What is Windows 10 S?

Microsoft's May 2 event in New York City was ostensibly focused on education. But the biggest surprise was a major addition to the Windows 10 family. Here's what you'll find on a PC running Windows 10 S.

Microsoft announced Windows 10 S at an event in New York City on May 2, 2017.

The new edition joins Windows 10 Home and Pro as an option for OEMs to install on new PCs. I'm still waiting for a hands-on opportunity with this product. In the meantime, here's what we know about Windows 10 S.

Where does this edition fit in the Windows 10 family?

Windows 10 S is basically Windows 10 Pro, with a locked-down configuration that makes it easier to manage and less susceptible to security and performance issues.

Does it run all Windows programs?

No. The most important part of the Windows 10 S configuration is a setting that prevents it from running any apps that aren't included with Windows 10 or available through the Windows Store.

That limitation isn't quite as dramatic as it sounds. Third-party app developers can convert traditional desktop apps to the Universal Windows Platform and make them available through the Store. Slack and Evernote, for example, are there now, along with 500 other apps that have gone through the conversion process using the Desktop Bridge tools (formerly code-named "Project Centennial").

Office 365 is arriving soon, and Spotify is on track to hit the Windows Store this summer.

But a PC running Windows 10 S won't run desktop programs that you download and run using a standard Windows installer. That means a dramatically reduced risk of installing malware. It also means OEMs can't load a new PC up with crapware that hurts its performance. Of course, that also prevents some very high-profile apps, including iTunes, from running. And it's unlikely that any third-party antivirus programs will be available.

What browsers are available?

The Windows 10 S configuration locks it to the Edge browser. There are no other options for desktop browsers. That means Google Chrome, for example, won't run unless Google develops a Universal Windows Platform version of Chrome and submits it to the Store. We don't know whether Internet Explorer 11 will be available as an option.

The default search provider is Bing (and "designated regional search providers"). That setting controls searches from the address bar and the taskbar search box and cannot be changed. Of course, nothing prevents a user from creating a bookmark to Google Search, or even setting it as the home page.

What about hardware support?

Microsoft says "Many hardware peripherals (such as printers) that work with Windows 10 today will work with Windows 10 S, but may have limited functionality." Presumably this is because third-party drivers and utility software will not be allowed to install.

At the New York event, Microsoft name-checked seven PC makers who will be selling Windows 10 S PCs, at prices starting at $189. Microsoft's own flagship Windows 10 S device is the Surface Laptop, also announced today, which starts at $999.

Can a PC running Windows 10 S join a domain?

Domain join is not supported on traditional Active Directory-based Windows networks. You can, however, join a Windows 10 S PC to Azure Active Directory. You can also roam an enterprise profile using Azure AD

Is BitLocker disk encryption available?

Yes. The BitLocker feature -- available in Windows 10 Pro but not Home -- is available on Windows 10 S devices.

Can updates be managed?

Like Windows 10 Pro, Windows 10 S supports Windows Update for Business, which allows administrators to choose deployment schedules for feature updates and defer normal quality updates for up to 30 days. Windows 10 S PCs are also fully manageable using mobile device management software, including Microsoft Intune.

How does the upgrade to Windows 10 Pro work?

The upgrade costs $49 and is managed through the Windows Store. (It's possible that a valid Windows 10 Pro product key will also perform this upgrade.)

Once the machine is upgraded to Windows 10 Pro, the Windows 10 S configuration is not available.

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