|Pros of Windows in S mode||Cons of Windows in S mode|
In 2017, Microsoft added a feature to its Windows 10 operating system: S mode, a stripped-down, tightly-locked and low-end way to run Windows 10 and the Home edition of Windows 11 that is still PC friendly.
There are several good reasons to run a Windows PC in S mode, including:
- It’s more secure because it only allows apps to be installed from the Microsoft Store.
- It’s streamlined to reduce RAM and CPU use.
- Everything a user does is automatically saved to OneDrive to free up local storage.
Performance and security improvements always come at a cost, though, and Windows in S mode is no different. This guide examines the pros and cons of Windows in S mode, how exactly it works, and whether S mode is a good fit for most Windows users.
- What is Windows in S mode?
- Key features of Windows in S mode
- Pros of Windows in S mode
- Cons of Windows in S mode
- Why should I use Windows in S mode?
- Windows 11 and S mode
- Should I switch out of S mode?
What is Windows in S mode?
Essentially, Windows in S Mode is Windows locked down for security and performance, so it’s much harder to make mistakes or change settings that could give you a bad experience. This ensures that even after using and updating it for many months, Windows will still work as well as it did the first day you set up your PC.
SEE: Download the PDF copy of our Windows in S mode guide.
There are some similarities to Google’s ChromeOS for its Chromebooks, and it’s well-suited for education, where Microsoft first pitched it. However, unlike ChromeOS, it supports running familiar Windows applications, including Office, making it an option for the office, too.
S mode is available in Windows 10 Home edition, Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Pro Education. And while Microsoft Edge with Bing as the search engine is your only option as the default browser, you can install different browsers from the Microsoft Store.
The limit on what applications you can run helps Windows in S mode deliver better performance on lower spec hardware. That includes reduced startup time, better battery life and overall performance, as fewer services will be running in the background. Because you’re running applications from the Microsoft Store, you know they uninstall correctly and don’t leave any services or utilities behind. That helps with both disk space and performance.
Microsoft even configured Windows in S mode to run on ARM processors, so it’s intentionally designed to work well on all classes of Windows hardware, from small and light tablets to rugged PCs for frontline operations.
Key features of Windows in S mode
Windows 10 in S mode is a more limited version of the Windows operating system than the Home or Pro versions of Windows. The key features of Windows in S mode focus on efficiency, security and stability:
- All apps must be downloaded from the Microsoft Store — no third-party applications that slow down the operating system or accumulate adware in the background.
- Microsoft Edge, a browser with a simple interface and sharing features, is the default browser in S mode, and you can’t change that.
- Bing is the default search engine.
- S mode is available for Windows Home Edition for Windows 10 and 11 as well as Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Education.
- It can come installed on a PC with either an Intel, AMD or a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
- Microsoft Entra ID is available for some instances of S mode as a way of accessing organizational resources, if there is support for Windows Pro features.
- Admin controls, such as telemetry controls, health analytics, and security features like App and Credential Guard, are available.
- There is no command line, no scripts and no Registry or Group Policy; devices are managed through MDM using Microsoft Intune.
SEE: Explore this Microsoft Azure certification bundle from TechRepublic Academy.
With all of these features, the focus is on simplicity and stability for non-power users. The level of functionality that Windows in S mode offers will work for a lot of job roles and responsibilities, but users of larger tech stacks and more complicated applications might not be able to work in S mode at all. It’s best thought of as a tool for frontline workers and for education.
Pros of Windows 10 in S mode
Running Windows in S mode is more secure for several reasons. It does not allow unverified applications to be downloaded or used, which minimizes any risk of malware or viruses that come with unverified applications. This also helps reduce the memory usage of the computer. Microsoft Store apps are also easier to uninstall cleanly, reducing overall risks.
Users don’t have access to use command-line shells, either PowerShell, Windows Terminal or the command prompt, so scripts that try to install malware can’t run. Windows in S Mode doesn’t include the Registry Editor or Group Policy, so users can’t change system behavior in unexpected ways that might degrade PC performance or break things by running registry cleaners.
In addition, users are restricted to using Microsoft Defender, a complete antivirus program to detect and remove spyware, malware and viruses. Microsoft Defender comes pre-installed with modern versions of Windows as part of the Windows Security suite.
Ideal for large-scale enterprise and education deployments
Large-scale enterprise and education deployments have one thing in common: They have a lot of computer users, and they need a way to manage them. Using Windows in S mode makes managing the devices easier, as it’s managed remotely using mobile device management processes.
It’s more secure with inherently less exposure to viruses and malware because users are confined to approved Windows systems and apps, and administrators can use Microsoft Intune to lock systems down to approved applications.
SEE: Take advantage of this comprehensive beginner’s guide to cybersecurity bundle from TechRepublic Academy.
