Skip to main content

Windows 10 S: everything you need to know about Microsoft’s Chrome OS competitor

Windows 10 S: everything you need to know about Microsoft’s Chrome OS competitor

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Microsoft launched its latest version of Windows 10 yesterday, Windows 10 S. It’s designed for education and to take on Chromebooks and Chrome OS. Just like Google’s own OS, Windows 10 S is fairly locked down in places and you’ll only be able to run apps from the Windows Store. Microsoft explained some aspects of Windows 10 S onstage yesterday, but there’s a lot more to this new version. Here’s everything you need to know.

Only Windows Store apps will work

The biggest change to Windows 10 S is that it’s locked to only work with Windows Store apps. That means you’ll need to find apps in the Store to download and install them, and many desktop apps like Photoshop and Chrome simply aren’t in the Store yet. Microsoft does allow developers to port their desktop apps into the Windows Store, but not many have taken advantage of this feature just yet.

Microsoft is adding its full suite of Office apps to the Windows Store, and Spotify has committed to bringing its music streaming app to the Store. Microsoft will need popular apps like iTunes, Chrome, and Photoshop to make Windows 10 S more usable for most people. It’s the hundreds of utility apps that are unlikely to ever be made available in the Windows Store, and if you need those then Windows 10 S probably isn’t for you.

Security and performance

Microsoft claims that security and performance will both be improved with Windows 10 S. Apps won’t be able to run unless they’re packaged and available in the Windows Store, so that should help prevent malware and unnecessary app helpers from running at boot up. Microsoft has also improved the first sign-in process of Windows 10 S, with better login times which will help in environments like schools.

Overall, these changes and the lock to Windows Store apps and Microsoft’s Edge browser should improve battery life. Microsoft has focused on battery life for its Windows 10 S devices to ensure students can use laptops for the majority of the day.

Default browser and search settings are locked to Microsoft

Microsoft will support alternative browsers in the Windows Store, but Windows 10 S users won’t be able to alter their default browser. That means if you click on a link from an app in Windows 10 S then you’ll be forced into Microsoft’s Edge browser. That’s similar to Google’s Chrome OS, which only lets you use Chrome as the browser.

Microsoft is also locking down Microsoft Edge to only work with its Bing search engine in Windows 10 S. That means you won’t be able to switch to Google search to easily type in queries in the address bar or elsewhere, and you’ll have to access the search service through

Microsoft's Surface Laptop runs Windows 10 S.
Microsoft's Surface Laptop runs Windows 10 S.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

It looks and works just like Windows 10

Windows 10 S isn’t a lite version of Windows 10, and it looks and functions mostly the same. PC makers like HP and Acer will sell laptops running Windows 10 S this summer, and schools can opt to switch from Windows 10 Pro to Windows 10 S free of charge.

Windows 10 S can be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro

Fortunately, if you need desktop apps that aren’t in the Windows Store then Microsoft has a quick fix for Windows 10 S. For $49 you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro and get access to desktop apps. On a low-cost device this seems reasonable, but it’s an additional cost for more premium devices. We haven’t seen many of those announced with Windows 10 S yet, but Microsoft’s Surface Laptop will include a free Windows 10 Pro upgrade until the end of the year.

Isn’t this Windows RT 2.0?

It’s tempting to brand this as another Windows RT experiment or even a follow-up to Windows 8.1 with Bing, but Windows 10 S differs in many key ways. Microsoft is targeting this at education and not tablet users, and desktop apps can run this time if they’re in the Windows Store. Even if they’re not then there is a fix to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, whereas Windows RT users were left stranded with an OS that looked like Windows but didn’t function like it at all.

This new OS will likely lead to some confusion for users who pick up a cheap laptop and want to start running desktop apps and can’t find them in the Store, though. That was a major hurdle for Windows RT, and Microsoft will have to manage the inevitable consumer confusion better this time around.

So why has Microsoft created Windows 10 S?

Microsoft says its primary goal with Windows 10 S is education, but it’s clear this is a strategic move, too. Microsoft hasn’t had much success with its Universal Windows Platform for Windows 10, especially given Windows Phone has less than 1 percent market share. App developers haven’t flocked to UWP as a result, and it’s clear for the Windows Store to be a success it needs to attract desktop apps.

By allowing developers to port their apps to the Windows Store, it boosts Microsoft’s control over the Windows ecosystem and even its revenue thanks to the percentage it takes from app sales. It might even force companies like Google, that have traditionally avoided UWP, to get apps into the Windows Store.

Overall, Windows 10 S is a test for Microsoft to try and better secure and improve the experience of Windows. Desktop apps have had the freedom to run wild in Windows for years, and Windows 10 S is Microsoft’s latest attempt at trying to move Windows to a more modern environment.