Living with Windows 10 S: The Desktop and the Book

Posted on August 27, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 31 Comments

Much of the emphasis on Windows 10 S from a hardware perspective has been on laptops and 2-in-1s. But how does this system behave on a desktop PC?

Not that well, as it turns out.

I’ve written a lot about Windows 10 S this summer, and most recently, and most controversially to some, I’ve come to the conclusion that a Chromebook is probably a more viable PC than one based on Windows 10 S. Worse, Windows 10 S, I’ve found, is really not suitable for anyone. At least not yet.

But the thing about Windows 10 S, as with all personal technology, is that it can change. And that change can come in a variety of ways.

I feel that Microsoft needs to improve Windows 10 S, and I have some ideas about how that might happen. And while there’s no indication that the software giant will ever wake up and do the right thing, it has at least answered my call to let Windows Insiders test this system. So it will now be getting feedback from a much wider audience, and one that includes its biggest fans. So if these folks find that Windows 10 S has issues, as I believe it does, then maybe Redmond will finally listen.

But we need to get on with life in the meantime. And deal with Windows 10 S it now stands.

And in my case, that means two things. Getting work done day-to-day. And getting back on track with my book, Windows 10 Field Guide. Which, like so many things in my life was sidetracked for the past three or more months thanks to our sudden and unexpected decision to move to Pennsylvania.

Well, we’re in Pennsylvania now. And while it will be a lot longer than I had hoped before we’ll be up and running from a general perspective, I’m certainly able to get work done now. And I have a few ideas.

One of them involves Windows 10 S.

My original plan this year for the Windows 10 Field Guide was to update the book for the Creators Update. And I’d updated several chapters when the whole move thing happened … but not much has happened there since. So I spoke with Rafael and Martin and have decided to move forward and just update the book for the Fall Creators Update. I’m afraid to announce an ETA on that update, but I’ve already started working on it, and I should start posting updated chapters soon.

So I’m going to restructure the book so that it focuses on Windows 10 S. No, not to the detriment of Windows 10 Home or Pro, which are of course the most popular product versions. But I want to make sure that everything in the book actually pertains to Windows 10 S, and that Windows 10 S’s unique features are fully covered. And then I will make sure that the features that require Windows 10 Home or Pro are called out as such.

The idea here is that Windows 10 S is the “core” version of Windows 10. And that those other two product versions build off of it, are supersets of it. And that I should structure the book to account for that.

So naturally, I’d like to try and Windows 10 S on my main desktop PC. Actually keep using the thing every day. And that’s when I tried to actually install Windows 10 S on a desktop PC.

Which … didn’t work.

And to be fair, I even cheated a bit. My main desktop PC these days is an enormous HP ENVY Curved All-in-One PC with a 34-inch display and discrete graphics. And … obviously, that will never work. But I do have my previous desktop PC, the little Intel NUC, sitting around. And that PC includes nothing but the most standard of parts. Is, in fact, just a laptop in a tiny box without a screen. So clearly, that would work just fine.


Windows 10 S installed just fine, sure. But in a nice reminder of the perils of this OS, a number of important components were never provided with drivers. So it works. But it doesn’t really work.

Now, I know that Microsoft has created a page describing which PCs are certified to work with Windows 10 S. But I was still surprised to see that such a standard Intel-based PC was not fully supported, through the OS, from a driver standpoint. I suspect all of the PCs that are supported are portable PCs. Which is interesting, when you think about it. Chrome OS runs on Chromebooks, of course, but also on Chromebits and Chromeboxes.

Anyway, I can continue using Windows 10 S on a laptop—well, a new Surface Pro—while I work in Windows 10 Pro on this huge PC. But maybe I’ll experiment with using the Surface Pro with Surface Dock and an external monitor. I’d really like to stay within Windows 10 S if possible. No matter how painful it is.

Remember: Jerry Pournelle may have made mistakes so you didn’t have to. But I just make mistakes. You can at least learn from them. So don’t waste half a weekend on this kind of nonsense. It will only bring you pain and heartbreak.


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Comments (31)

31 responses to “Living with Windows 10 S: The Desktop and the Book”

  1. dnation70

    it worked fine on my home made pc with AMD processor and they fixed the driver issue so i could use 2 monitors independently. Edge still sucks..locks up and stalls and i couldn't use my office i'm not going to run something that i can't do my work on.

  2. skane2600

    Does this suggest that the Pro version upgraded from 10S wouldn't be identical to the Pro version that comes shipped with Pro PCs? Or does the upgrade essentially replace 10S completely?

  3. mikiem

    Microsoft has published that eventually they want [hope anyway] to have all drivers in the update database 10 uses. Currently if you update/upgrade builds, 10 will often use existing drivers -- this has shown up as a problem in some cases when the old driver was incompatible with the new Windows 10 build, requiring a fresh install, or restoring a earlier backup, e.g. of 8 before the upgrade(s), & then upgrading to the latest build of 10.

