Windows 10 S, interesting, but not for business

Last month, Microsoft released Windows 10 S, a skew of Windows 10 that is “inspired by students and teachers and it’s the best Windows ever for schools”.

Microsoft claims Windows 10 S is “also a great choice for any Windows customer looking for consistent performance and advanced security“.

Despite the claims, Windows 10 S is unlikely to be a great choice for business, even though no one will disagree with the benefits of consistent performance and advanced security.

The most notable differences with Windows 10 S compared to Windows 10 Pro are:

  • It cannot be domain joined to on-premise Active Directory.
  • It can only use (certain) applications from the Windows store.
  • Microsoft Edge is the default (and only) browser.

The rationale is to provide a more secure and stable version of Windows 10 by restricting applications to the containerised apps of the Windows store, and thus isolate impact of potential malware or performance instability.

So, now for the details:

  • Windows 10 S can be joined to Azure Active Directory. This, in itself, does not make Windows 10 S a poor option for large enterprise, but it is important to note the restrictions on Group Policies and various other differences when compared to on-premise AD.
  • For those not familiar, the Microsoft Windows store supports two types of applications, Universal Windows Platform (UWP) and Desktop Bridge (or “Centennial”) apps. Win32 apps are not supported. This is every important.
  • UWP apps are containerised and do not have access to the host machine, as such UWP applications with malware or performance issues will not directly impact the host machine, thus aiding the security and performance of Windows 10 S. UWP apps are also designed to work across Windows 10 devices; desktop, tablet, phone.
  • Win32 apps are your traditional applications used in Windows environments. Win32 apps work on Windows 10 Pro, but not Windows 10 S. Centennial apps, where created to assist porting Win32 applications to the Windows store, and these will work with Windows 10 S.
  • There is a third type of application on the Windows store, which Microsoft in a recent post described as “exotic”, specifically command line apps, shells and consoles. Although being available on the Windows store, they are prevented from use with Windows 10 S as they work outside of the sandbox structure.
  • Right now, there are no UWP app browsers from Google, Firefox, or anyone else. Thus, Microsoft Edge is effectively the only browser. In addition, it might stay that way.
  • It looks like Windows 10 S will only be available pre-installed from device manufacturers. That said, Windows 10 S is effectively Windows Professional with restrictions applied, indeed, this may explain why Windows 10 S can be converted to Windows Professional if required. This may also explain why it has been observed that a recent release of Windows 10 Pro included the option restrict applications to the Microsoft Store, thus, in theory, if you were keen, you could apply these same restrictions on your Window Pro machines.
  • For a limited time, Windows 10 S can be upgraded to Windows Pro for no cost. At some point, the upgrade will not be free.

Takeaways

While Windows 10 S may be a great choice for “any Windows customer looking for consistent performance and advanced security” it will not be suitable for business. The intended target of education clearly applies. There may be some niche applications, but the restrictions on Win32 applications, and some types of Windows store apps, will cause pain for every business at some point, and the restriction to Microsoft Edge will probably cause pain from day one.

 

 

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