Living with Windows 10 S: It’s Just Not Ready (Yet)

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 117 Comments

Living with Windows 10 S: It's Just Not Ready (Yet)

Contrary to Microsoft marketing, the Surface Laptop was designed for Windows 10 Pro, not Windows 10 S.

For the past two weeks, I’ve made an effort to use Windows 10 S every single day. The conclusion is inescapable: This new Windows 10 product edition is half-baked. It’s not ready for me. It’s not ready for you. And it’s not ready for anyone.

I was intending to write something this week to wrap up the series, and I was sort of thinking of calling it “And It Just Doesn’t Work.” (Oh, right, [I used that one already](and it just doesn’t work).) But after Brad posted his opinion yesterday in With the Windows Store Maturing, Windows 10 S is Almost Ready For Me (Premium), I figured I could position this as a counterpoint, of sorts.

Because Brad is wrong.

Yes, that title includes two important qualifiers: “almost” and “for me [Brad].” But I only need to address the first to make my point. When you say that something is “almost ready” what you’re really saying is that it is “not ready.” Because solutions can’t almost meet your needs to work. They have to actually meet your needs. So, in a way, I agree with Brad. Windows 10 S is almost ready.

The biggest stumbling block is the apps situation, which I’ve written about ad naseum. Both to describe the situation and to offer up my ideas about a compromise that would fix the problem for everyone. (Including Microsoft.)

While the problem with the lack of high-quality apps for Windows 10 S is simply understood by anyone, it will resonate most strongly with former Windows phone users. We struggled for years to justify our devotion to a system that we felt was more innovative, usable, and user-centric than the far more popular mobile platforms like Android and iOS. But what killed it for all of us, in the end, was the lack of apps.

There’s no such thing as a single list of gotta-have-it apps because our needs are as different as we are from each other. But the way this works is that even a single missing key app can torpedo a platform for an individual. And with Windows 10 S, as with Windows phone before it, it isn’t a single app that is ruining the experience. It’s an entire apps platform, which we’ll call Win32 for short. This thing is just a non-starter.

The apps situation can and will improve over time. But even if a couple of high-profile apps do appear—the Adobe Premier Elements app that both Brad and I would like to see in the Store, for example—that still doesn’t fix the central issue for most: You’ll always run into some app you want to run but can’t. And many hardware devices require Win32 desktop access for drivers and utilities. It’s the little things that kill this system from inside.

I can’t solve the driver problems beyond Microsoft perhaps offering a certification program for existing drivers or opening up a Store-based driver utility model. But I have a lot of thoughts about apps. And in addition to my previous advice to Microsoft about a compromise on Win32 apps, I have come to a conclusion that won’t please some.

And it’s this: The web apps platform—which will evolve into what I’ll just call Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) over time—is more sophisticated than the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) that Microsoft has created for Windows 10. And for PC and PC-like platforms, web apps are the way forward. Not UWP mobile apps. UWP is its own dead-end.

Windows 10 S will eventually support PWAs in a sophisticated manner, according to Microsoft. To me, that means they will be distributed through the Store and they will run in non-browser window shells so that they look and work like native apps. But that day is not today, and it is not any day in the next six months or more. It’s not clear when Microsoft will add this capability to Windows 10 (not just S, but all versions). And whether they will deliver on the promises when they do.

So the disheartening side-effect of all this is that a PC-like platform that runs web apps is more sophisticated and desirable than Windows 10 S. And that platform exists: It’s called Chrome OS. Worse, Google is busy melding the most popular native apps platform all time, Android, to Chrome OS, which will further enhance this system for both users and developers.

Now, I’ve used Chrome OS. A lot. And there is a conversation to be had here about the many limitations of this system, too. But know this: A lot of the assumptions about Chrome OS—that it requires online use, etc.—aren’t just out-of-date, they’re wrong. And Chrome OS is getting better more quickly than Windows 10 S is, for sure. This needs to be tested.

Because I’m in the middle of a move to Pennsylvania, my normal office full of equipment is in some weird transition, too, and I don’t have access to my Chromebooks as I write this. But I’ll be settled soon, and in keeping with the testing I have been doing all summer with the iPad Pro and iOS 11, I’ll be looking to re-evaluation Chrome OS (with Android app support) soon. And I really do feel like this system will be a better solution for most people than Windows 10 S. But we’ll see. That’s just where my head is now.

(I continually reevaluate everything. Refer to Edge of 17(03): Microsoft’s Web Browser is Still Lacking and Edge of 17(09): Microsoft’s Browser Edges Forward for obvious examples. If Edge did work for me, I’d use it.)

But again, I have a solution for Microsoft that would put Windows 10 S over the top. In fact, this solution would erase the key benefit of Chrome OS and Chromebooks immediately because it would let Windows 10 S users run Chrome, the browser everyone really wants to use. But until or unless that happens, Microsoft is forcing Windows 10 S users to make a choice. An ugly choice.

And who on earth would ever choose a version of Windows that cannot run Windows applications? That cannot run the most popular Windows applications—Chrome, iTunes, Photoshop, whatever—that have ever been made? The trade-off—Window 10 S allegedly offers better security, reliability, and performance, though that is all just a theory at this point—is just too great.

Only Microsoft, a company bursting at the seams with smart people and smart ideas—could be this dumb. And until they fix this obvious problem, Windows 10 S will always be an also-ran at best and pointless at worse. And just as Edge is most often used on other versions of Windows 10 to install Chrome, Windows 10 S will be used only to upgrade (for free, for now) to Windows 10 Pro. To a version of Windows that, get this, can actually run Windows apps.

Windows 10 S is not ready for primetime. And until it is, I cannot recommend it to anyone. Not to you, and not to any of our non-technical friends or family members. You just don’t do that to people you love.

But I’ll keep testing, of course.


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