On Tuesday, Microsoft unveiled Windows 10 S, a streamlined version of the operating system designed to take on Google’s low-cost Chromebooks in the classroom. It’s going to ship on a bunch of laptops intended for the student.
So what’s the difference between the original-flavor Windows 10 and this new Windows 10 S?
The basic answer is: Not much. The actual experience looks to be very much the same between the two, from the Start menu, to the Cortana virtual assistant, to the focus on touchscreen and stylus features. When Windows 10-powered virtual reality headsets start hitting the market later this year, they’ll support both versions, too.
Here are the major differences between the two, in bullet-point form:
- Windows 10 S is focused on speed, better battery life, and higher performance — Microsoft says that it boots up in seconds.
- Windows 10 S is designed to run well even on lower-end laptops: Microsoft recommends a relatively modest 4GB of RAM and 64GB of hard drive space for classroom machines.
- Laptops running Windows 10 S will start at around $229, from companies like HP, Samsung, and Acer.
- The tradeoff is that Windows 10 S can only run apps from the Windows Store. The positives are that it makes it basically impossible to download malware or viruses, but it also means you’re limited to Microsoft-approved apps. That includes Spotify, Facebook, Netflix, and soon, Microsoft Office.
- Along those same lines, you’re limited to the Microsoft Edge browser on Windows 10 S, at least until other companies like Google choose to list their browsers in the Windows Store.
- If you decide you need your standard Windows apps, which might include Google Chrome or the Steam online gaming platform, you can upgrade to the full Windows 10 Pro for $49. Microsoft Windows exec Joe Belfiore tells CNET that “S” to “Pro” is a one-way switch, so be advised.
Otherwise…yeah. Pretty much the same, apart from a different default desktop wallpaper.
The flagship Windows 10 S machine is the Surface Laptop, a new $999 gadget from Microsoft itself, shipping on June 15th. That’s going to be our first real taste of Windows 10 S, so stay tuned.