Living with Windows 10 S: The Series

Posted on July 28, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 48 Comments

Living with Windows 10 S: The Series

For my second go-round with Windows 10 S, I’m going to document what it’s really like living with the limits of this strange new Windows version.

I’m pretty sure that Microsoft is purposefully limiting our exposure to Windows 10 S because it is so unsuitable for most people. But they’re starting to warm up to the idea: After rejecting my call to open up Windows 10 S to the Windows Insider user base, the firm this week did at least make it available to professional developers, via MSDN, and will soon allow education customers to take a peek too.

Windows 10 S isn’t new to me, of course. I spent a week with this OS on Microsoft’s new Surface Laptop back in June. And my conclusions are still correct: Windows 10 S is unsuitable for virtually all of Microsoft’s customers, and anyone who does purchase a Surface Laptop or other Windows 10 S system should immediately take advantage of the free and seamless upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

I have various ideas about how Microsoft might fix this problem. Ways that we can collectively move forward, as a community, and still achieve Microsoft’s long-term goal of deprecating and then blocking legacy Win32 code in Windows so that this OS can finally move forward into the 21st century.

But that’s theoretical, and until Microsoft wakes up to the chicken and egg problem that is Windows 10—too few high-quality Store apps, too many necessary Win32 desktop apps—we will have to play with the cards we’ve been dealt. And anyone coming across a Windows 10 S PC today, in 2017, has two choices. They can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free, which, again, I think is the right choice for everyone. Or … they can actually use Windows 10 S.

We do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.

Well. That’s rather dramatic. I do these things because I care about the platform and for the people who use it. And I want to be as educated as I can be about this strange new Windows version so that I can more fairly evaluate it as things change, as new apps come to the Store. And, maybe, down the road, as Microsoft wakes up and opens up the noose a bit.

Of course, this is Microsoft, so nothing is ever easy. The firm continues to ignore my requests for a Surface Laptop review unit, despite the fact that that machine is the only mainstream device that ships with Windows 10 S. So I’ve done what I always do. Find Windows 10 S, in this case, on the back of a truck. And install it on a new PC that I do have. Because the truth is out there. And I’m not going to let Microsoft stop me from doing my job.

So, let’s see what it’s really like. Over a long period of time.

Next up: The basics.


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Comments (48)

48 responses to “Living with Windows 10 S: The Series”

  1. skane2600

    Supporting Win32 is not holding Windows back from any capabilities. In fact Windows capabilities are a superset of what iOS and Android can do . In 2017 with 6 major releases of Windows since the start of the century, it's a bit silly to suggest that Windows isn't a 21st century OS.

    • Waethorn

      In reply to skane2600:

      Windows will be dead on its 30th birthday.

      • skane2600

        In reply to Waethorn:

        Is that a joke? Windows is already 32 years old.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to Waethorn:

        Windows 1 came out in 1985. 30 years after that was 2 years ago. Windows is already dead?

        Or do you mean Windows will be dead on Windows 10's 30th birthday?

        • Waethorn

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          Well, Windows 10 isn't exactly helping. It'll take another 8 years for the dust to settle.

        • Waethorn

          In reply to hrlngrv:

          Well, if you wanna include all the non-OS versions of Windows, sure. But I'm talking about Windows 95 and forward - the real OS versions of Windows. Windows 10 will die in 2025. Windows, marketshare-wise will be long dead before that.

          • skane2600

            In reply to Waethorn:

            If you're going to create your own definition of what Windows is, you should define it first. Neither Windows 1.0 or Windows 95 use the same kernel as Windows 10, so these limited definitions can get messy.

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to skane2600:

              . . . Neither Windows 1.0 or Windows 95 use the same kernel as Windows 10 . . .

              To be picky, Windows NT 3.x predated Windows 95, and NT3.x did use the NT kernel, ancestor of the Windows 10 kernel, so it may be most accurate to say Windows as OS originated in the early rather than mid 1990s.

          • hrlngrv

            In reply to Waethorn:

            Windows as OS on home/leisure computing devices never used for working from home probably don't need Windows already, with the obvious exception of PC gamers.

