Sunday, May 29, 2022
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Windows 10 S review: Microsoft’s OS for students is hard to love

Microsoft’s Windows 10 S is what happens when a once-easygoing operating system has kids and turns into a helicopter parent. Windows 10 S, a locked-down version of Windows 10 found on the Surface Laptop and a small group of low-cost, third-party notebooks, keeps students safe and secure by restricting them to the Windows Store. But as our review shows, the lack of freedom chafes.

Locking your PC away from the big, bad, outside world makes sense when your children are going off to high school or college, Microsoft thinks. But even the most dutiful parent will wonder why their child can’t use Chrome to beam YouTube videos to a Chromecast, print on some local printers, or protect their PC with anything other than Windows Defender. There’s always an escape hatch: a simple upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. But otherwise, Windows 10 S can be an exercise in frustration.

Who’s it for?

Microsoft provides Windows 10 S free of charge to academic institutions, and it’s not hard to see why: Microsoft wants a school’s IT department (not you) to buy its associated Intune for Education management support software, as well as an Office 365 for Education subscription for the Office apps students will use.

Windows 10 S and its hardware are also chasing Chromebooks, the cheap clamshell notebooks powered by Google’s free and manageable Chrome OS, which have taken the education market by storm. The resemblance is not an accident: In fact, as we were writing this review, Asus let us know that a version of its Chromebook C202 would be released in September as the W202NA, a Windows 10 S-powered machine.

As with Chromebooks, students can’t pick up a copy of Windows 10 S and load it onto their own machine. Instead, Windows 10 S will come preloaded onto Microsoft’s Surface Laptop or a small cadre of third-party Windows 10 S laptops priced for modest school budgets and ruggedized to withstand classrooms full of kids.

So far, however, only the Surface Laptop is available. As Microsoft revealed in August, the low-cost Windows 10 S laptops won’t ship until at least September, possibly missing the back-to-school window for the 2017 school year.

For this review, we’re not considering how manageable Windows 10 S is, or whether it’s a better choice for securing an academic environment than Chrome OS. Instead, we’re looking at it from the user’s perspective—what it’s like to use compared to full-fledged Windows. 

Microsoft surface laptop primary Dan Masaoka

Our test machine: the Surface Laptop.

We tested a Microsoft-supplied Surface Laptop, which comes preloaded with Windows 10 S. We will note, however, that we upgraded the Laptop to Windows 10 Pro for benchmarking. To return the Surface Laptop to Windows 10 S, we downloaded a publicly available Surface recovery image, which is something you’d normally do only if your system were malfunctioning. The process was pretty easy, though Microsoft says that you’ll need a USB stick of at least 16GB in size. We found it took about an hour’s worth of time to download and install the image.


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