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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Comments (56)

56 responses to “Windows 10 S: The Inside Story”

  1. zself

    Perfectly clear. Thanks for this clarity.

  2. danforsberg

    Didn't Panay say that you could download Win 10 Pro for $50 during the presentation? Indicating it's not merely something you can activate.

  3. Waethorn

    It's a Brave New World for Windows.


    Huxley, eat your heart out!

  4. jblank46

    agreed, definitely a brilliant move. This achieves two things:


    -sets the stage for windows on arm by building up interest in windows store

    -forces google to play ball. Google wants to dictate the rules of engagement when they're dependent on other platforms. They're going to have to submit their products to the windows store and abide by Microsoft's rules like they do on iOS if there is an uptick in developer interest in the store. If this works and windows 10s usage grows, Google will be missing out so of course they'll bring their products to the store.


    I like the idea for my school but will be sticking with w10 education for Bash on Windows and w32 apps.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to jblank46:

      There's no guarantee consumers will buy Windows 10 S devices, or buy them but not upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. Once Windows devices are running Windows 10 Pro, they can install software from outside the Store, and that'd include Chrome.

      I figure Google will wait to see how Windows 10 S usage trends. If it's as popular as Windows RT, I figure there'll never be a version of Chrome in the Windows Store.

      This is a gamble by MSFT. If it works out, Windows is going to change considerably. If not, Windows will have a fine future on PCs and Xboxes and not really anything else.

    • navarac

      In reply to jblank46:
      Interest in the Store? You gotta be kidding me.


  5. yaddamaster

    This just reeks of desperation. Absolute desperation. Microsoft won't even write their own apps in UWP! (Other than Onenote)


    Office - that's just the desktop bridge. Why would Adobe, Google, or any other vendor put their apps on Microsoft's store via the desktop bridge?


    There has GOT to be more to this strategy than "we're going to sell a locked down version of Windows 10 and THEN, after everything else to date has failed, THEN, THEN we'll see apps being written for our store. THEN you'll be sorry!" Heck, I'm still using the desktop version of skype because it's better.


    Microsoft - take a billion or two from your warchest and write some "must have" apps for the store. Surely a billion would be enough to come up with the next "must-have" Visicalc game changer.


    There was a time when Microsoft wrote consumer productivity apps........maybe it's time to try that strategy. A UWP version of Money perhaps?

  6. Jhambi

    I see the average joe buying a laptop with this. Finding out that he needs to "upgrade" to run a win32 app or chrome. Then returning it for a device that has full windows, or jumping ship. Microsoft needs to make their store compelling with Apps for this to be successful. Id like to be optimistic but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

  7. Jorge Garcia

    Ok, one 800 lb. Gorilla that is never touched upon is the "Double-Click" issue. While we all know the reason for its existence, and the utter necessity of Double-Click to get things done expeditiously and productively on a PC, the younger generations simply do not "get it". I have seen it countless of times, with many children, and some non-PC literate adults, too. They just don't have the patience and discipline to properly navigate around a computer with a mouse. For them, it is not "let me rapidly, but not TOO rapidly, double-click this icon here because that is how this program is launched"...instead it is "Let me aggressively and repeatedly click this icon three or four times because this old-fashioned computer is much dumber than my phone and doesn't hear me the first time". I have tried over and over and over to explain this functionality to some folks, and they just don't have the patience for it. And of course, because sometimes "Quad-Clicking" an icon or folder will give you an undesired result, the computing experience then becomes even more frustrating (to them) than it was ever designed to be. In other words, while it's probably a good thing for teenagers to still be "forced" into the Double-Click world for employment reasons...should little kids in 2017 also be forced to learned this "antique" version of computing? Apple is aware of this issue, and that is why they are phasing out/ignoring MacOS and beefing up iOS to take its place at the top. Samsung is also aware, which is why they took the time to build their DeX interface for Android. They know where the future of computing lies, and it will not require you to click twice (at a very specific velocity) on anything. A step backward for us, clearly, but we are in essence PC pioneers, if you think about it.

    • Munsey Slack

      In reply to Jorge Garcia:

      Um...the apps in the Win10 Start Menu and task bar all launch using a single click. Who puts apps on the desktop anymore?

