Not all apps available from the Windows Store will run on Windows 10 S. For example, because Windows 10 S lacks the Windows Subsystem for Linux and the command line, the Linux distros in the Windows Store won’t work.
But Linux binaries are exactly the kind of arbitrary code that Windows S is designed to keep off your system. Even if Microsoft packaged up Visual Studio Code for the Store, it would produce code that you couldn’t test or run on a Windows 10 S device.
You can install desktop applications on Windows 10 S, but only if they’ve been sandboxed by Microsoft’s Desktop Bridge tool and come through the Windows Store. That’s how you can get Office 2016; you download Office Home and Student from the Store and get desktop versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.
Other Office suite productivity apps, such as Sway and Teams, are already available as Store apps. But compromises are necessary; you're limited to Skype instead of Skype for Business, and the Store version of OneNote doesn’t have all of the features of desktop OneNote.
But Microsoft offers Publisher, another desktop application, as part of the Office download from the Store, and Microsoft’s Samji hints that “you’ll see us continue to have more things available from the suite.”
Other software publishers using the Desktop Bridge tool to deliver software include Evernote, Slack, Spotify, Turbo Tax and — when the Fall Creators Update is available — iTunes.
Slightly more surprising, Windows 10 S doesn’t let you run desktop browsers other than Edge and Internet Explorer (for backwards compatibility).
If you download an application that is blocked on Windows 10 S, it won’t install. But if there’s a version of the same software – or what Microsoft considers to be a comparable app – in the Windows Store, the error message will include a link to download that instead, and it will give you the option of upgrading to Windows 10 Pro so you can go back and install the software you want.
Businesses that need a different browser or a desktop tool that isn’t in the Windows Store can turn to remote desktop apps; for example, Citrix Receiver is in the Store.
How to get Windows 10 S
Although Windows 10 S devices aren’t just for schools, some devices are only sold to educational institutions, and schools are given other privileges as well.
For example, Windows 10 S ISO is available on the Microsoft Developer Network so schools can put it on their existing hardware and IT departments can test it. But if you’re a consumer, you can’t buy Windows 10 S to upgrade your existing PC; you have to get it on a new PC.
“Getting [Windows 10 S] from the manufacturer allows us to guarantee a great experience with the right drivers and defaults,” Samji explained.
That includes having Active Hours turned on and set to the school day, so that Windows 10 S machines won’t update or restart during class or business hours, but instead wake themselves up at night to update and service the system.
On older PCs, the BIOS settings may need changing to make that work properly, something that Microsoft now checks for when it certifies new PCs as Windows-compliant.
Currently, Windows 10 S is running only devices with Intel processors. Although Microsoft hasn’t announced anything yet, it seems likely that Windows 10 S will be one of the options for the new ARM-based Windows devices planned for later this year, which should extend the battery life even further.
How to get off of Windows 10 S
If the limitations of Windows 10 S mean it’s not right for you, you can switch any device that comes with it to Windows 10 Pro. Schools can switch to Windows 10 Pro Edu at any time and at no cost.
It’s a little more complicated for consumers. If you pay US$799 or more for your Windows 10 S device, you can switch to Windows 10 Pro for free, for a limited period.
The initial date has already been extended by three months, until March 31, 2018, and Samji suggested that Microsoft would “continue to re-evaluate” how long the offer would be available.
When it does end, you’ll still be able to upgrade, probably for the same US$49 that it costs to upgrade a sub-US$799 Windows 10 S device to Pro.
Switching to Windows 10 Pro doesn’t wipe your system; your files, applications and browser favourites will still be there. And if you switch to Pro because an app you needed isn’t available in the Windows Store but then later it does pop up there, you can switch back.
Of course, you might also decide to go back to 10 S because you miss the simplicity and extended battery life.
Going back is more disruptive, though. You can download an image from the Surface website that you can use to reset a device back to Windows 10 S factory defaults by using a USB stick; that will delete your files, apps and accounts completely.
Don’t confuse that with the push-button reset that you can do on either Windows 10 S or Windows 10 Pro; that reinstalls the same version of Windows.
“We’re continuing to look at the options,” Samji said, “but we want to make sure users have a great experience with Windows 10 S. So you have to start from a known point or you can’t have that experience.”
But Microsoft is also hoping that you won’t want to switch away. “Windows 10 S is the mode we’d like users to be in, because we think it provides the most pure Windows experience,” Samji said.
“We know it’s not for everyone; there are professional users who have additional needs, and we knew that when we went in. But we think it’s great for most users, and for schools. And as we’re having more users experience Windows 10 S, we’re seeing more users than we expected who are saying ‘this is all I need.'
At the end of the day, Windows 10 S is full Windows and, more and more, everything you need is there.”
How true that is for you depends entirely on what you need.
This article originally appeared on Computerworld.