            Windows on workplace PCs for most desk-bound employees will still be around in 10 years. Most of what those machines would still be used for couldn't be done on whatever Windows 10 S would have become by them. The one way that may not be so is if more large and medium enterprises move to Windows application servers and serve up remote desktops to individual client machines. In that case, Windows would live on as a server OS, but it wouldn't be necessary as an OS on local machines.

            Recent PC sales figures show continuing decline, but not accelerating decline. I figure we're in an era of slow exponential decline, very roughly every year's new PC purchases 3% below the previous year's. With PCs used for longer (because PCs bought 5 years ago still run all Win32 software since MSFT hasn't changed Win32 since Windows 7), PCs in use are likely to remain above 1 billion through 2025.

            If you mean Windows versions meant to run UWP apps primarily, then I figure those Windows versions will be dead before 2025.

          • Stooks

            In reply to Waethorn:

            "Windows, marketshare-wise will be long dead before that."

            So it will go from 91% right now to dead before 2025???

            Why do you and Karma even come here if you do not like Microsoft/Windows? I mean both of you hover and wait for new blog posts to pounce with your negative dribble....and you do it every day. Kind of odd don't you think?

            • Greg Green

              In reply to Stooks:

              Isn't that 91% of the desktop market? A market that shrank by 15% in the last four years. Win is now only 36% of worldwide market share, behind android with 40%.

              In ten years or less Win has gone from 91% of total market share to 36%. Its two thirds of the way to dead.

              The biggest threat to MS is ARM, and ARM has already achieved victory.

  2. hrlngrv

    I have to wonder what the purpose of deprecating then blocking Win32 software would be. Win32 hasn't been successful for MSFT and Windows users? Windows PC users would be forced to use UWP apps once they couldn't run Win32 software under Windows?

    Re that last one, a substantial amount of Win32 software can already run under wine and more can run under Crossover, both under Linux. There's also a considerable amount of FOSS with both Windows and Linux versions, e.g., GNU R and RStudio, Google Chrome, Firefox, VLC. I figure it'd be much harder to develop source code which could be used for both Linux and UWP Windows, much harder than Linux and Win32 Windows.

    But lets say this is workplace vs consumer. It's unlikely most workplace-only software will ever be converted to UWP, and as long as there's a perceived need for some level of interoperability for which UWP sharing is insufficient, it's unlikely packaged Win32 software would be acceptable. As I see it, workplaces will continue using Win32 software for at least another decade.

    Is the intention that outside the workplace there be no more Win32 software? If so, what happens with all the software real people are still using which was developed by people or companies no longer in business or maintaining that software? Those users should just give up using it and wait patiently for UWP alternatives or just use their PCs to do different things?

    I guess I just can't understand why it's necessary to get rid of Win32 rather than make it more robust. I understand that with declining PC sales, there's less money MSFT could make from fixing Win32 rather than trying to replace Win32 with UWP. However, I don't see compelling advantages for users in a complete transition from Win32 to UWP.

    Finally, a REAL OS needs to include a development environment capable of making itself. Where's UWP Visual Studio? Is there any app in the Windows Store which could make other apps for the Windows Store? If not, how long until there would be one?

  3. MacLiam

    I appreciate your detailed reports on the new aspects of the Microsoft universe, so I'm looking forward to future chapters in this series. But since the basic principle here for independent users is that less constraint is better than more, there is already a pretty clear answer to the basic question. There is probably no need for a super-fine-grained analysis of the pros and cons of 10S, but it would be interesting to hear your thoughts about where 10S (or its differently named inheritor) will or should be five or 10 years down the road.

    When I first learned of 10S and the company's rationale for its existence, I thought I saw some welcome common sense on display. But the more I thought about it, the common sense component faded and the latent wishful thinking became more obvious. As you counsel, I would today buy a 10S device only on the understanding that I would upgrade it immediately.

  4. Darmok N Jalad

    "So I’ve done what I always do. Find Windows 10 S, in this case, on the back of a truck. And install it on a new PC that I do have. Because the truth is out there."

    The real reason Paul moved. The Man was on to him.