      • Jorge Garcia

        In reply to Munsey Slack: All throughout Windows, the double-click vs. single-click paradigm emerges. I also personally don't see very many people use the start menu to launch anything, far quicker to add a shortcut on the desktop. You guys may not see it but, to kids, we look like dinosaurs trying to keep track of what to double-click vs. what to single-click. I'm not criticizing the interface techniques, they're designed for rapid and efficient computing, but Kids are NOT going to wish to interact with computers the way we were taught.


    • bsd107

      In reply to Jorge Garcia:


      Interesting perspective. I see older folks double-clicking on everything on the web (i.e. Links in a web browser) all the time. Tough to educate people on all of these different interfaces (mobile touch devices, desktop environments, web desktop browser interface). Then add iOS with it's screen press, long press, hard press (which a majority of devices in use don't even support), and almost half a dozen uses for the home button and you have a huge mess.


      Ironically, WindowsME was universally derided, yet was an honest and GOOD attempt at making the two major interfaces of the time (desktop and web browser) work the same way. You could easily set the desktop interface to behave the same way as the desktop browser interface. That is, icons titles would display as underlined text when hovering the mouse over them (just like a web link), and double click to open was replaced by singe click (just like a web link). Windows Explorer windows received Forward and Back buttons, just like a web browser. While I did not personally want to go away from the desktop interface, I always respected this attempt to bring the two interfaces together so that they worked the same way for everybody. Every time I see somebody double-click on a web link on a web page, I am reminded of this.


      Instead of thinking openly about this attmept by Microsoft (as well as other features which later appeared in Win2000 and were enjoyed), everyone writing articles was instead falling over themselves trying to publish negative articles ripping WinME as fast as possible...

    • skane2600

      In reply to Jorge Garcia:

      Perhaps the solution is not giving kids phones when they are very young. But seriously my kids never had a problem with double-clicking. As far as adults are concerned, are they just learning to use computers now? I think most adults over the age of 30 used Windows before they owned a smartphone (unless they had no interest in computers). But if double-clicking is such a big deal, tell them to right-click and select "Open" from the menu, it's right there at the top.

      • Jorge Garcia

        In reply to skane2600: At my previous job, there was a guy who (slowly) performed every single operation via the right-click menu. He found the Double-Click too risky and hard to perform repeatedly. Of course, you and I would find that absurd...but there really are people like that, probably lots. Look at Science Fiction - which often predicts our future reality - does Han Solo or say, Lt. Cmdr. Data ever perform a double click on any display? They would look so absurd if they did. :)
      • Jorge Garcia

        In reply to skane2600: All valid points, but I'm just looking down the road. Very young kids think differently than we do, and they will always see traditional desktop computing as backwards and overly complex. I am predicting that the desktop will evolve into their preferences (iOS Pro, Android Pro, DeX, whatever), not the other way around.


  8. anchovylover

    Not having Chrome browser available is going to be a major negative for W10 S.

    • Daekar

      In reply to anchovylover:

      People keep saying that, but honestly I can't see it being a big deal for the normies. I use 3 different browsers throughout the week on 3 different operating systems, and honestly they're all about the same - Firefox gets pride of place because Firefox for Android uses the same plugins as regular Firefox and therefore uBlock Origin is available for my phone, where ads are the most annoying. I use Edge on my home PC and it does everything I want. Actually haven't found anything that I need Chrome for, now that I think about it.

  9. Simard57

    why didn't you publish in January - were you under an NDA embargo to not publish?

  10. TigerBalm7

    I really hope Windows 10 S is successful, because it will bring more apps to the store. Even perhaps google's apps

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to TigerBalm7:

      Windows 10 PCs have been able to run UWP apps since 29 July 2015, well before that using Insider builds. Why would Windows 10 S suddenly make UWP app development economically viable? Maybe if Windows 10 S takes the market by storm, eclipsing Windows 7, but it's just a wee bit early to predict Windows 10 S taking the place of Windows 7.

  11. Pbike908

    An extremely CLEVER move on Microsoft in a couple respects:

    If the Windows store finally catches on, Microsoft will get a cut out of all the apps sold in the Windows store which I imagine currently is a about ZILCH. And if this results in many new UWP apps, then they can perhaps try to reintroduce Windows mobile. Perhaps it will even persuade Google to create a version of Chrome for the platform which would give it even further validation.

