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Grow Your Business Technology

Windows 10 S vs. Chrome OS: Which Is Right for Business?

Woman on microsoft surface
Credit: Microsoft

Editor's Note: Microsoft will make 10 S a mode you can select in regular windows going forward, instead of having a fully separate operating system. 

If the release of Windows 10 S and the beautifully elegant Microsoft Surface Laptop has you thinking about replacing your current Chromebook with a Windows machine, you're not alone. But before you do, it's important to understand the differences between the operating systems and how making the change could affect your day-to-day business. 

The first thing you should know is that Windows 10 S was designed with the classroom in mind. Since Windows 10 S is a lightweight OS made for an educational setting, there are some limitations that are great for teachers and educational administrators, but not ideal for entrepreneurs. However, Chrome OS has won over some IT departments for the robust security and relative ease of deployment and management.

Between these two, there isn't a clear cut, right choice for all, but by knowing the strengths and shortcoming of each and the needs of your organization, you'll have a better viewpoint of whether to consider Windows 10 S, Chrome OS, or perhaps upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

While Windows 10 S was meant to appeal to schools, a Microsoft spokesperson said the S, "stands for streamlined, security and superior performance." It won't exclusively be sold to schools, so it's appeal might extend to your company.

The main draw is that this version of Windows is built exclusively for apps from the Windows Store. The upside is that means Microsoft is taking command of the security, individually approving apps and checking their security details before making them available for download.

This could lessen IT administrator's headaches, as they won't have to worry about employees installing rogue apps. The inability to run any command line applications or download other third-party applications will ease the burden on management.

However, there's also a potential downside. Restricting you to the Windows Store means no opportunity to install Chrome, which is currently the most popular browser. Microsoft's documentation restricts any browsers to ones that are built atop "HTML and JavaScript engines provided by the Windows platform."

This won't bode well for organizations that use G Suite, which is optimized to perform best in Chrome. Google theoretically could build a different version of Chrome for the Windows Store (much like it does for iOS), but that decision would likely come after enough time to see if it makes sense for the company to do so. So at least in the short term, 10 S is a tradeoff of convenience vs. flexibility.

Chromebooks have been popular in enterprise deployments. On the deployment and management side, they offer a lot in terms of ease, security and control. IT departments have several options available for keeping the devices as secure as possible, with tools to manage G Suite app access and now 200 different policies for controlling the deployment. While Chromebooks, such as Windows 10 S, gain a lot of interest from education, business use remains an area of increasing interest.

If you purchase a laptop that runs Windows 10 S, you'll only be able to download apps through the Windows Store. There are far more apps available in Google's Play Store (including Android apps), which will be available on all Chromebooks soon, than there are in the Windows Store (which doesn't even carry Spotify yet, but reportedly will by this summer). 

For schools, only being able to download a limited selection of apps from the Windows Store is a bonus because it adds an extra level of control and security. This may be true at some businesses as well. It stops students or employees from downloading unapproved games, malware and other inappropriate content. 

In fact, on Windows 10 S laptops, you can only download certain types of apps, so if you buy a laptop that runs 10 S, you won't even have access to the entire library normally offered in the Windows Store. Since Chromebooks are built for the general consumer, there aren't any limitations on the types of apps you can view or download.  

During the release of the new $999 Surface Laptop, which runs on Windows 10 S, Microsoft was careful to point out that consumers can still access and download Windows 10 Pro from the Windows Store, and that if they do that, the laptop will function without limits. In other words, you'll have unrestricted access to download whatever you want. Even better, upgrading to Windows 10 Pro is free through March 31, 2018. Note: Originally, Microsoft had said it would only leave the free upgrade option available until the end of 2017. Now, after March, it will cost $49 to upgrade.   

Microsoft also announced that other computer makers, including Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung and Toshiba, would be making Windows 10 S systems too. Those models will start as low as $189. 

In the end, both operating systems speak to the desire from companies for a lightweight, secure operating system that can be easily managed. Both Microsoft and Google will certainly leverage their Office 365 and G Suite services to serve as a bridge to hardware. Yet for many a full-version of Windows 10 Pro might offer exactly what one needs  ΜΆ  the familiarity of Windows with the flexibility to install Chrome and other non-Windows Store software. The way each company works and preferred cloud services may make the difference with such a choice.

The new Windows 10 S looks like a fantastic option for college students and schools, but it's likely too restrictive for most entrepreneurs. If you decide to buy the new Surface laptop, you should opt for the Windows 10 Pro upgrade while it’s still free. 

Additional reporting by Derek Walter.

Mona Bushnell

Mona Bushnell is a New York City-based Staff Writer for Tom’s IT Pro, Business.com and Business News Daily. She has a B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT Technician, a Copywriter, a Software Administrator, a Scheduling Manager and an Editorial Writer. Mona began freelance writing full-time in 2014 and joined the Purch team in 2017.