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Is Windows 10 S just a repackaged Windows RT, and doomed for disaster?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-05-2017 Vishal Mathur

What Microsoft has added to the Windows 10 family is a full version of the operating system, which does not let you install apps. And there is a new Surface PC which will also run this new OS, and is priced upwards of $999 (around Rs64,000). Let that sink in for a moment. That is both good news and bad news.

Also read: Microsoft Windows 10 S: Simple but restricted OS meant for schools, businesses

Microsoft has pegged the Windows 10 S edition and the new Surface PC at students, and educational institutions, and perhaps even businesses. To make it more secure, Windows 10 S does not let you install apps downloaded from just anywhere on the internet or from an external storage source. Also, the applications that can be downloaded from the Windows Store and run on the PC work in individual containers, and overall there are much fewer processes running in the background. There is also a streamlined process for installing any new Windows updates and patches that may roll in for the PC, at different points of time. Microsoft also gives administrators full access to manage these devices in an enterprise network.

All this is great news if an educational institution or a business is buying these laptops for students and employees. Managing and maintaining them will be a breeze, they’ll be configured for specific tasks too, and shall be more secure as well. This is exactly what Google’s Chrome OS powered Chromebooks and Chrome PCs set out to do, and now Microsoft is playing the same game. Since users can’t just install and run any application, data security is potentially much more.

While the trend is yet to catch on in India, schools in many countries, including the US, tend to buy Chromebooks for their students, and many enterprises allow these devices to plug into office networks as well—all because of the low cost, and the simple and efficient user experience they offer. And that is the demographic that Windows 10 S will also do brilliantly with. The locked down nature of Windows 10 S is not entirely similar to what Apple gets criticized for, but there are advantages.

However, if you are a parent, for example, buying a laptop for your child or a professional looking at something for office use in the age of bring your own device (BYOD), the limitations of Windows 10 S cannot be ignored. There is no way for users (be it professionals, students or their parents) to install any application that might not be available on the Windows Store. Agreed, Chrome OS also has such restrictions, but that is where Windows was always supposed to have an advantage as a more dynamic platform. You cannot install apps, games or even drivers for peripherals such as printers or external drives—and this can cause significant problems later. You are locked to Microsoft Edge as the default web browser and Bing as the only search engine built-in. For all the focus on education, what happens if a parent or the teachers want to install a critical educational software that isn’t available on the Windows Store?

If you do realize at some point that you need to use a desktop application that isn’t available in the Windows Store, you will have the option of upgrading from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro for $49, but that comes with a rider—there is no option to revert to Windows 10 S. But doesn’t that anyway reduce the relevance of Windows 10 S?

It seems to be a blast from the past, but Windows 10 S seems to be a repackaged version of the ill-fated Windows RT. The RT edition could not run standard Windows applications because of hardware limitations, as it was compatible with specific machines. But while Windows 10 S machines do have the specifications and the hardware to run any application that Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro might, Microsoft just chooses to not let you.

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