Windows 10 S: The Inside Story

Posted on May 2, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 51 Comments

Windows 10 S: The Inside Story

Back in January, I uncovered a motherlode of information about Windows 10 Cloud, which has since been renamed to Windows 10 S. Here’s what I found out at the time, which is interesting from a historical perspective. I ended up not publishing this at the time despite a number of leaks.

You may have seen some rumors about something called Windows 10 Cloud. Here’s what is really happening.

Windows 10 Cloud—not necessarily it’s final name, as it’s confusing—is a new Windows 10 SKU, or product version. It is based on Windows 10 Pro, and will be made available on both ARM and Intel x64. That is, it has nothing to do with Windows 10 on ARM specifically, and is not “the version of Windows 10 for ARM.”

Windows 10 Cloud has two main limitations compared to Windows 10 Pro.

First, out of the box, it cannot run third-party desktop (Win32) applications. Yes, this means it is a bit like Windows RT, in the sense that it is limited to UWP/Store apps. But that brings certain advantages, of course, as well.

Second, it can only be managed by cloud-based MDM (Mobile Device Management) solutions like Intune or by Azure Active Directory (AD). This is where the “cloud” bit comes from: It’s not compatible with on-premises Active Directory, as is Windows 10 Pro. This also has its advantages since many AD environments are a mess of complex and conflicting startup scripts that cause slow PC boot times.

But there is also one major difference between this product offering and the Windows RT past: Customers who acquire this product will be able to do an in-place upgrade to Windows 10 Pro in just two clicks, I’m told, and upgrade to full Windows 10 Pro  using code that is sitting there, unused, on the disk. The idea here is that if Windows 10 Cloud doesn’t work for you, you “put down the top” and you’re free. The cost of this upgrade? $50 is the current thought.

(There is always the issue that customers will feel they were “duped” by Windows 10 Cloud because it cannot run desktop applications. Microsoft would like to avoid that, of course. I am curious if product education is enough.)

Is Windows 10 Cloud a “Chromebook alternative”? Clearly, it is. And yet … this is not the focus. Windows 10 Cloud is much bigger than addressing the low-end of the market. In fact, Windows 10 Cloud is nothing less than the future of Windows on the PC. It is, in other words, the fresh start that Microsoft first attempted with Windows RT, but in far more market-ready form.

Will Windows 10 Cloud replace Windows 10 Home? No. For now, Cloud is just another option for PC makers, and Microsoft is not killing Windows 10 Home. Cloud will, however, cost less than Pro, so PC makers can use it as an alternative to Windows 10 Home on modern devices.

So is this a new low-end offering? Nope. Microsoft’s partners will sell this product in all kinds of PCs, including premium devices. It is not a new low-end offering. It is a way to move Windows and the PC forward.

When will Windows 10 Cloud be made available? In April, alongside the Creators Update. It will then be added as an option for Windows Insiders to test going forward, too.

Does the name mean that Windows 10 Cloud is somehow “powered by the cloud”? Nope. It just means that it is managed by the cloud—MDM or Azure AD—and it’s helpful to remember that this is a professional SKU, not something for home users only.

And that’s what I know.

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