  5. bbold

    I currently use Windows 10 S on my Surface Laptop and I love it for MOST all the things I do. (I know I can upgrade, but I already locked in the free upgrade in the beginning, which, btw, thanks for the Pro tip, Paul!) If I want a non-store app, I switch over to my Surface Pro, but for most use cases, I'm good. I'm primarily an Office user, with a little bit of Groove and web browsing thrown in. I utilize the web for work and school related stuff, and I'm fine. If you do need to use a powerful image editor (such as Adobe products) you'll need to switch to Pro. (Keep in mind that Adobe Photoshop Elements, which is in the Store, doesn't even work in 10S.) I do all my image editing on my SP so I'm good there. I do believe the SL is an awesome device, but even for most students, they'll need to upgrade to Pro, which isn't a huge deal, it takes about 2.5 minutes to switch, and it's free. I'm wondering if the free upgrade will be extended beyond this year, I feel like that should be a no brainer and should always be free with such an expensive laptop as the SL.

  6. Stooks

    Can you buy the OS if you are not buying a new low end PC that most people will avoid???? Nope.

    Will any of the limitations S has impact schools that uses Chromebooks today???? Nope.

    Everything else on this OS is a much to do about nothing.

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Stooks:

      "Will any of the limitations S has impact schools that uses Chromebooks today???? Nope."

      You're wrong. They're running Edge. Edge doesn't work worth a sh*t with Google services.

      • Stooks

        In reply to Waethorn:

        Just logged into gmail, contacts, calendar, drive, docs, sheets, photos....all on Edge all worked just fine. I did get a message saying I could not work offline unless I had Chrome. Never used the offline feature so I am going to say Edge is just fine with Google stuff.

  7. gregsedwards

    Does anyone know whether Windows 10 S will work with a key from a higher-level SKU? In other words, if I obtained the ISO from somewhere, would a Windows 10 Pro key allow me to install it on a device just to kick the tires?

    • Dan1986ist

      In reply to gregsedwards:

      I think S would require a different product key than the Pro SKU of Windows 10. If you're talking about clean installing on a device, using a Windows 10 Pro key will just get you Pro and not S.

  8. DocPaul

    "Find Windows 10 S ... on the back of a truck"


  9. HoloLensman

    Win32 apps (via the Store) run fine on W10S. I'm not sure what the fuss is about. Are all 16 million Win32 apps in the Store? No, and they won't all ever be in the Store. As UWP matures there will be a time when users can find what they need to replace the functionality of the non-Store Win32 apps.

  10. Win74ever

    "achieve Microsoft’s long-term goal of deprecating and then blocking legacy Win32 code in Windows"

    What a joke. Windows is Win32. Killing the "legacy code" is killing Windows. Just start over with Windows 7. Open a Win32 apps Store. It could actually be successful. A place where you'd be sure it's safe from bad exes. Admit Windows 8 and 8.2 is not happening, no matter how many years of development and builds they release.

  11. Waethorn

    Correct me if I'm wrong here, but if Windows 10 S runs Centennial apps, then Windows still has all that "legacy code" stuff still in it. It just doesn't include program execution rights from outside of the new Windows Store container format (based on App-V). So why would Windows 10 S be any more reliable? If you end up with a buggered-up Windows update that patches existing Win32 API code, it's still gonna bork Windows. Windows still has to be fully patched, regardless of where the app launches from.

    This begs the questions as to whether or not a security researcher and/or virus writer can bypass the UWP execution protections in Windows 10 S to run outside of the UWP sandbox.

    I suspect this is something that Microsoft has a bug bounty for, and we're going to see people crack this before long.

    • skane2600

      In reply to Waethorn:

      It's a valid question but some functions that are legal within Win32 aren't going to be possible with Centennial apps and some of those could be considered potentially harmful. Anything that relies on modifying the registry in a way that affects more than just the app itself won't work since the Centennial apps get their own private registry.

      Here's some of the limitations:

      What's interesting is that there are more limitations for Centennial apps running on Windows 10 S than Windows 10 "vanilla".

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Waethorn:

      . . . [Windows 10 S] just doesn't include program execution rights from outside of the new Windows Store container format . . .

      Are the remaining desktop applets (I've only heard Notepad is included, but I have to figure Font Viewer, Char Map and a few others are also bundled with Windows 10 S) packaged or digitally signed as they were in Windows RT? I believe I heard (but may be mistaken) that Windows 10 S runs desktop applets signed by MSFT. If so, other desktop software not in Centennial packages wouldn't run because it'd be unsigned.