    What does that have to do with installing 10 S? Well, according to Microsoft's instructions for testing 10 S, you should 1st start with a fully updated & working install of 10 Pro, Edu, or Ent, then update/upgrade that to 10 S... apparently 10 S, like other versions, re-uses many current drivers.


  4. ChuckOp

    Nice Pournelle reference.

  5. Waethorn

    If Microsoft was smart, they would just lock this down as an OEM-only SKU, much like Google does with Chrome OS.

  6. Simard57


    your comment above that " Windows 10 S is the “core” version of Windows 10" seems incorrect to me. Window 10 S seems to be much more enterprise ready that Windows 10 Home.

    Windows 10 Pro is obviously the superset of all features

    Windows 10 S loses the ability to install Win32 applications but can join a domain, be managed remotely and is enterprise network ready

    Windows 10 Home can install Win32 Applications but has deprecated many enterprise features.

    There seems to be a larger gap between 10 Home and 10 S than between 10 S and 10 Pro.

    This is also reflected by the licensing upgrade fee (though I cannot upgrade from Home to S, the fee to go to Pro from either are different with the jump from S to Pro costing less than from Home to Pro).

    PS - I am starting week 2 of using new laptop set to only install Store apps. So far it is working out for me. One area that is greatly under served by the Store are development tools. Will a version of Visual Studio ever make it into the Store?

  7. navarac

    I installed 10S on an old HP dm1 pavilion netbook and it "worked" fine. By worked I mean it installed and ran OK. But 10S doesn't work for me. It is hobbled to the extent that I found a roadblock everywhere I went. It was mainly the lack of Win32 apps to be fair and the fact that the Microsoft Store is woefully inadequate.

    If Microsoft thinks 10S is going to entice people to the store, they are correct if they accept people going to the Android Play Store or the Apple store on those platforms. Certainly if Google gets Android apps working on Chromebooks, Microsoft will lose the battle IMO.

    I get the impression that someone in Microsoft will just not let the original idea of RT go.

  8. longhorn

    So I would like to be enlightened. Is there a difference between Windows 10 S and Windows 10 Pro without Win32 apps? It seems to me that it would be difficult to slim down Windows 10 Pro without sacrificing functionality that is needed in Windows 10 S. Does someone know what can be removed? If nothing can be removed from Windows 10 Pro, then what's the point? I would like to see benchmarks: RAM usage, boot times, install size etc. Something is telling me that if Windows 10 S was noticeably faster, Microsoft would put up comparisons on its site. I wouldn't be surprised if Windows 10 Pro without Store and Store apps is both faster and leaner than Windows 10 S.

    Here's the thing I can't understand: As someone who likes Windows (I've used it for 22 years now), why would I even remotely consider something like Windows 10 S? First came DOS, then came Windows. Windows 10 S is something different. I feel that Microsoft is using the strength of the Windows brand to sell a completely different product. Why not call it Edge OS instead, since Linux is better at running Windows applications than Windows 10 S is.

    It's not wrong to be excited about Windows 10 S, but if you embrace the prison, Microsoft will happily put you there.

  9. JerryH

    I imagine the driver situation is going to be a bit iffy until (actually if) Windows 10s ever gets enough usage . But I'd expect a NUC should be able to be setup easy enough for someone like you Paul with multiple machines. You should be able to download the various drivers on another machine, extract them from the source EXE files and then do INF based setups on the NUC running Windows 10s. I know - normals wouldn't be able to do that without some heavy hand holding. But folks who assemble their own machines (and folks like me who do corporate Windows images) do it all the time.

  10. pachi

    They are in a difficult position. I would happily put this on my Samsung Tab Pro S or whatever it's called, but for the pen to work it needs a non-store Win32 program running the entire time - you can even see it in task switcher always, it's a blank window, weird driver choice but it is what it is. So i realize it's a no go!

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to pachi:

      Exactly. For Windows 10 S to work on any given hardware it requires that the hardware vendor provide driver support for it. Unless they do that it won't work with all the features if it works at all. That's why "reviewing" it on unsupported hardware isn't useful.

  11. hrlngrv

    How about a perverse comparison: install Windows 8.1.1 on the NUC and compare how it works to how Windows 10 S works?

    • YouWereWarned

      In reply to hrlngrv:

      As a former computer dealer, and IT pro going on 40 years, I'll suggest you will some day regret the large part of life wasted futzing with crappy software. There are better reasons to get out of bed.

  12. MikeGalos

    How about actually installing and using it on a machine that IS supported so we'd know how Windows 10 S works in a real case.

    All we, as readers, gain so far is knowing that some hardware isn't on the Supported Hardware list and, not surprisingly, Windows 10 S doesn't work on hardware that's not supported for Windows 10 S.

