Living with Windows 10 S: The Desktop, Take 2

Posted on September 1, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 73 Comments

Living with Windows 10 S: The Desktop, Take 2


Last weekend, I wrote about my experiences trying to install Windows 10 S on a desktop PC. That effort failed, but it’s been bugging me ever since. And in mulling it over this week, I came up with two possible ways to solve the problem.

Curiously, both work.

So let me explain. In my original attempt to install Windows 10 S on my Intel NUC, I encountered several hardware devices that were not provided with drivers. And because many driver packages are delivered as EXEs—desktop applications—that means they cannot be installed in Windows 10 S.

But you can get around this, for the most part.

First, not all drivers are delivered as EXEs. When I visit the driver downloads page for my NUC, I can find some drivers packages that are folders of files plus an EXE, and I can find some that are just the EXE.

The driver folders can be used in Windows 10 S just like in any other version of Windows: Open Device Manager, right-click a driver-less device, choose “Update driver,” browse to the driver folder location, and then have the wizard find the right files.

This worked for me with some of the devices that were missing drivers.

But some key drivers were still not installing, among them the SM Bus Controller, which is the Driver Manager name for the Intel Chipset Utility. And that driver is delivered as an EXE, so you can’t install it in Windows 10 S.

That particular installer, however, can be extracted from the command line. And when you do that, you get—wait for it—a folder full of files that includes the drivers that will work in Windows 10 S.

Using these methods, I was able to get almost all of the drivers installed correctly in Windows 10 S. The only holdout was “Unknown device.” But looking at the Hardware ID in its properties, I discovered (via Google) that that device is the Bluetooth controller. Whose installer is a single EXE that can’t (to my ability) be extracted. But no matter: Bluetooth is not critical to what I want to do.

So that’s one way of solving my problem. One very ponderous way.

But I had a theory about a better way. And prompted by a Twitter user who had done what I had wondered about, I tried it myself.

Which is this: Clean install Windows 10 Pro on the PC in question. And then run the Windows 10 S installer I wrote about back in early August. That installer basically converts Windows 10 Pro to Windows 10 S. But I’d never actually run it. And I was curious if it worked the way I thought it did, since it wasn’t delivered as a normal ISO.

It does.

That is, after clean installing Windows 10 Pro, getting it up-to-date in Windows Update, and then converting it to Windows 10 S, the NUC was exactly where I wanted it: Fully working, with all drivers present and accounted for. That’s the kind of success I am always looking for.

Now. Let’s see if I can actually live with this thing, at least part of the time. Again.


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Comments (74)

74 responses to “Living with Windows 10 S: The Desktop, Take 2”

  1. RossNWirth

    Really helps the use case for Windows 10 S, right. To get it to work you need Windows 10 Pro first. Alternatively just click the box in settings so you're only allowing install of apps from the store...

    • gregsedwards

      In reply to RossNWirth:

      That was kind of my initial reaction as well but then I started thinking. Isn't the installation of core drivers something that an OEM could conceivably handle as part of a standard image? I mean, Paul's undertaking this experiment as a hobbyist, but most people would probably buy a Windows 10 S device with the OS preinstalled. Moreover, this is a problem created specifically because over time, device manufacturers have chosen to create these elaborate EXE installer/updates for simple hardware drivers that should really just be handled by the OS.

  2. mikiem

    "Clean install Windows 10 Pro on the PC in question. And then run the Windows 10 S installer I wrote about back in early August."

    Which is, ummm, what Microsoft recommended to schools etc. in their notes.

    Something else that works, can come in handy when a new build upgrade has drivers screwed up, and can allow a fresh install in many cases, is to copy WindowsSystem32DriverStore to another drive, USB stick etc. Note: you want to do that while that copy of Windows is running, because it's protected otherwise. With the NUC, which I assume was running 10 pro at some time, after installing 10 S fresh, using that folder from 10 pro, should be able to install/update every driver from its .inf file.