Admins don’t have to worry about users downloading malicious third-party applications, as Windows in S mode automatically restricts the use of any apps that aren’t offered through the Microsoft Store.
In S mode, Windows uses Microsoft Entra ID (formerly known as Azure Active Directory) instead of Active Directory, and it can’t join a domain. That means there are no log-on scripts or startup applications that might make startup slow — meaning fewer complaints and support calls.
And because Windows in S mode runs more efficiently, it’s ideal for low-powered computers, which are more affordable for larger teams.
Easy to switch to a full version of Windows
If you feel Windows in S mode is not your cup of tea, you can easily switch to the full version by activating Windows through the settings tool. There are no charges for switching off S mode.
However, keep in mind that switching out is a one-way street. Once you have switched to the full version of Windows, you can’t go back to S mode without reinstalling Windows completely from a recovery image.
Cons of Windows 10 in S mode
Not every app is in the Microsoft Store
While the catalog of apps available through the Microsoft Store is impressive, with recent changes significantly increasing the availability of applications like Apple Music and TV to S mode users, users who need apps that are not available on the Microsoft Store will find Windows in S mode offers less usability.
In addition, Microsoft Edge remains the default browser in S mode, even if you have others, such as Chrome and Firefox, installed. Although Microsoft Edge is a capable browser, it might not be every user’s preference. However, if you are using Edge, you will still be able to use the Chrome Store as well as the Microsoft Store to install extensions even in S mode.
It’s not for tinkerers
If you like having total control over your PC, you have to give that up with S mode. In fact, that’s the entire point — that there are far fewer options for tweaking your PC. That has advantages for security and simplicity, but it’s not for everyone, and many users will find it too limiting.
Why should I use Windows in S mode?
Windows in S mode is a more limited option than other versions of Windows. However, it’s an ideal version for users who value security and simplicity over usability and personalization. In fact, the restrictions on third-party apps and a capable antivirus program add to the security, and running Windows in S mode can provide a longer battery life, faster boot times and consistent performance.
Moreover, S mode has the additional benefit of an opt-out. Users or security-minded businesses can start with S mode to try it and then opt out of using it anytime they want without purchasing any new software.
Windows 11 and S mode
Windows 11 in S mode offers similar features to Windows 10 in S mode; although, it’s only available for Windows 11 Home. You can upgrade Windows 10 S mode to Windows 11 if your PC meets the minimum hardware requirements using the Windows Update service, or you can buy a new device running Windows 11. But if you are using S mode with the Pro, Enterprise or Education editions of Windows 10, you will have to switch out of S mode to upgrade to Windows 11, and you won’t be able to switch back.
Windows 11 enables more of the Windows security features by default — as long as it’s a new PC or a clean install — which is one of the advantages of S mode. That doesn’t give you all of the protections of S mode. If you’re relying on those, you may want to stick with Windows 10 a little longer while you look into how to use Intune to apply some of the same restrictions with your own policies.
Should I use S mode on a Windows 11 on Arm PC?
Because of the additional limitations in usability of Windows on Arm PCs, you likely won’t want to run Windows 11 in S mode on a Windows on Arm PC.
Just like with an Intel or AMD PC, some Windows on Arm laptops come with the option of using Windows in S mode to limit you to using apps from the Microsoft Store only. That’s rather more of a limitation on an Arm device, though, because the software you want to run on your PC quite often hasn’t been compiled for Arm, and you have to run it in emulation. Many of those apps aren’t available through the Microsoft Store, so you can’t use them in S Mode.
You also lose the new Client Hyper-V support in Windows 11 on Arm if you run in S Mode. This means you won’t be able to run WSL or WSA, as that would open you up to installing scripts and unauthorized applications. Further, you won’t be able to use applications that customize the Windows environment, including some assistive technologies and third-party cloud storage.
Another point to note is you cannot upgrade a Windows 10 S mode Arm device to Windows 11 S mode, as Windows 10 for Arm is 32-bit only and runs on older Arm processors that do not support 64-bit Windows 11.
Should I switch out of S mode?
With all of the advantages that come with using S mode, there are also some clear disadvantages, especially for users who want to use certain applications not offered through the Microsoft Store. The lack of operating system personalization and configuration tools could be a deal breaker for other users.
Users who are comfortable staying within the Microsoft ecosystem and who need extra security can certainly benefit from running Windows in S mode and get better performance and battery life. In contrast, users who are accustomed to the freedom offered by the full version of Windows may feel restricted. The good news is that users can try Windows in S mode, and if they don’t like it, they can easily switch out.
Remember: It’s easy to switch out of S mode but difficult to switch back into it, requiring a restore from recovery media, which may involve downloading a Windows ISO. You should carefully weigh its pros and cons and how they impact your IT operations before making your decision.
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