Microsoft CVP of Windows Joe Belfiore
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
  • Microsoft Corporate VP of Windows Joe Belfiore confirms that Windows 10 S, the latest version of the operating system, will be discontinued sooner rather than later.
  • Instead, all versions of Windows 10 will get "S Mode," which enables the same features: Higher performance and better battery life, with the tradeoff that you can only install apps from the built-in Microsoft Store. 
  • The complicated part is that Microsoft itself never actually considered Windows 10 S a separate operating system — the company always thought of it as Windows 10 with "S Mode" enabled.

Microsoft Corporate VP of Windows Joe Belfiore confirmed this week on Twitter that the company is indeed discontinuing Windows 10 S — the latest version of its flagship operating system, released in mid-2017. On Wednesday, he posted a blog entry elaborating on his comments.

The blog entry confirms earlier reporting by Microsoft blogger Brad Sams, indicating that all versions of Windows 10 would be getting an "S Mode," optionally giving users the same benefits, but also the same tradeoffs, as Windows 10 S. 

"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," Belfiore writes in the blog.

The big idea with Windows 10 S is that it brings higher performance and better battery life to any PC. The tradeoff, however, is that it only lets you install apps from the built-in Microsoft Store. That means no Google Chrome, Steam, or any other app you'd grab from the internet. It was intended to power low-cost, high-security laptops for education, as a manoeuvre to chip away at the dominance of Google's Chromebooks in American classrooms

So "S Mode" would let you toggle those features on and off, for better or for worse. This has precedent: The existing version of Windows 10 S lets you switch over to the more traditional Windows 10 Pro, in a painless process that takes mere minutes. Indeed, "S Mode" has been available to Windows 10 business users since late 2017. 

Belfiore says in the blog entry that switching "S Mode" on or off will be free of charge. This is a change from the current policy, where some users have to pay $49 to go from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro. 

This all seems pretty cut-and-dried: Windows 10 S is dead, and "S Mode" prevails. But it's actually a little more complicated than all that. Because what if I told you... that Windows 10 S never really existed? 

Earlier this year, I had heard that from Microsoft's perspective, there never was such a thing as Windows 10 S. Instead, they always saw it as a version of Windows 10 Pro with "S Mode" enabled. In other words, Microsoft thought of Windows 10 S as more of a marketing term than a full-on version in its own right. 

Of course, that's somewhat at odds with how Microsoft pitched Windows 10 S at launch. It came preinstalled on the Surface Laptop, a premium laptop aimed at college students, and Microsoft certainly made it sound like a bold new frontier for Windows. Indeed, in the blog entry, Belfiore acknowledges that with Windows 10 S, "the naming was a bit confusing for both customers and partners."

So from a certain point of view, Windows 10 S didn't die, because it never truly lived. And yet, with "S Mode" coming to what sounds like every single PC, it's simultaneously set to thrive.