  3. Darmok N Jalad

    Your experience also brings up another question--what will happen if a Windows 10 S system needs a driver update, like the third-party ones you needed? Most OEMs just have a support page for their device with the necessary drivers available, usually via EXE. Is it going to be on OEMs to push it out like firmware? That would seem highly unlikely given the cheap nature of the systems 10 S is targeting. It is yet another challenge that 10 S is up against.

    • MikeGalos

      In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

      What happens is that the drivers ON SUPPORTED DEVICES are updated just fine. If you use unsupported hardware and use backdoor tricks to force it to work anyway then if it fails to update properly it's your problem not theirs and you probably get to use your own hacks to force it to limp by as before.

      • Angusmatheson

        Every school that I know has piles of windows PCs - laptops and Desktop. These are largely no longer useful. What if in addition to buying new windows S computers (which they can't actually do because the expensive surface laptop is only Windows S computer. Microsoft allowed them to schools to turn those old junky computers to windows 10 S computers. Schools have to buy new chrombooks, if at least some of the old computers can be used again I bet that would make it more appealing. Now, I admit I don't really see Windows 10 S as being for schools. If so why put it on the $1000 surface laptop. For students in schools it should have been on $200 laptops. What educational features does it have? Word? I think Microsoft sees windows 10 S as the OS of the future (heavily locked down, App Store integration, regularly updates). In reply to MikeGalos:

        • Stooks

          In reply to Angusmatheson:

          I guess you can't post links here any more?

          Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung and Toshiba all announced Windows 10 S laptops starting at $189 at the Windows 10 S EDUCATION EVENT.

          • Angusmatheson

            Now, September 2017, I can't see any other windows 10S computers in either the Microsoft store or on Amazon other than surface laptop. Maybe low cost windows 10Sr are just being sold in bulk to stores, but I'm not sure there are lots of low cost windows 10S computers being sold, despite what they announced. In reply to Stooks:

      • Darmok N Jalad

        In reply to MikeGalos:

        I guess I'm asking if it would be possible to update drivers if you wanted to on a SUPPORTED DEVICE. For example, our Intel laptop has the default Windows 10 graphics driver installed (that is, whatever Windows Update decides), which is dated back to 2015. Lenovo has a newer driver on its website (EXE) for our particular model from 2016, while Intel's latest driver is from 2017 (also an EXE). So say you're playing a game on 10 S and run into graphics issues and want to try updating the driver to fix the problem. Will you be able to, or will you have to wait for OEM support?

        • MikeGalos

          In reply to Darmok N Jalad:

          The whole point of this OS is that it is for remote management and control not for "I want to tweak this one machine to use a driver that I like better than the one the OEM provides"

          It's clearly a bad choice for your needs. That does NOT mean it's a bad choice for who it targets. A pickup truck would do very badly at the Indianapolis 500 but that really doesn't matter if you are using it to haul lumber.

          • Darmok N Jalad

            In reply to MikeGalos:

            MS's own FAQ on 10 S says "It’s also a great choice for any Windows customer looking for consistent performance and advanced security." That doesn't sound like remote management or control. The Store has the potential to run a wide variety of apps, from web wrappers to games. A driver update might be a reality sometimes.

          • Angusmatheson

            But whose needs are satisfied (better then they would with another system.) on PC I need Chrome and Firefox (the only two supported browsers in the web app I use -although in truth Safari and Edge work just fine), Citrix receiver, and Drafon Dictation.) so I can't use 10S. But who could? Schools? On $1000 PC or with what programs? The Windows store is not filled with cool educational apps like iOS is. Yes If all you need is a web browser and work processor windows 10S would work great...but so would every other OS - Linux, macOS, IOS, Android, Chrome OS, or even Windows phone 7. What Windows has that is amazing is the giant x86 library of programs which can also make the system do some amazing things. However, window 10S takes away that one great strength of Windows, and replaces it wirh an App Store that is less robust than all of its competitors. I still don't see why Windows 10S would be better than one of the competing options.In reply to MikeGalos:

          • hrlngrv

            In reply to MikeGalos:

            Since MSFT itself is making it possible for Insiders to install Windows 10 S on any machine, does that mean MSFT is hoping for feedback on how badly it fails on most of those machines? If not, what is MSFT trying to accomplish by making it possible to install Windows 10 S on potentially unsupported systems? Shutting up tech journalists who complained before MSFT allowed for this?

