Windows 10 S looks like the mainstream future of the platform

The "S" may evoke speed, security, streamlining or the store now required for distribution. But for many users, it's going to represent something coming soon.

windows 10 s start menu
Microsoft

Microsoft’s efforts to transition Windows from the type of operating system most at home with a keyboard and mouse to one that can run on a tablet have succeeded. While many users may never leave desktop mode, in part for a lack of app breadth, Windows can create a perfectly satisfactory baseline tablet experience.

Behind the scenes, though, Windows hasn’t been on an even playing field with iOS or Google-branded Android. That’s because each of those operating systems require apps to go through their store (at least as a default for Android). As such, they are able to exert great control over what apps can do and do more to ensure good system performance, stability and security. Microsoft added a store to Windows with the launch of Windows 8 and allowed it to include desktop apps with Windows 10. But, as Apple has found out with its macOS Store, there has been relatively little incentive for developers to distribute via the store and give up 30 percent of the revenue.

That all changes with Windows 10 S, which offers users the benefits of increased speed and stability at the main cost of closing the door on apps that are not distributed via the Windows Store (and Linux distributions that are). Back in the era of Windows RT, which had a similar restriction, that would have been a dealbreaker, But Microsoft’s expansion of its store to allow desktop apps has paved the way for popular apps such as Spotify and iTunes have made it a far more palatable option for many users.

Besides, at least for now, users can switch to Windows 10 Pro with a few button clicks for free. That’s a lot easier than it was in the locked-down world of Windows RT where the whole device needed to be discarded (which most have been by now anyway). Still, given the extremely low price of some of the third-party Windows laptops -- some already aimed at K-12 students -- a $50 shift to Windows 10 Pro might be untenable.

Windows 10 S made its debut at an event focused on education, but Microsoft was quick to note that it has already seen interest from the enterprise. While a diverse customer base, it is also the one most likely to have an interest in running legacy apps unsupported by the operating system. It is also -- as noted -- a more direct alternative to Android and iOS tablets, particularly given the influence of Surface in that market. And it’s an influence poised for growth as Microsoft blends the efficacy of Windows 10 S with the low price and connectivity of Qualcomm Snapdragon support.

Microsoft will offer both the Pro and S versions of Windows 10 for the foreseeable future. But there are both supply and demand factors working toward the rapid growth of Windows 10 S to the point where it could become the default OS offering in the coming years. That’s an eventuality that Spotify and Apple may have already recognized with their Windows apps; we will certainly see more developers not currently distributing via the store hop onto the Windows 10 S bandwagon. But S raises a particular issue for browsers, one that is complicated for Chrome by the strong rivalry between Microsoft and Google.

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