Microsoft's Windows 10 S is now a viable operating system, but does that matter?

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Microsoft’s Windows S which debuted with the Surface Laptop has been the subject of some debate for its short existence. To briefly recap, Windows 10 S is a variant of Windows 10 Pro which has been streamlined and optimized for security and speed, the trade-off being a few limitations of varying importance. Microsoft won’t let you install software from anywhere but the Microsoft Store, and hides the registry editor and command line tools so you can’t really dive deep into your PC. Yet, despite all those limitations, a case could be made that Windows 10 S could evolve into something that goes beyond functional, but is actually desirable to use.

To begin with the negatives first, Windows 10 S is still nearly mythical. This isn’t saying anything good or bad about the OS, just that it barely seems to exist at the moment. Microsoft shipped the OS with the Surface Laptop for the first time — though it was with an easy upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. Microsoft also announced a number of devices, yet more devices featuring Windows 10 S have yet to come out. I would expect by now, a Windows 10 S version of the Acer Swift 3, a popular and powerful mid-range PC for the price. Or perhaps a Windows 10 S powered HP Stream 14, a cute little laptop with a streamlined OS for students at University, College and secondary school levels who only need to type up word documents and perform rudimentary research on their PCs would be useful. Yet, I haven’t seen any of this. The first wave of Windows 10 S PCs have released, are predictably US only with the exception of the Surface Laptop. Few more have come to light.

Perhaps Microsoft is waiting for some sign from its OEMs, perhaps they just need more apps, but from where I’m sitting Windows 10 S seems to have gotten up with a whimper. That’s however, neither here nor there regarding the viability of the system.

The largest concern potential users have with Windows 10 right now, as it stands, is apps. PCs stand and fall by the apps they have, and unlike ChromeOS (which itself has now resorted to using Android apps), Windows was never built on a platform of running apps from the web. As Microsoft found out with the hard way Windows 8 RT, people expect their Windows-powered PC to run familiar apps.
To their credit, the Microsoft Store has grown such that you’ll be able to find many apps that you want. Microsoft’s Office Suite has been made available for Windows 10 S users in the past year, Evernote and Spotify have come to the Microsoft Store as well. Apple is promising to bring iTunes to the Windows Store, so you can get your Apple Music fix from there soon. There are tons of other good to great apps available in the Microsoft Store that the prospect of living on a PC with just Microsoft Store sourced apps no longer makes me reflexively shudder.
That is, with the exception of browsers. Microsoft will not be allowing alternative browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox or Google’s Chrome into the Windows Store unless they effectively become Edge skins. As that’s most certainly not going to happen, users on the Windows 10 S are stuck with Edge (and a handful of other browsers not worth mentioning).

When I last wrote about Edge in this context, I didn’t give it many compliments, saying:

Like most desktop users, much of my computer usage involves using the internet. In essence, a powerful browser with extension support for things like Adblock Plus (for a few sites with out of control ads), Grammarly for helping with writing, and while a bunch of other extensions I’m currently trying out to streamline my online workflow.
When it comes to extensions, Edge only has a few. There’s support for the Adblock Plus which has whitelist support and send to OneNote and EverNote for quickly taking notes and clipping pages, as well as Amazon Assistant for streamlining online shopping. When you step out of that limited circle though just like the Windows Store, there’s barely anything else. There aren’t any Google extensions (shocker), nor are there any that change your new tab page to maximize productivity. Pocket on Chrome integrates with the New Tab page to show me stories that I’m generally interested in saving and reading later on Pocket’s iPhone app, and there are extensions to quickly show you the weather as well.
Most painfully, however, Edge has issues with performance for me. I won’t attempt to generalize my experience to every single person who uses Edge, but my experience with using Edge for any sustained period of time leads to frustration, lost work, and freezing. This is consistent whether I use my PC on Insider builds, freshly reset or otherwise.”

My thoughts on Edge, were, regardless, negative. Now, with the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and several cumulative updates behind us, I have had a change of opinion — as one does when the facts of the matter change.

Edge has developed to include more extensions. and a key one for me — Grammarly — now joins the fold. That’s not all, Edge is, in fact, more stable. I haven’t experienced an Edge crash since updating to the Fall Creators Update, and that’s a big deal for me. I’ve surfed the web looking at user and reviewer reports and takes on Edge, and the same story is there, Edge has gotten better since the Fall Creators Update. Microsoft is also slowly tackling missing features like pinnable web-apps. You can now pin sites to your taskbar as if they were real apps. They will open in Edge UI of course, but those baby steps point to real work taking place on Edge.

Windows 10 S still faces software problems when it comes to driver installation, there will be some niche device somewhere that needs a manual driver installation, and you’ll either need to be incredibly creative, do without or pony up to Microsoft to unlock the full capabilities of your device.

That is ultimately the Windows 10 S problem at its core. It is secure, and the apps within it are useful, but it doesn’t offer much over similarly priced Windows PCs with Windows 10 Home and Pro, and it isn’t meaningfully different in the sense that it would make sense to limit your PC. If Microsoft did more work on this so that you could eke our far more battery life, or managed to streamline the driver installation process, then Windows 10 S would be just about there.
To be clear, I get the sense that an average user can use Windows 10 S right now and not skip a beat. However, I can’t see a reason for going out of your way to do so.

More about the topics: analysis, microsoft, op-ed, windows, Windows 10 S

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