A laptop and a mouse showing the Windows symbol.
Image: Getty/Drew Angerer

In 2017, Microsoft added a new feature to its Windows 10 operating system: S mode, a stripped-down, tightly-locked and low-end way to run Windows 10 that is PC friendly. There are a lot of good reasons to put a Windows 10 PC in S mode, including:

  • It’s more secure because it only allows apps to be installed from the Windows Store.
  • It’s streamlined to reduce RAM and CPU use.
  • Everything a user does is automatically saved to OneDrive to free up local storage.

If that sounds like another OS you’re familiar with, you’re not wrong; it’s a lot like Google’s ChromeOS for its Chromebooks. Microsoft even configured Windows 10 in S mode to run on ARM processors, so it’s intentionally designed to work well on hardware that wouldn’t normally run Windows 10 very smoothly.

SEE: Microsoft Universal Windows Platform Expert Bundle (TechRepublic Academy)

Performance and security improvements always come at a cost though, and Windows 10 in S mode is no different. This guide examines the pros and cons of Windows 10 in S mode, how exactly it works, and whether S mode is a good fit for most Windows users.

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Pros and cons of Windows 10 in S mode

Pros of Windows 10 in S modeCons of Windows 10 in S mode
- Additional security measures

- Easier management of widespread enterprise devices and virus/malware threats

- Simple process to switch back to Windows 10 full version
- Lack of compatibility with non-Windows apps and browsers

- Limited operating system personalization and configuration

SEE: Windows 10 in S mode: pros, cons, tips and alternatives (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Pro: Windows 10 in S mode is more secure

Running Windows 10 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 virus that comes with unverified applications. This also helps reduce the memory usage of the computer. And, for another measure of security, users don’t have access to use command-line shells such as command prompt.

SEE: Microsoft Defender vs Carbon Black: EDR software comparison (TechRepublic)

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 Windows 10.

Pro: 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 10 in S mode makes managing the devices easier, as there is inherently less exposure to viruses and malware for users that are confined to approved Windows systems and apps.

SEE: The Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide to Cybersecurity Bundle (TechRepublic Academy)

Admins don’t have to worry about users downloading malicious third-party applications, as Windows 10 in S mode automatically restricts the use of any apps that aren’t offered through the Microsoft Store.

Another benefit is that Windows 10 is designed to run more efficiently, making it ideal for low-powered computers, which are more affordable for larger teams.

Pro: It’s easy to switch to a full version of Windows 10

If you feel Windows 10 in S mode is not your cup of tea, you can easily switch to the full version by activating the Windows 10 full version through the settings. There are no charges for switching off of S mode; however, keep in mind that switching out is a one-way street. Once you have switched to the full version of Windows 10, you can’t go back to S mode.

Con: Security comes at the cost of usability

Users who need to use apps that are not available on the Microsoft Store will find Windows 10 in S mode offers less usability. While the catalog of apps available through Microsoft Store is impressive, it is missing some important applications, such as specific web browsers, Adobe software and Apple apps.

In addition, users who prefer to use specific browsers, such as Chrome, Safari and Firefox, will instead have to use Microsoft Edge because it’s the only browser available in S mode. Although Microsoft Edge is a capable browser, it might not be every user’s preference.

What is Windows 10 in S mode?

Windows 10 in S mode is a version of the Windows 10 operating system that is optimized for performance and security. The security and safety features of Windows 10 in S mode include the latest updates from Windows Defender. Security is additionally boosted by not allowing users to download apps not offered through the official Microsoft Store.

Despite some of these user limitations, most users will not feel too restricted, as there are a wide variety and large number of apps available through Microsoft Store. Furthermore, the limit on applications helps Windows 10 in S mode deliver higher speeds, resulting in reduced startup time; it also results in better battery life and overall performance for user devices.

Key features of Windows 10 in S mode

Windows 10 in S mode is a more limited version of the Windows operating system than Windows 10. The key features of Windows 10 in S mode focus on efficiency, security and stability:

  • No third-party applications that slow down the operating system or accumulate adware in the background; all apps must be downloaded from the Microsoft Store.
  • Microsoft Edge, a browser with a simple interface and sharing features, is the only browser available in S mode.
  • Bing is the default search engine.
  • S mode is available for Windows 10 Home edition, Windows 10 Pro and Windows 10 Pro Education.
  • It can come installed on a PC with either an Intel, AMD or a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
  • Azure AD Domain join is available for some instances of S mode.
  • Admin controls, such as Cortana management, telemetry controls, health analytics, and App and Credential Guard, are available.

SEE: The Essential Microsoft Azure Certification Bundle (TechRepublic Academy)

With all of these features, the focus is on simplicity and stability for non-power users. The level of functionality that Windows 10 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.

Why should I use Windows 10 in S mode?

Windows 10 in S mode is a more limited option than Windows 10; however, users who value security and simplicity over usability and personalization are likely to enjoy it. The restrictions on third-party apps and a capable antivirus program add to the security.

Another good reason to use Windows 10 in S mode is that you can opt out of using it anytime you want without purchasing any new software. Other reasons to use Windows 10 in S mode include longer battery life, faster boot times and consistent performance.

Should I switch out of S mode?

With all 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. For example, users who do not want to use Edge or Bing might not continue with S mode. The lack of operating system personalization and configuration tools could be a deal breaker for some users.

Users who are comfortable staying within the Microsoft ecosystem and who need extra security can certainly benefit from running Windows 10 in S mode. 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 10 in S mode and, if they don’t like it, they can easily switch out.

Again, it’s easy to switch out of S mode but very difficult to switch back into it. You should carefully weigh its pros and cons and how they impact your IT operations before making your decision.

Additional resources for Windows 10 users

Windows 10 is a widely used operating system and, regardless of which version you’re using, offers many advantages to users who understand how it works. Below, we’ve compiled additional resources for Windows users of all experience levels. These resources can help you and your team make better use of your Windows systems:

Do you have other questions about Windows 10 or other Microsoft products? Our team of experts has written thousands of Microsoft tutorials on a variety of topics. Take a look at our Microsoft content resource library to continue learning about Windows products and functions that matter to your team.