  4. MikeGalos

    Or there's the third option

    Run Windows 10 S on hardware that's actually supported. Microsoft and their partners provide a list (which Paul provided in part one of this series of articles on "Windows 10 S Doesn't Work Correctly on Unsupported Hardware So Microsoft is Incompetent")

    Seriously, using ANY unsupported device guarantees, by definition, that any resulting installation is NOT working as intended and thus any conclusions drawn are the result of the reviewer and not the OS.

    • Angusmatheson

      In reply to MikeGalos:

      I've always been amazing that whenever I've put Linux on old hardware it just works without having to mess with drivers. If put windows 10 and Linux on the same computers and especially with wifi routers drivers just working always with Linux (mostly Debian but some others which had never had problems), sometimes with windows 10 which is a pain to get eithernet and then go track down the newest supported driver and pray it works (these are old computers that definitely don't have supported windows 10 drivers). For me, if you could turn the army off old computers in a school into brilliant new fast locked down windows 10S that would be a potential advantage over Chrome books.

  5. Hougaard

    So a signed driver (.dll) will work, but a signed installer (.exe) does not work. Make sense, a signed driver is never started in a clean process, but from the kernel, so the trick (what you did) is circumvent the installer :)

  6. rameshthanikodi

    Why are you torturing yourself like this, Paul.

  7. Angusmatheson

    Windows 10S makes me wish Microsoft had simply stuck with windows phone 7 and evolved windows 7. They one have 1 locked down OS where they needed it, and desktop windows would have been allowed to keep doing all the awesome things it does - instead of creating a crippled version of not like Windows RT or 10S to be the locked down modern OS. I'm not sure if an evolved windows phone 7 would have have the needed apps, but the plan put the store in windows so they can develop for mobile and desktop at the same time has been a dismal failure. Maybe putting x86 apps in wrappers will solve the desktop app gap (although the ultimate solution was just to let android apps into turn store which would have given a ton (and I understand it works really well) was abandoned. It just seems to me that putting the mobile (modern, App Store, locked down, frequently upgraded) and desktop OSes together has not really worked when it finally arrived in windows 10 (and really didn't work at all in its teenage years of windows 8 and windows phone 8). I wonder if letting them be apart would have worked better. And now we could have been seeing windows 7 phone based cheap laptops for schools that are to compete with chromebooks.

    • Jules Wombat

      In reply to Angusmatheson:

      Yes WP7 smoked all the Android and iOS opposition in terms of Smartphone Performance. Microsoft have failed to produce a reliable and performant Mobile OS successor. W81.was pretty good feature wise, but lost performance, and Windows 10 Mobile is glitchy, bug ridden and with constant Resume delays.

      It seems incredible that the once great OS developer, Microsoft, could not build upon WP7 to develop a successful Mobile ARM based OS. Instead they went with the "One Windows" theme, trying to cram a full Windows 10 OS onto small devices, and have simply failed.

      • Angusmatheson

        I think they saw the one Windows as a way to get apps. I really think it was done to save the desktop. They knew that the desktop was going to be largely eclipsed by tablet and phone. I think they didn't want Windows to go away, so imagined Windows as the future mobile OS. However, a legacy non-touch has made a slow and rocky transformation into a modern touch based OS. I feel hey sacrificed their mobile future to try to save their legacy desktop OS. In reply to Jules_Wombat:

        • hrlngrv

          In reply to Angusmatheson:

          More nuance needed.

          First, MSFT had no guarantee of much market share in phones or tablets, but they had 85-90% of desktops and laptops. Windows 8 on PCs endangered MSFT's position on PCs because of just how ill-suited it was to pre-touch screen hardware. So MSFT was paying for the speculative rewards of greater phone and tablet share by very likely sacrificing some of its very real PC share. Had Windows phones sales accelerated, fine, a trade-off, but without accelerating sales, the risks to the PC sector weren't worth it.

