Windows 10 S is Here: Everything You Need to Know

The next step in Microsoft’s endless project has begun. Windows 10 S is here, making its debut alongside Microsoft’s very pretty Surface Laptop – a pricey premium device that Microsoft hopes will rival both Apple’s MacBook Air and Google’s Chromebook. It’s a strange strategy competing with both premium and budget devices simultaneously, and from what I’ve seen so far, it’s a strange OS. Here’s everything you need to know.

If you’re of the more paranoid persuasion about Microsoft’s intentions, then 10 S is the tentative first step towards Microsoft locking down its operating system in a bid to create a dystopian future where you can only use apps, games and web browsers from Microsoft’s own app store and ecosystem. Even though it’s technically intended to rival Chrome OS, it’s crucial to know that 10 S isn’t browser-based like Chrome OS.

In Microsoft’s words, Windows 10 S is a stripped-back OS aimed at the education sector, offering students and teachers a faster, more secure, less feature-heavy version of Windows 10. To me, this is a little incongruous with the fact that it comes by default on the luxurious $999 – $2,199 Surface Laptop with its svelte Maccy design and suede-like Alcantara-fabric keyboard, although Microsoft will be working with other manufacturers to put Windows 10 S on much more affordable devices.

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At the moment, the only way to get Windows 10 S is by preordering a Surface Laptop or by being part of an institution that decides to use Windows 10 S as its educational, controlled OS of choice. Microsoft has also, however, announced partnership with several major manufacturers to ship Windows 10 S with much cheaper, lower-spec laptops, starting at much more reasonable prices of around $190. Again, these are likely to be aimed at educational institutions.

Remember that dystopian future I mentioned earlier? Well, that’s kind of what’s happening on Windows 10 S, and already there are plenty of not-so-great surprises being discovered in the OS.

For a start, you can only download apps, games and other software that’s available to buy in the Windows Store, so the traditional way of trawling the Internet and downloading fun little tools and programs becomes impossible.

Speaking of the Internet, while Microsoft has said that you can download other browsers available in the Windows Store (mostly obscure ones – no Chrome or Firefox), you can’t change the default browser from Microsoft Edge. They say it’s for security, but really it seems like a fairly heavy-handed way of keeping people in the Microsoft ecosystem. Seeing as these things are aimed at education, control over such things should really be in the hands of administrators.

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The fun doesn’t stop there. You aren’t allowed to change the default search engine in Edge or Internet Explorer from Bing. That means privacy-oriented users will have a serious headache here, as data you type into Bing ends up in the hands of Microsoft and advertisers. You can always create bookmarks to other search engines if you like, but that hardly screams user-friendliness.

Thankfully, if you buy a Surface Laptop, you’ll have one year within which to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free, at which point your system becomes unlocked again. (After that, it will cost $49 for the Pro upgrade.) Microsoft vice president of operating systems Joe Belfiore said that switching to Pro is a “one-way switch” with no current method for going back to Windows 10 S once you get rid of it. Again, a bit stringent, but once you’re out of Windows 10 S, then you probably have no reason to go back to it, right?

From an education standpoint, Windows 10 S makes sense, and if schools provide students with affordable laptops sporting the OS, it’ll be a good way of keeping everyone on the same page and using their laptops for precisely the things they should be used for (not torrenting and gaming, as students are wont to do).

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But why people would want to buy a pricey laptop like the Surface Laptop and then be forced into Microsoft’s tightly-controlled ecosystem is beyond me, and the fact that Windows 10 S ties everyone into Edge and Bing seems like a downright insidious way of big data harvesting – particularly of students and younger people who are the target demographic here. Microsoft has quite a few things to straighten out before educational institutions should consider working with them – namely giving admins more control over the OS, rather than forcing them into using it how Microsoft desires. Even Chrome OS lets you change your search engine!

As for the Surface Laptop, Microsoft should give users the choice from the get-go whether they want their Surface Laptop to ship with Windows 10 S or Pro. No points for guessing which one I’d go for.

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