Microsoft’s new Windows 10 S is designed to serve as the company’s response to Google’s Chrome OS, which is experiencing rising popularity in schools and even some businesses. The move to a closed ecosystem does provide some advantages such as better security but these come at the cost of a number of restrictions compared to the ‘normal’ Windows 10.
Though Microsoft has elucidated some of the differences between the two versions of Windows, ZDNet’s Ed Bott found the company’s public documentation to be sparse and insufficient, describing Microsoft’s actions as ‘coy’ and ‘baffling’. In an effort to remedy this, he took a deep-dive into the OS, testing various features in order to precisely determine the limitations of this new version of Windows 10.
While it’s already well-known that Microsoft only allows UWP apps to run on Windows 10 – meaning traditional x86 apps would need to be converted into a compatible form via the Desktop Bridge – Bott also clarified that the new OS prevents you from even installing UWP apps from outside the Windows Store. This means no sideloading is allowed, and enterprise and business customers will be unable to use their custom apps on Windows 10 S unless they also publish them on the Windows Store in some form.
The same requirement for a signature by the Windows Store also applies to drivers, which cannot include “non-Microsoft UI components or applications.” A number of popular Windows components used by many pros are also barred based on the Windows 10 S Driver Requirements page, including important tools like reg.exe, regedt32.exe, powershell.exe, and bash.exe. The last one in particular also disables the ability to run Linux distros, a feature which Microsoft recently added to the OS. Even the iconic cmd.exe Command Prompt does not run interactively on Windows 10 S.
Some product categories are outright prohibited, such as backup programs, some disk utilities and, most notably, third-party anti-virus software. This limitation resigns users to rely on the built-in Windows Defender, which is considered by many as sufficient but inferior in comparison to third-party alternatives.
Another grievance for enterprise customers will be the lack of management via Active Directory, as this requires joining a Windows domain, which Windows 10 S systems cannot do. The only remaining alternative is the less powerful Azure AD join.
A larger source of frustration for many professionals, however, may be Microsoft’s lack of official documentation on the ways in which Windows 10 S differs from Windows 10 and its refusal to provide copies of the OS on resource directories like MSDN, where experts may evaluate the OS.
Thankfully, users who are intimidated by this myriad of restrictions can always change to Windows 10 Pro – and back again – for free on their Surface Laptop. If the safety bubble of Windows 10 S is too appealing to you, however, you can also circumvent some of its limitations through the use of desktop virtualisation.