    But it was nice to see the reference to Dr. Pournelle. His Chaos Manor columns in Byte magazine defined user oriented tech journalism for decades starting back when a Cromemco was state of the art.

    • PeteB

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      How bout it's more interesting to most readers how it runs (or doesnt) on typical hardware. It is after all just a crippled Windows 10 Pro, complete with three decades of spaghetti code, just with the desktop regedited out.

      It should be able to run on anything 10 Pro does, so this is just MS artificial restrictions for the sake of restrictions.

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to PeteB:

        Yeah, we could follow that up on a review of how macOS sucks because it doesn't cleanly install on a 2 year old Dell.

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to MikeGalos:

          . . . on a 2 year old Dell

          Does Apple's license for macOS allow installation on anything other than Macs? Wouldn't a review of it on any non-Apple-branded hardware be inviting a civil suit?

          • MikeGalos

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            And Microsoft only supports Windows 10 S on a very limited set of hardware listed on the page Paul linked to.

          • Darmok N Jalad

            In reply to hrlngrv:

            People have been building hackintoshes for probably a decade now. As far as I can tell, Apple doesn't really seem to care so long as you don't try to build a business around it, and then they'll just shut your business down. If you use the right parts, you can actually have pretty good success, though usually the issues lie in suspend/resume.

            • hrlngrv

              In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

              I don't doubt some people have had success with hackintoshes, but how much do those people publicize those successes?

              • Darmok N Jalad

                In reply to hrlngrv:


                HowTos for all sorts of Hackintoshes, from the software needed to get a non-Mac ready to accepts the macOS installer to the hardware recommendations for all manner of build types to get the best results. Forums with users discussing their success. This site has been up and running since at least Snow Leopard, which is when I had a try at it. They won't provide you with any actual Apple software (you must acquire it yourself), and they still recommend you get a Mac for the best experience.

                Heck, a dev on netkas produced a widely used patch that allows you to flash a 4,1 Mac Pro to a 5,1 so you can upgrade to hex-core Xeons and upgrade to Sierra. I recently did this myself on a 4,1 Mac Pro I picked up for $320. Apple just leaves you unsupported if you do this stuff.

        • Darmok N Jalad

          In reply to MikeGalos:

          I think what this experiment shows us is that it's very unlikely we'll see Windows 10 S as a standalone product, since OEMs have inserted some components in their systems that require win32 programs to get the most out of that hardware. It also suggests Windows 10 S might not ever be able to stand on its own in the consumer space, even if MS can get good Store participation from software developers, unless they can really enforce some different ideas in the peripheral hardware space. It certainly shows what other challenges MS is up against with 10 S, and why they probably didn't want to push this out to Insiders.

          I guess I had personally wished that 10 S would eventually be free to download and install as a way to maybe get people to upgrade from older or illegitimate Windows versions (since that would stand to benefit MS), but that doesn't sound likely either.

  13. Darekmeridian

    Window 10 S may be the future, but doesn't it seem a little early to re-structure the book around it? Been in the stores recently looking for a new PC with a friend, we didn't see one 10S machine.

  14. Darmok N Jalad

    If anyone was curious to do the same thing with ChromeOS on their device of choice, look for CloudReady by neverware, which is a free (for home users) way to make a bootable USB (through a Chrome browser, no less) with the ChromiumOS on it. It has CloudReady labels all over it, but it is basically ChromeOS. I tried it on an old AMD Kabini desktop, and it worked amazingly well other than I couldn't get audio over HDMI. It even scaled ok on my 4K TV.

  15. MacLiam

    The Surface Pro really is an adequate to moderately good desktop at heart, so if you just give it a full keyboard and monitor it will feel like one. Most of the time my 2017 SP lives in a Pro 3 dock from which it is occasionally disconnected so I can do the NY Times crossword while watching bad TV. (I much prefer that old device-specific dock to the brick form that MS markets now, though of course I need to use the new one with the Book.) The Pro connects either directly or through the dock to a curved almost-4K Dell 34-inch monitor that also displays for a Surface Book and a seven-year old Dell XPS tower. I have no idea if you can use your big HP to display another machine's output, but it seems to me that with enough imagination and secondary cabling you ought to be able to use it that way. Good luck if you decide to try.

    I applaud your new structure concept for the Win10 Field Guide, and I hope implementing it does not require as much work as I fear may be entailed. I considered going to 10 S on the new Pro, but your other articles on this version of the OS persuaded me not to bother. I may be ready for a 10 S device a couple of years down the road.

  16. bbold

    Still using Windows 10 S for my college classes, everything works great. Edge is awesome, Office works great, I have the apps I need and I'm a happy little soldier. To everyone hating on Windows 10S, use what suits you best and be happy, and move on. That's why there are options, for different use cases. Know what the limits are, and choose what you need. Cheers.