          • Angusmatheson

            I think the Windows team in Microsoft who had a lot of power in Microsoft, didn't want to play second fiddle to the phone OS team. So the Windows team wanted Windows to also be the mobile OS (this is a guess, I have no knowledge.) This technique, using their dominance is PC to dominate other areas a-the growth of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. The defeat of Netscape and growth of Internet Explorer (in the age of Chrome we forgot when IE destroyed everything in its path). This strategy failed to work to win mobile. And in doing so dmanaged rhe PC more than it already was. Although Microsoft and the OEM made lots of other mistakes - the MacBook Air and Chromebooks are what netbooks should have been - instead netbooks were cheap and not usable. Filling PC with crapware that gives users terrible experiences. Making security not a priority so normal users messed up their experience even more with malware and malicious toolbars. Essentially ignoring PC gaming until the last release of Windows 10 (1703) when PC gamers have been the biggest fans of Windows. In reply to hrlngrv:

          • Angusmatheson

            It isn't fair to judge a decision is retrospect. But from what we know today. It was clearly not worh it. In reply to hrlngrv:

  8. glenn8878

    There should be an app for driver installations. Why not convert an exe app with an app wrapper so it can be sideloaded onto the App Store. That's what I was told should work. Maybe not with Windows 10S.

  9. James Wilson

    Good for you Paul. I remember in the early days, the pain (and fun) of getting builds of Linux to run on current hardware. There was no hardware compatibility list then and you were lucky to get modern drivers. Trying to install it on older hardware would have been an exercise in futility.

    I quite like the idea of Windows 10 S running as some sort of Media server on a device like a NUC. It's going to be pretty immune from viruses and will update itself via the store. Obviously you'll need to reboot it every now and again to install patches and the like. I do a similar thing with a Mac Mini.

    A lot of people now see technology as a consumer item and don't want to fiddle around and see what you can do. Good for them and it's good that technology has now become mainstream. For the rest of us, keep on hacking!

    • John Scott

      In reply to James_Wilson: I really doubt 10S is going anywhere and I wouldn't use it just based on the promise its more secure. I have been running Windows since 3.11 and after XP I can think of only a couple times I have every had anything nasty on my PC's. Only use Security Essentials and now Defender. To be tied down to 10S for security would not be my choice right now.

  10. Stooks

    Windows 10 S launched at a EDUCATION event.

    Aimed at schools that already run Microsoft products as their core products. Aimed at those schools on the fence about possibly using Google products/Chromebooks. Aimed as those schools that currently run a mix of Chromebooks for most because of cost but Windows PC as well because they will run everything and these schools don't like the mix from a support perspective and a cheaper, easier to maintain version that only needs a few apps would replace those chromebooks.

    At the same time bundled with better management tools AIMED at schools (Intune for schools/teams for schools etc).

    At the same time Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung and Toshiba all announce Windows 10 S devices starting at $189 for the EDUCATION market.

    I don't know for sure but I would bet that none of these cheaper Windows 10 S laptops from the vendors above will be sold to consumers. They will be sold through education channels directly to schools.

    All this coverage by Paul about an OS that most people will never even encounter and if they wanted to it would not be easy to get for the average person. In NONE of his coverage does he really cover why 10 S came about nor does he cover how it works for what it was designed for (schools in a school environment).

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to Stooks:

      Yes, Windows 10 S was launched at an education event, but the first machines with it preinstalled were highish-end Surface laptops priced well out of at least primary and secondary school markets.

      That said, for schools already entrenched in the Windows ecosystem, how much of the software they were already using could run under Windows 10 S? Lots of e-workbooks for standard texts already available as Windows Store apps? Please provide links to a few.

      As for cheaper OEM devices, how many were actually available for evaluation by 1 July 2017? If none, which school district would have been daft enough to have gambled on Windows 10 S machines being usable for the 2017-8 school year?

