Windows 10 S can’t take on Chromebooks without Chrome

I ordered pizza for a group of friends this week, it was like herding cats. We had a choice between Papa Johns, Domino’s Pizza and Pizza Hut — and while they are all the same, some people feel more strongly about the contents of their pizzas than others. To me, a pizza is a pizza is a pizza, but to them, they really felt strongly about one brand of pizza over the other. So you’re wondering by now, what different kinds of pizza have to do with anything. I’ll get to that in a second.

Windows 10 S is Microsoft’s latest attempt to take on Chromebooks, and the firm has shipped it with Windows Store verified apps and Microsoft Edge as its only browser. It’s a streamlined version of the OS and comes with the Surface Laptop which we recently reviewed. While Windows 10 S has had some critique aimed at its restrictions, those are fine for me.

Windows 10 S effectively locks you down to Edge and Bing

My issue with Windows 10 S lies in two aspects: search and the browser. With Windows 10 S, the browser remains locked to Microsoft Edge (or store skins of it), and Microsoft has now mandated that users of Edge use Bing — and only Bing as their primary search engine. This means that students who use Windows 10 S won’t be able to use Google Chrome, including its vast number of recommended extensions for education (cue the Microsoft fans arguing that you don’t NEED X extension because Y does just as well if you ignore its shortcomings in Z). This also means that they won’t be able to set default search engines for research purposes where Google shines, or where they might prefer to use DuckDuckGo or some other niche and focused search engine.

Now, for fans of Microsoft products, there’s no reason why someone wouldn’t want to use Microsoft Edge or Bing. Both services are victims of a “works perfectly for me” mentality, and it is easy to imagine that both are completely serviceable apps and services with their own advantages. In the real world, however, many users aren’t a fan of Microsoft Edge, with users actively downloading and installing Chrome on their PCs despite Microsoft’s best attempts. Bing for its part is a lovely search engine, but it remains the punchline to many ribald jokes.

Google Chrome has a vast amount of extensions

In our Surface Laptop review, our Senior Editor Mehedi Hassan stated that  “If you are like me and rely heavily on classic desktop apps like Google Chrome or Visual Studio Code, you are probably going to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro really quickly.” Furthermore, I’d say that most people who use Google’s excellent Chrome browser don’t use it because it’s a classic Windows app, or because they have any particular love for Google, it is just that Chrome has a lot to offer. At the risk of providing redundant information to many who already use Chrome, the app’s library of themes and extensions make it so that anyone can make Chrome their own app and do almost exactly what they want. It is in some ways its own web standard, with sites almost always guaranteed to be working with Chrome. In Mehedi’s case, he hopped over to Chrome (and Windows 10 Pro) in less than five days because he couldn’t work effectively with Edge due to the poor development tools (which is actually the old Internet Explorer one). Similarly, most people who use Google use it because it is a good search engine. Google the company may have some odd practices, but that doesn’t matter to most people. Google the search engine is a pretty useful tool for research and general work.

Now, for the pizza stuff. It has been argued in comments, in social media like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere that the lack of these two services isn’t a problem since Microsoft’s services can be almost as good as Google’s if you give them a chance — or so the saying goes. Well, I disagree. Just like people who prefer different brands of similarly tasting pizza, people simply prefer Google to Bing. You can make all sorts of arguments about why they should give your preferred pizza a try, but if there are choices, there’s no reason for them to favor your brand over their choices (especially if you happen to own the said brand).

It may be trivial right now to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro — but next year when comparing a new MacBook to a Surface Laptop, a consumer will see a £1000 laptop that doesn’t run Google Chrome until you pony up, and a £900 one that does.

The core idea of Windows 10 S enticing at the moment

It’s a shame as I find the core idea of Windows 10 S enticing at the moment. The Windows Store has gotten more attractive in the past few months, now boasting Spotify and the promise of iTunes and WhatsApp as well as more other utilities. Universal Windows Apps aren’t going to take off ever, but the Windows Store has a chance to take off with classic desktop apps coming in. As for Microsoft, their stock apps are improving daily, and users who choose to rely on Microsoft Photos instead of Apple or Google Photos or OneNote instead of Apple Notes will be well served.

This is a completely unforced error by Microsoft. There is no justification for the firm to ban changing the default search engine. If its security, then there has yet to be a case made that changing the default search engine damages security in any way. Likewise, Chrome has proven to be almost as secure — if not more so than Edge.

Windows 10 S is not a terrible idea, I’m typing this on a Chromebook right now with a Windows phone at my side. The deliberate limitations in these platforms do necessarily impede productivity as both are done correctly, and they work towards a consumer friendly goal. Windows 10 S’ restrictions here seem solely and cynically  designed to force you to use Microsoft’s services, and that will be its undoing.

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