Microsoft is reportedly shifting its Windows strategy as it tries to outmaneuver Apple and Google
Melia Robinson/Business Insider
- Microsoft fans are abuzz after a report indicates that Windows 10 S - its newest version of the Windows operating system - is dead.
- The truth is more complicated, with a person familiar with Microsoft's thinking telling us that the company's bet on Windows 10 S hasn't changed, and that it's all about semantics.
- Instead of a dedicated Windows 10 S, Microsoft will reportedly bring a similar S Mode to all existing versions of Windows 10.
- Windows 10 S is a streamlined version of Windows that brings better performance and battery life, at the cost of only being able to install software from the Windows Store.
The report set off all kinds of conversations in the world of Microsoft fans, who wonder what it could mean for the future of Windows 10 itself. The truth, Business Insider has learned, is a little bit more complicated, and depends to some extent on your perspective.
The idea of Windows 10 S is that it offers a smoother, more secure, and more streamlined experience, with the added benefit of extending a laptop's battery life. The tradeoff is that it can only install apps from the Windows Store, rather than from the internet, a disc, or anywhere else you might get software.
You can easily go from Windows 10 S to the more traditional and fully-featured Windows 10 Pro - but it might cost you. Owners of the Microsoft Surface Laptop can currently make the switch for free as part of a limited-time promotion, but otherwise, you might have to pay $49 for the transition.
In the bigger picture, Microsoft was positioning Windows 10 S as a way to chip away at Apple's and Google's presences in the classroom - Google's low-cost Chromebook laptops, in particular, beat out Windows in the American classroom by offering cheap, secure laptops that also offer superior battery life.
Thurott cites internal Microsoft research showing that 60% of all Windows 10 S users actually stick with it and don't switch.
Glass half-empty or half-full?
Now, here's where things get a little tricky. Because whether or not Windows 10 S is dead kind of depends on your perspective.
Thurott reports that Microsoft will no longer offer Windows 10 S as a standalone operating system. You could never buy it yourself, but computer manufacturers (OEMs, or "original equipment manufacturers" in industry parlance) could license it from Microsoft to pre-install on the computers they sold to customers.
Instead, Microsoft will push a so-called S Mode onto all versions of the Windows 10 operating system, reports Thurott. When enabled, S Mode will make any version of Windows 10 act like Windows 10 S, with all of the benefits and tradeoffs therein.
Microsoft had previously said that S Mode would be coming to Windows 10 for businesses in future updates; this would just bring it to all of the consumer versions, too.
OEMs will theoretically be able to choose whether or not to ship their PCs with S Mode on or off - opening the possibility that you might have to pay up to disable S Mode, in the same way that you usually have to pay $49 to go from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro today.
So in that sense, yes, Windows 10 S is dead.
But that's not how Microsoft sees things. Microsoft has always seen Windows 10 S as more of a marketing distinction than a separate, standalone operating system, according to people familiar with the company's thinking.
From Microsoft's perspective, it appears, there never really was a "Windows 10 S," just a version of Windows 10 Pro with S Mode enabled. To that end, bringing S Mode to other versions, like the entry-level Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Education, would actually bring the original promise of Windows 10 S to more PCs.
In a philosophical sense, then Windows 10 S isn't dead. In fact, quite the opposite - bringing S Mode to every version of Windows 10 would take it even further.
Officially, here's what a Microsoft spokesperson has to say about all of this: "Windows 10 S provides a streamlined, secure and battery efficient experience that we believe is a great choice for many customers. We'll share more about what's next for Windows 10 S when we're ready."
But Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, thinks Microsoft's focus on Windows 10 S and S Mode proves that the company is trying to retain control of the operating system.
"I believe that Microsoft would like a world where everyone starts on Windows S and all key, preferred services come through Microsoft and then everyone else who wants more flexibility or features pays Microsoft for that," says Moorhead.
Get the latest Microsoft stock price here.