Less than one year ago, Microsoft unveiled a new version of its Windows platform called Windows 10 S. It was a curious endeavor right from the get-go. Intended as a rival for Google’s Chrome OS, which continues to gain substantial ground in important markets like education, Windows 10 S is something of a “Windows 10 Lite” solution. It is only capable of running apps downloaded from the Microsoft Store, and Microsoft claimed that the “S” stood for “Simplicity.”
Now, for the strange part. While Windows 10 S was launched to be a lite version of the Windows platform that could power lower-cost laptops to compete with Chromebooks, it actually hides the full version of Windows 10 inside. For a $50 fee, any Windows 10 S machine can be transformed into a full-fledged Windows 10 computer.
It was an interesting idea, but industry watchers were skeptical from the start. Now, it turns out that their skepticism was warranted because Microsoft has already confirmed that it’s scrapping Windows 10 S and replacing it with a new Windows 10 S “Mode.”
Microsoft managed to reel in a number of manufacturer partners ahead of its Windows 10 S announcement. Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung, and Toshiba all signed on to release lower-cost laptops powered by Windows 10 S and starting at just $189. The move was a clear shot at Google, which has managed to steal the lion’s share of the education market in key regions thanks to ultra-affordable Chromebook laptops offered by Google’s partners.
Some recent estimates suggest Chrome OS now owns about 60% of the US education market in grades K-12. This is hugely significant, of course, because students who grow up using Chrome instead of Windows are more likely to continue using it as adults. And now, even users who want high-end laptops that offer impressive performance can stick with Chrome thanks to devices like the latest Google Pixelbook.
But it appears as though Windows 10 S hasn’t been received as well as Microsoft had hoped. Just 10 months after announcing the new operating system, Microsoft on Tuesday evening confirmed that it is being scrapped next year. In its place, Microsoft will build a new “S Mode” into Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Enterprise, and Windows 10 Pro. Administrators in settings like schools will likely be able to lock devices in S Mode, though details are scarce for the time being.
“We use Win10S as an option for schools or businesses that want the ‘low-hassle’/ guaranteed performance version,” Microsoft executive Joe Belfiore wrote in a post on Twitter. “Next year 10S will be a ‘mode’ of existing versions, not a distinct version.” Belfiore’s tweet was posted in response to a user asking why Windows S 10 market share data wasn’t being separated from overall Windows 10 market share figures.
Recent rumors had suggested that Microsoft was planning to scrap its paid upgrade scheme for some Windows 10 S device owners who want to upgrade to Windows 10. According to those reports, users with Windows 10 S machines would be able to upgrade to Windows 10 Home for free, while upgrades to Windows 10 Pro would still cost $50. Microsoft hasn’t yet offered any additional details, so it remains to be seen if this will indeed be the case.
UPDATE: Since Belfiore’s tweet got so much attention, he followed it up with a blog post to clarify his earlier comment and provide some additional details. The important part is quoted below, and you can read the entire post on the Windows Blog.
We are simplifying the experience for our customers. Starting with the next update to Windows 10, coming soon, customers can choose to buy a new Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro PC with S mode enabled, and commercial customers will be able to deploy Windows 10 Enterprise with S mode enabled.
We expect the majority of customers to enjoy the benefits of Windows 10 in S mode. If a customer does want to switch out of S mode, they will be able to do so at no charge, regardless of edition. We expect to see new Windows 10 devices ship with S mode, available from our partners in the coming months, so check back here for updates.