there definately are benefits to having your Win32 apps downloaded and installed via the store. And while I also agree that this is intended as a way to lure developers into the store to ultimately have them embrace UWP as well, I fear that the step from Win32 to UWP is still too big and developers will simply leave their Win32 apps as-is in the store.
  • I think that once they get a taste for what a real UWP app can do for their business, they will eventually transition. Because, we already know that Centennial-converted apps can tap into some of the UWP resources to offer additional functionality not available to .exe. If a business cannot utilise these because of legacy functions, it's fine to leave as-if, but if not, I see no reason why a growing, profitable company wouldn't leverage UWP once it has shown is potential.
  • Developers who don't wish to continue developing their apps and grow, yeah - they can do that. And that's fine. In the meantime, the competition won't sit still.
  • Nope. The competition will be creating apps for Android and iOS since that is where the users are. The Windows store does not offer many users just gimmicks.
  • I think security is the most important aspect of 10s and given the ongoing malware attacks MS should market security heavily. It's no small benefit
  • So ... Their marketing message should be, "Buy Win 10 S!  Unlike our normal Win 10 operating system, this one is actually secure!" Don't quit your day-job. 😁
  • Maybe's eventually they'll gradually change the store requirements to prod developers gently in the right direction. Didn't they "unlist" a load of apps not long back because they didn't comply with a new ratings policy??
  • Won't this 'death's take forever? I was setting up new laptop for my wife last night and was thinking how S might be a better option for her as a 'normal' user. Then I started installing the drivers and software for all the peripherals she uses, all .exe software.... I'm not getting a new wireless laser printer or whatever just because the vendor/manufacturer doesn't create a store app. If in order to install devices you're instantly forced to upgrade to home/pro, doesn't that defeat the purpose of S...?
  • I really think W10S is a calling from Microsoft to its partners in crime peripherals to step up their game. For example, HP has been doing a great job for years already. I don't own an AIO printer, but everytime I visit my parents, the printer automatically prompts an installation of the software on my PC as soon as I enter the network. In the beginning it was a bit weird, but now it's quite convenient.
  • Will said, Daniel!
  • That is a realy dumb analogy.  For one Toyotas and Jaguars are two different brands.  If you are going to use cars for a comparison then it would be more like upgrading a Toyota Corolla for a Toyota Camry.  A lot of dealerships will actually let you do that if the car you bought doesn't fit your needs.  So again, your analogy is dumb.
  • But even that is not a good analogy to what's happening with Windows 10 S.  It is more like taking a turbo powered Lancer Evo and shutting off the turbos.  The upgrade is to pay a little more to turn the turbos on.  But here's the thing... If I buy this car for my parents, do they really need it?  Will the increased maintenance, risk of failure and drop in fuel economy be worth it for them? 
  • If you father always had an Evo and was expecting it to act like an Evo, he is going to be upset when the turbos don't spool and a message on the info center asks for more money to enable them. Microsoft better do a really good job of explaining W10S to everyone buying one. They cannot let people take them home not fully understanding what they are buying.
  • But if he's paying less for this particular Evo, he should clue in that maybe he's getting less.
  • They are both cars that will get you from point A to point B. Heck, he could of used Toyota and Lexus. A Lexus is just a fancy Toyota, made by the same company. Either way, his analogy is on point as to some, a Jaguar is an upgrade to a Toyota.
  • @zhris, perhaps this will help: the ability to upgrade is itself a compelling benefit. For many, when making a purchase decision, the ability to upgrade, to be more future proof, is an important consideration. It was largely lack of this important benefit that caused Windows RT failed (bad messaging from MS and reports that RT was a dead end that couldn't run all the Windows applications sealed its doom). The ability to upgrade doesn't mean that all (or even many) users will upgrade. Many (I'd wager most, except perhaps in cases where it's part of a specific sales promotion to push hardware) will just stick with 10 S, which in turn will increase traffic to the Store, which further provides a compelling reason for developers to make Store apps.
  • @zhris
    What a knob jockey.
    RT was a dead duck from day 1.
    10S has a bright future which I would happily embrace, security with 2 teenagers trawling the internet is paramount now but an upgrade path is there if and when required down the track.
    That's the difference right there and why I will happily buy in.
  • Here's the thing: You have six months to upgrade for free. If, at any point in the first six months you get a popup saying that you are unable to install that critical piece of software, you can just upgrade. That's a long time to figure out if you're going to have to pay for the upgrade. The benefit of a thing to not be a thing is fairly common in the market, as well as nature. Bought a one bedroom house for you and your spouse but now you want a family? Better add on (upgrade). In nature there are several species that have different phases of life. Don't want to be a tadpole anymore? Become a frog. At a core level, the DNA is the same but only an idiot would say that frogs are identical to tadpoles. Calling it RT 2.0 is also ridiculous for another reason as well. The hardware they can run on is very different. That probably won't matter to the masses, but it will matter to OEMs. It will matter to developers. And one last thing about this is that the Windows store is already much better than it was when RT launched. It's not RT 2.0. It's what RT should have been. It's RT done right. It's an option for people that spend most of their time in the browser. It's for people concerned with security. It's for people that only need the basics. It's not for