Living with Windows 10 S: Thinking About the Alternatives

Posted on August 18, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, iOS, Mobile, Windows 10 with 52 Comments

Living with Windows 10 S: Thinking About the Alternatives

Once you realize that Windows 10 S is a complete non-starter here in 2017, one’s mind naturally turns to alternatives. So here’s a list of what I consider to be the top four choices. I’ll be exploring the non-Microsoft options in more detail in the future.

Note: Obviously, I’ll be writing more about Windows 10 S going forward too. That doesn’t stop just because it’s a work in progress.

1. Windows 10 Home or Pro

The most obvious alternative to Windows 10 S is some version of Windows 10 that can—get this—actually run Windows applications. And while there are suddenly far too many Windows 10 product editions out there, most people who buy a new PC will see only Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro.

The good news for those stuck with Windows 10 S is that when you finally realize that this system doesn’t meet your needs—it should take less than a day in most cases—you can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro … for free. Better still, it is a seamless and easy process that, yes, does require a reboot but happens very quickly. You can find out how in my article [Tip: Upgrade Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro](Tip: Upgrade Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro).

Grade: A
Pros: They both run all Windows app, Windows 10 Pro is free for Windows 10 S users (for now)
Cons: Windows 10 is still a big and complex OS, and desktop apps can harm security, performance, and reliability

2. Chromebook (with Android apps)

Chromebooks and other PCs based on Chrome OS kind of take the Windows 10 S value proposition and turn it on its head. In this case, you can only run web apps, but they are at least running through the most sophisticated vehicle for those apps, Google Chrome.

Except for one important thing: Chrome OS is being adapted to run Android apps as well. And while this capability is still pretty much in beta for most Chromebook users, and is quite buggy, it could change everything. That is, if and when this works properly, Chromebook users will have the best of both worlds: The best web apps platform (Chrome) and the best modern mobile apps platform (Android) all in one PC.

Now, to be fair, this isn’t quite ready yet. And you can’t really take an existing Windows 10 S-based PC and convert it to Chrome OS. (OK, you can, using third-party tools, but let’s not go there.) Instead, you pretty much need to purchase a new machine, a Chromebook.

And on that note, I’m currently evaluating Android app support on Chrome OS. Again, buggy. But potentially a game changer too.

Grade: B
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to maintain, Chrome web apps are excellent, Android app support
Cons: Most Chromebooks are low-end, Android app support is buggy

3. iPad Pro with iOS 11

I have spent much of this summer trying to contort myself to working on an iPad Pro running iOS 11, which brings dramatic productivity-related functionality to Apple’s tablets. That said, it is still pretty terrible. And I’m not sure that the pain—in terms of learning curve and then sustained inability to do certain things at all, or at least elegantly—justifies adopting this solution.

Obviously, adopting an iPad Pro would require an expensive purchase and then a second expensive purchase for some kind of keyboard cover or other keyboard solution. I don’t feel that this solution is viable for most, but I have written a few things on this topic already, including Apple iPad Pro 10.5 First Impressions: The Post PC World Isn’t Here Yet, Understanding What Productivity Looks Like on an iPad Pro, and Rethinking the iPad Pro as a Laptop Replacement. I’ll have more to say on this topic as iOS 11 is completed.

Grade: C
Pros: Elegant, lightweight and portable
Cons: Expensive, no pointing device, awkward keyboard covers

4. Linux

There’s a lot of joking around on Windows Weekly about Linux, but the truth is, I have a long history with this open source system. And back in the late 1990s, I had a hard time understanding how Microsoft would ever be able to beat back a free OS and office productivity suite, assuming each just offered the most important 10-20 percent of what Windows and Office did.

Flash forward 20 years and things obviously didn’t go in that direction. And when I look at Linux today, I see something that is free (good) that you can install and use on basically any PC (also good). But what I don’t understand is the why. As in, why would anyone (non-technical) bother? You bring up the OS, it has whatever UI it uses, and it has some simple built-in apps. Great. But what about the excellent support for web apps that Chrome provides? Not available. What about the excellent desktop apps we see on Windows? Nope. OK, what about even the level of Store-type situation we see in Windows 10? Not even that? Why are you using this thing? (Unless you’re a developer.)

Put simply, Linux isn’t something that most people use, it’s something that some people (again, not including developers) just tinker with. And that is not a viable replacement for any version of Windows 10. Not even Windows 10 S.

That said … I’m me. And I have, in fact, been evaluating various Linux distributions lately and will continue to do so. And while I can’t imagine this will result in a “Switchers Guide to Linux” or whatever, maybe I will get an article or three out of it if that makes sense. Right now, I don’t believe so.

Grade: D
Pros: It’s free and it usually works well, even on older PCs
Cons: Best apps are unavailable, Chromium is not Chrome


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