      As for reliability, perhaps that means bugs in a packaged desktop app couldn't affect other apps or the OS, though it could fubar any data/user file it could access.

      As for security, I believe some security researcher has already come up with a successful exploit of Windows 10 S, though IIRC it was highly contrived.

  12. navarac

    Since the start of the year, I have been using Linux (and Win32 apps under WINE) about 70% of the time. I consider that Windows 10 went some good way to rescue the situation from Windows 8/8.1, but think Microsoft is starting to clutch at straws. But Windows 10S as supplied is only Windows RT but with the ability to go to Pro, which as Paul says, everyone should. So where does that leave S and the UWP apps? Still dead in the water.

  13. lordbaal1

    Really, people pay for premium content, go and buy your own laptop.

  14. Narg

    Paul, just to put what I think I see you saying into another perspective. The problem isn't Windows 10 S, it's the Store. You're "reviews" of S often flow quickly into UWP apps, and you cover almost nothing on the OS itself. Not that there is much to cover, it is Windows after all. But I agree, there needs to be more quality UWP apps. Personally, I think if they offered Windows 10 S free for anyone for any reason, the "egg" would follow much more quickly.

  15. wshwe

    I'm a gamer so Windows 10 S is automatically a complete non-starter for me.

  16. Rycott

    It's a shame they haven't released this to insiders. I have a crappy little ASUS 2-in-1 that I use in bed to watch movies/shows over Plex, read eBooks and surf the net on occasionally. It's far from fancy but it does what I need with its ATOM CPU, 64GB of storage and 2GBs of ram.

    I would put Windows 10 S on it to test in a heartbeat. I don't used any real desktop apps on it so it would be a perfect start place for testing.

    Couldn't see myself running it on anything else at the moment though.

  17. BoItmanLives

    So, 10 Store edition is just crippled 10 Pro with the desktop hidden. And all it can run are the crappy store mobile apps and centennial converted fake apps. Can't even run industry standard Chrome. Absolutely ponderous.

    Who the hell is this for exactly? MS took the absolute worst, most rejected aspect of the past 6 year metro era of suck and distilled it into it's own crippled up OS.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to BoItmanLives:

      Additionally to the other posters pointing out where you're wrong, note that neither iOS nor macOS can run "industry standard Chrome". In fact, NOBODY makes a commercial OS these days that runs an actual 3rd Party web rendering engine. What's that, you say? You run Chrome on your Apple products? No, you really don't. You run Safari with a Chrome front end. Exactly the same way you could run Edge with a Chrome front end on Windows 10S and pretend it's "industry standard Chrome" if Google felt it was in their interests to make it.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to BoItmanLives:

      As I understand it, Windows 10 S doesn't hide the desktop and it does include the usual bundled desktop applets like Notepad. It won't run CMD or Powershell or presumably Windows Script Host (I haven't seen anything specific about that last one). It sure seems to be the Windows 10 variant of Windows RT, with the advantage that it can install and run packaged desktop software from the Windows Store in addition to all those hundreds of UWP apps.

      • skane2600

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        I'd like to see a review in the future where somebody tests "bridged" desktop apps to see if they work well on 10S. In fact, I haven't seen much testing of these apps on any version of Windows 10.

        • SvenJ

          In reply to skane2600: Don't know why you think running UWP Irfanview, iTunes, Office, etc would be any different on 10S than on any other flavor of 10. It is the same OS with some limitations on where you can install software from, and some arguably advanced/pro functions.

          • skane2600

            In reply to SvenJ:

            The fact that MS wants people to test Windows 10S specifically suggests they might believe otherwise, but you're probably right. But I'd still like to see more independent evaluations of how well "bridging" works on any version of Windows 10. What characteristics (if any) prevent a specific Win32 program to fail to install or run after an attempt to bridge.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to skane2600:

          Office would be the ideal software package to test, but telling that MSFT makes packaged Office in the Windows Store available only to machines running Windows 10 S.

  18. lordbaal1

    You complain about Windows 10s, but you praise Chromebook.