Over the weekend, Brad Sams and Paul Thurrott got their hands on some partner documentation throwing quite a bit of light on Microsoft's plans for the future of Windows 10 S and Windows 10 consumer pricing. The news signals a number of interesting new developments for the way the company plans to sell Windows beginning as early as this spring with the release of the next update to Windows (which may or may not be called "The Spring Creators Update").
The documentation depicts 2018 as a "transition year" for Windows as the company moves to "a more scalable family of offerings that will better meet the needs of its PC maker partners and, ultimately, the consumers who will use their shared products," according to Paul Thurrott.
So what does that mean? Let's take a look:
Repositioning Windows Home
Although the changes to Windows 10 S/S Mode are getting the most attention, Microsoft's new focus on Windows 10 Home may be an even more important change. First, Microsoft is creating new pricing tiers for OEMs. Here's the breakdown from Brad Sams:
- Entry: Intel Atom/Celeron/Pentium ≤ 4GB RAM & ≤ 32GB SSD AND ≤ 14.1” screen size (NB), ≤ 11.6” (2in1, Tablet), ≥ 17” AiO
- Value: Intel Atom/Celeron/Pentium ≤ 4GB RAM & ≤64GB SSD & ≤ 14.1” screen size (EM ≤ 4GB RAM & ≤64GB SSD or ≤ 500GB HDD)
- Core: Cannot be used on devices that meet the Core+ and Advanced SKU Hardware Specifications
- Core +: High end CPU and >4 GB RAM (All Form Factors) ≥8 GB RAM & ≥1080p screen resolution (NB, 2in1, AiO) >8 GB RAM & ≥2TB HDD or SSD storage (Desktop)
- Advanced: Intel Core i9 (any configuration) OR Core i7 ≥ 6 Cores (any RAM) OR AMD Threadripper(any configuration) OR Intel Core i7 >16GB (any Cores) or AMD FX/ Ryzen7 >16GB (any Cores) OR ≥ 4K screen resolution (any processor, includes 4K UHD-3840 resolution
Pricing for the SKUs is as follows: Advanced ($101), Core + ($86.66), Core ($65.45), Value ($45), and Entry ($25). Also, Windows 10 S is dead, it’s now Windows 10 S mode and the baseline SKU will be going away but each version will have an S mode
Note that while Microsoft is making these delineations for OEMs, there will apparently only be 3 Windows 10 Home Editions: Windows 10 Home, Windows 10 Home Advanced, and Windows 10 Home in S Mode. In other words, while OEMs will be able to pay less to put Home on a low end PC, it will still be Windows 10 Home whether it's Entry, Value, or Core, etc. This appears to be a change from Microsoft's earlier policy of allowing OEMs to install Windows 10 on devices smaller than 9" for free.
The addition of Windows 10 Home Advanced is significant, too, as it allows users with high end specced PCs to get the most out of their Core i9 type machines without having to shell out for Windows 10 Pro, if all they want is the high-end specs and not the Bitlocker/Hyper-V additions provided by Pro.
Windows 10 in S Mode
Microsoft is apparently ready to either kill Windows 10 S or greatly expand it, depending on how you look at it. Instead of a single standalone SKU, each edition of Windows will become available (at least to OEMs) with Windows 10 in S Mode variants. While Microsoft will continue to require a ($49) upgrade fee to move from Windows 10 Pro in S Mode to full Pro, it's significant that for the Home SKUs, an upgrade from S Mode to full Home will remain free.
OEMs would be charged the same price for installing Home Editions with S Mode or without, but they could gain some savings by releasing Windows 10 Pro in S Mode versions, according to Brad Sams. This would give OEMs an incentive to sell Pro in S Mode, and an incentive for corporations to consider deploying S Mode instead of full Pro.
Brad Sams made note of a line in the documentation that "Microsoft will improve S mode this year with further improvements to Edge, a new AV/Security Apps capability for third-party AV solutions, and optimizations aimed at low-storage devices."
While Sams has speculated that this may mean some kind of end-around for being able to run AV desktop apps in S Mode, there's a lot we don't know here. Could Microsoft be working with AV vendors to create UWP AV apps, or could vendors be working on Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which will soon be able to run on Windows with those Edge advances? We're doubtful that Microsoft would go to all the trouble to keep S Mode and then open the barn door by allowing some desktop apps to run, but we'll see.
Opening up Windows for low end PC sales
We already know that Microsoft wants to compete in the low end PC market, especially in the education space where Google's Chromebooks are making a dent. This new pricing structure, along with Microsoft's push into Always-On computing with Windows on ARM devices that should start showing up soon, and even the nearly mythical Surface Phone, will help to reposition Windows to run better and more broadly across a wider range of devices. As much as Microsoft may want to push "S Mode" as a way to capture interest in Store apps, it's also a convenient way to get Windows onto OEM devices at a low price.
How will this affect you?
If you're looking to buy a cheap PC, you may be in luck starting as early as later this year, as we would expect OEMs to target Microsoft's lower prices and introduce a new range of PCs either running low end hardware, or S Mode, or both. If you're a gamer looking for a new high end device, you may be able to run Windows 10 Home Advanced instead of Windows 10 Pro, saving you some money. If you're a Windows enthusiast, it looks like we'll have lots to talk about as Microsoft expands the "S Mode" program and OEMs introduce new models and device types, and if you're an OEM, things could start to get real interesting.
Are these pricing and S Mode revelations important to you? Will you consider an S Mode machine when they come to market? Are you excited by the introduction of Windows 10 Home Advanced, when it makes an appearance? Let us know in the comments below.