Is Windows 10 S A Re-Do Of The Windows RT Cock-Up?

Source: Microsoft

Earlier today, Microsoft announced a new Windows PC. Unlike the previous members of the Surface family, the Surface Laptop doesn’t have a detachable keyboard. And it also lacks Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro. Instead, it ships with a cutback version of Windows dubbed Windows 10 S. That means a Surface laptop will be limited to only running apps available through the Windows Store and not desktop apps. What makes this confusing is that an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro is free - for a limited time at least.

When the original Surface was released, users had the choice of a heavier, more powerful and more expensive Surface device or the Surface RT, which ran a limited version of Windows 8. Where it differs from Windows 10 S is that Windows RT was made to run on 32-Bit ARM processors whereas Windows 10 S plays nice on the Intel CPUs that power the vast majority of the computers businesses use.

It’s clear Microsoft is undergoing a transformation. Slowly but surely, they are moving away from a software company that dabbled in hardware into a more vertically integrated business that delivers the whole widget. In a sense, they are a little like Apple except that they license their operating system software.

The Surface Laptop seems to be aimed directly at potential Chromebook and entry-level MacBook Air and MacBook Pro markets. That’s a sweet spot for education users. I can see this as being the kind of device my kids would use for high school and university. It’s inexpensive at US$999, offers decent specs with a Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB SSD, and comes in a different colours. It supports the Surface Pen on the 13.5” PixelSense display running at 2256 x 1504.

For Australian buyers, there’s no word yet on offical price and availability - just a bunch of “Coming Soon” tags on the Surface Laptop website. And The Verge reports that other OEMs have already announced their own Windows 10 S systems.

But here’s the thing. That target audience will, almost certainly, want to run desktop apps. I’m hard pressed to think of a scenario where someone buying a $1000 laptop won’t want to run Microsoft office or something similar. Sure - you can run those through a web browser if you’re a Office 365 subscriber but until you upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro you’re shut out for the apps most people rely on to do their jobs - whether they are students or employees.

The good news is that, unlike the dead-end road of Windows RT, there’s an upgrade path from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro. For US$49, you can upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro (but not Home). And that upgrade is free for the first few weeks of the US release.

The good news is Windows 10 S is not a dead-end. The biggest issue with Windows RT devices was that once Microsoft decided to abandon the platform, there were lots of machines left without an upgrade path. As the Surface Laptop runs commodity hardware, I assume it will remain a supported platform for some time.

So, the good news is Windows 10 S is not a cock-up.

But, the splitting of Windows 10 into a third major fork is a sign that the company is still locked, to some degree, in their old school thinking.

When Windows 7 was released, there were six different editions: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate. By the time we got to Widows 8, that narrowed to four: Windows 8, Pro, Enterprise and the ill-fated RT. And while there are, officially, eight editions of Windows 10, only two are widely available: Home and Pro.

Now, with the addition of Windows 10 S, Microsoft is adding complexity that will, most likely, only confuse consumers.

There’s a lot to be said for Apple’s approach - one operating system per platform. When you buy a Mac, you get macOS. There is only one version and it doesn’t add or remove features to create artificial product differentiation. For example, BitLocker, Microsoft’s drive encryption tech, is part of Windows 10 Pro but not the Home edition. That makes no sense to me.

The error Microsoft is making is one of creating frustration for users. I’ve spent enough time at large retailers asking questions of sales associates who don’t know or understand the difference between the two editions of Windows 10. I can see customers walking into a store, buying a Surface Laptop and Microsoft Office only to discover that running office will require a further $50 or more in order to upgrade the operating system on their $1000 laptop so they can type a document or create a spreadsheet.

I’m currently testing a Surface Pro 4 as part of my search for a perfect computer for when I travel. It’s a fine piece of hardware and shows Microsoft can design and build great hardware. But it’s time for them to make life easier and simply release one edition of Windows.

Windows 10 S might not be an error of Windows RT proportions but there’s seems little point to artificially differentiating a product and creating confusion for users.


Comments

    Hey Anthony, it's not a cock-up, but a cock-down. I expected more from the "Laptop" - sad we didn't get it.

    I really hope they aren't trying to build a walled garden like Apple's, that would suck balls!

      Apple does this with iOS yes, but their laptops are still completely open with use of app store an option or regular program installs.

    > But it’s time for them to make life easier and simply release one edition of Windows.

    Lol- that's never going to happen. At the most, we will always see at least a personal and enterprise version of Windows. Microsoft's profits come from enterprise licensing. It's how they managed to basically give away Windows 10 for free.

    Apple has a completely different business model in that regard compared to Microsoft.

    What does annoy me is Microsoft's insistance on breaking down the personal editions to S, Home, Pro. Oh, and we already have Education. Do you need S or do you need Education? Yeah, that's frustrating.

    It's Windows RT all over again. It's gonna flop.

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