    The fallback is Microsoft has figured out how to get OEMs to include Windows without having to charge OEMs and then the end user will pay for the full version separately if the end user decides they want to run legacy apps.

    And as an added bonus, who knows but it is possible that schools may adopt this in droves, although that remains to be seen.

    Probably about the smartest move I have seen Microsoft make in regards to Windows since rolling out Windows 7 to replace Vista. Or perhaps even all the way back to Windows XP....

  12. Bats

    The people who are going to be extremely happy with this is: GOOGLE


    Why? In terms of hardware,Alet's not forget one plain and simple fact. Microsoft's partners are all Google's too. Unless Paul show us exclusive contractual agreements between HP, Dell, Acer, etc..., the lower sub $200 pricepoint doesn't mean much in terms of toppling Google's occupation on the Education market. That's because Chromebooks will be constructed with the same specs too.

    How is this a "CLEAR" Chromebook alternative? If it is, then it's a really expensive and complex alternative. Chromebooks run on an OS that is simple to use right out of the box. That's the beauty of ChromeOS. It's so simple that low-tech to no-tech people can run it and maintain their Chromebooks. Not just that, the whole system is such where an organization can save money and costs by reducing IT staff. I know that sucks for those people, but that's life. As for Windows 10 S, it still runs Windows 10, with all it's complexity. For tech people, this is not a problem. However, if the goal is to appeal to the general masses, particularly the education sector, I don't see how Windows 10 S, can be a real alternative to ChromeOS.


    LOL...only in the mind of "Jean-Paul" Thurrott.

    Like I said in a previous post, there are already Chromebook alternatives, running Windows 10, in the market for $120-$150 today. All you have to do is go search for it on Groupon and you'll see it.


    • Attiq

      In reply to Bats: this is a clear Chromebook alternative OS. Especially when it comes to education. That much is obvious. And although Paul is wrong about how great the new surface device is (I think its just a pretty ultrabook, which isn't really a bad thing but it isn't a great thing either), he is spot on when it comes to windows 10 s.

      It is a reset of windows similar to windows RT with all the benefits of RT and none of the drawbacks.

      Chrome books are easy to manage, don't slow down, more secure. Now that was What Microsoft fixed with windows 10 s (and Rt) but this time round they've added containerised win32 apps and that's the silver bullet


  13. Oasis

    Will this version be offered to say users who need to retrofit an older PC with on OS? Like XP or Vista. I have a Dell Vostro w/Q6600 and it will be needing a new OS as we speak, or Ubuntu.... Edit: OS is not available through the store.

  14. curtisspendlove

    "It will then be added as an option for Windows Insiders to test going forward, too."


    Paul! You can't just toss something like this in there and let it sit... Details, man. Have you heard anything more about this?

  15. Graham Wilton

    So Windows 10 RT then!

  16. ben55124

    Perhaps another headline: Win Pro upgrade now $50. I recall it was a $100 upgrade from Home.


    Now MS should offer Win 10S to end users for free. Put it on a Mac, put it on an ol Vista PC, build your own PC. If it meets requirements, you can put 10S on there free with an upgrade path to Pro.

  17. Narg

    I wonder if a marketing statement like "We embrace the old with the Pro version, but will not be held back by it in the S version" would make any difference?

  18. dallasnorth40

    Brilliant move by Microsoft! And thanks, Paul, for pointing out that Windows 10 S is not just the Chromebook killer. It's also a glimpse of the future of all our Windows.


    And, as an aside, Panos Panay must be the greatest presenter in the history of tech. He is really good at this.

  19. nbplopes

    I don't understand how a $50 different in price make it an alternative. But hey, I'm sure I will.

    In my opinion Windows S should be totally free, even to download and install. MS should than plan the revenue around Windows Store, Office 365 and Management Services. Somehow tight the use to Office 365, probably providing an year free subscription as it does now and than ... It should not really matter how people pay I guess.

    Just don't know how possible it is.

    As it is now, I think there is very little incentive to use Windows S given the alternatives.

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