      I figure this is another case of MSFT's intentions being undercut by MSFT's and its OEMs' failure of execution. That is, aside from the inexplicable Surface laptops unless they were a way of checking how many would be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro.

    • Angusmatheson

      I disagree. Despite being released in a education event. I think microsoft sees the future for Windows in Windows 10 S (like they clearly stated they saw the future in windows RT). If it was really about education they would have never put it into the surface laptop, the educations thing was a cover for their real much grader plans for thr OS which is why what Paul is doing is so brilliant. Microsoft, and all of us, need to understand the world we are being plunged into if all mainstream windows was Windows 10S. In reply to Stooks:

  11. John Scott

    Well Paul if nothing else this makes up for having to talk about another "creator" update coming. Kind of a throwback to the days of having to install your own drivers to get things working.

  12. maethorechannen

    clean installing Windows 10 Pro, getting it up-to-date in Windows Update, and then converting it to Windows 10 S

    Other than "because it's there" kind of reasons, why would anyone do this?

    • unfalln

      In reply to maethorechannen:

      For the single benefit that, I believe, Microsoft was hoping for: 2 years down the track, when a Windows 10 Pro has accumulated an unwieldy list of random installs from every cnet clone you've ever visited, this system will still be running the closest thing to a clean install you're ever going to get. All it will have on it is every Candy Crush ever released, a bunch of first party apps that you never use and the 3 or 4 apps that you found that were interesting when you opened the store that one time back in 2017.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to maethorechannen:

      That and Insider testing are the only reasons. It seems MS isn’t going to make a general release of 10 S, so it’s not something anybody will run save for new hardware.

  13. PeteB

    No offense Paul but this entire exercise is the OS equivalent of running around the block and then punching yourself in the face. Artificially crippling Windows 10 Pro by removing the desktop and creating a new SKU isn't that compelling an alternative for the continuing proliferation of Chromebooks. MS hasn't innovated anything here. It's still the same decades of spaghetti code under the hood. It's the worst aspects of Windows RT without the best, and the worst aspects of Windows 10 Pro without the best.


    • skane2600

      In reply to PeteB:

      He's just trying to install it for evaluation purposes so he can report on it. He's not recommending average users to go through the process. BTW, "spaghetti code" has a specific meaning and one can't claim it applies to code one has never even read.

      • pecosbob04

        In reply to skane2600:

        Way back when I programmed in COBOL (c 1976) for a living the breakdown was between "structured code" and "spaghetti code". Structured code was defined as having no "GO TOs" not even "READ file At ENDs" which meant everything was "PERFORM x VARYING a FROM 0 to theta UNTIL a > infinity" or some such crap. My very first assignment as a newly minted programmer was to take a perfectly fine self documenting piece of Spaghetti code and Structure it which I did successfully. 2 years and much experience later a co-worker brought the program to me (in 76 I hadn't learned to never fill out the AUTHOR statement with your real name) for help making a change. It took me several minutes to figure out what the damn thing was supposed to do. The original had been very easy to follow. I just told him since I had switched to Assembler language I had forgotten my COBOL as an excuse as to why it took so long to answer his question.

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to skane2600:

        The problem there being that since he's NOT installing it on supported hardware any conclusions he draws are at least partly reflecting the reasons it isn't supported on his hardware so they're useless for understanding the OS.

        • skane2600

          In reply to MikeGalos:

          I don't think it was his intent to "understand" the OS, but rather to evaluate its usefulness. Obviously its basic functions have to work before that evaluation can take place. Yes, it would be better to run in on official HW but getting it to run "unofficially" can still provide insight into its utility IMO.

          • MikeGalos

            In reply to skane2600:

            Actually it can't. Any functionality that doesn't work exactly as planned because of some issue will be incorrectly blamed on the OS when it's the fault of the incorrect installation. There's a reason that people are given correctly configured systems to use for reviews and why using unsupported systems isn't considered valid.

            • skane2600

              In reply to MikeGalos:

              I don't see it in such black and white terms. If for example one were reviewing the first version of MS Office that used the "ribbon" and found it was more efficient than the menus Office used to use, the fact that you were missing a printer driver and couldn't print wouldn't make the observations on the UI invalid. Obviously if you tried to print and couldn't that wouldn't be a valid criticism under the circumstances.

              But it is true that the best approach, as you say, is to get the right configuration.

    • Paul Thurrott

      In reply to PeteB:

      I've criticized Windows 10 S in a similar manner elsewhere, so sure. Here, I'm just trying to make it work.

  14. SvenJ

    I don't expect the review is going to be any different than what has been presented before. Paul is going in with the expectation of it being untenable, with inflexible requirements that are inherently unfulfillable by design...just let me run Chrome, indeed.

    What this does show is that S is just a subset of Pro (we knew that) and it seems that MS could at least make the driver issue go away if they wanted to. The only area this affects though is third party peripherals. Windows 10 S will ship on hardware and all the drivers will ship with it, working. Want to add an obscure Bar Code Scanner, or reprogram the buttons on your Logitech mouse, that may be a challenge.

    What Paul did is not what MS intends to have happen with Win 10 S, some hobbyist shoehorning it onto esoteric hardware. You take your chances. I shoehorned it onto a first gen Dell Venue 8, and everything worked. I was damned surprised.

  15. John Jackson

    Once you have a working system, the Powershell command ...

    Export-WindowsDriver -Online -Destination D:DriverBackup

    ... will create a series of folders, one for each driver, containing the inf files for re-installation by Paul's first method.

    That can come in useful if one has an ... accident.

    • Waethorn

      In reply to JackoUK:

      Doesn't always work. Some weird controllers, like Broadcom WiFi and Bluetooth, touch-panel controllers, and sensors will have oddball drivers that don't export all the files because the EXE will manually copy those files into a Windows system folder somewhere.

  16. hack-o-holic

    So I would assume the answer is hell no, but I wonder if you did the same process, installed Chrome, set as default browser and then "Upgraded" (sorry..pause for laughing) to Win 10S... Any chance you could have your perfect 10S machine with Chrome?

    My guess is it strips out all desktop installs but worth asking.


  17. Win74ever

    What a waste of time. No one can use Windows 10 S. Not even the fanboys pretending they can.

  18. hrlngrv

    Sounds like most of these EXEs are self-extracting files. Just use an unzipper to extract them. Though curios what you mean by command line. I though Windows 10 S didn't run either CMD or Powershell. Do you mean the Run dialog?

  19. Skolvikings

    Just say no to Windows S.

  20. timo47

    Paul, question: where you able to get Windows 10 Pro up-and-running by getting all the drivers from Windows Update? If that's the case, then there really shouldn't be a reason why Windows 10 S shouldn't be able to get those same drivers. Surely MS should be able to adapt Windows 10 S so that it allows to install anything that's delivered via Windows Update?

  21. bbold

    It would be nice if Windows had a "Wizard" for "Windows 10 S Admins" that let them install whatever other apps they wanted from wherever, including drivers and other apps (much like the switch that already exists in Windows 10 Pro for only allowing Store apps, etc) This would be an easy solution to the problem and let the system "admin" (ie. US) choose what to install, etc. What if an Educator Admin needs or wants to install an app that isn't in the Store on 10 S? Is this simply to get people to upgrade to Pro? If 10 S is to be successful in any form, they need to at least allow this on initial run.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to bbold:

      In which case how soon would most users run Windows 10 S from an admin account and run whatever they want?

      OTOH, assuming Windows 10 S runs desktop applets like Notepad because they're digitally signed, MSFT should be able to add OEM update digital signatures to a whitelist, then driver installers so signed could be run as well under Windows 10 S.

  22. jimchamplin

    In reply to Patrick3D:

    I need to investigate that. I have an older AMD Phenom x4 box that contains hardware that works mostly works on a fresh install, and definitely after the first round Of updates.

    10 S should be the same way.

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