The Siliconreview
30 November, 2021

Elizabeth Lucas works as a copywriter and web developer for the professional writing She is interested in technologies which give her an inspiration to write her own articles and short stories.

The S mode is a restricted version of Windows 10 and 11. The Silicon Review reveals what it brings, what it lacks and how to switch to the standard system.

If you buy a cheap computer, you will often find a special Windows version on it - the so-called S mode or "safe mode". This is a restricted and therefore protected variant for the educational sector, which offers some advantages, but also disadvantages compared to the standard operating system. The Silicon Review explains the differences and shows you how to exit or upgrade the S mode.

What is Windows S mode?

In May 2017 Microsoft presented "Windows 10 S" initially as an independent, cloud-based edition of its operating system. The reason was the continued advance of Google's competitor Chrome OS in US schools. There, the Windows manufacturer had lost massive market shares to the Chromebooks equipped with Google software. Pre-installed on cheap "Cloudbooks" like the Surface Laptop, Windows 10 S should break Google's supremacy. But the special edition flopped and was integrated into the regular operating system as S mode with the April 2018 update (version 1803). Windows 10 (or more recently Windows 11) in S mode can be found on many notebooks in the lower price segment today and offers special advantages in school use. The slimmed-down Windows can be managed via the cloud, for example, and is equipped with comprehensive rights management (Microsoft Intune) for teachers.

S mode: what are the advantages?

Although the restrictions in S mode seem daunting to most private users, it also offers advantages:

  • Fast: Since Windows 10 does not have any functions here, the computer in S mode should use less system performance and therefore be faster.
  • Frugal: The S mode is satisfied with relatively weak hardware and only requires 4 gigabytes of RAM and 64 gigabytes of storage space (SSD or eMMC drive). This also promises a long battery life.
  • Safe: Apart from Microsoft Teams, only Windows apps from the Microsoft Store can be installed in S mode. The software giant promises to strictly check what ends up in the store and what doesn't - similar to Apple with its App Store. This is usually an important prerequisite for educational and corporate use.
  • Supervised: If Windows 10 is running in S mode, it can be managed via the Microsoft Intune rights management. Teachers can use it to set whether the webcam is working and which apps can be installed.

S mode: what are the downsides?

Compared to regular Windows 10, there are a couple of decisive limitations in S mode:

  • Fewer programs: Normal users are naturally annoyed by the aforementioned restriction to the Microsoft Store, because there was previously a yawning emptiness there. After all, with the release of Windows 11, Microsoft dropped previous specifications for its software store, which means that more classic desktop programs are finally available there. The new Microsoft Store is also available for Windows 10. Programs from other sources download area are still taboo.
  • Microsoft drivers only: The above restriction also applies to device drivers that are exclusively provided by Microsoft via Windows Update. This means that special drivers cannot be installed manually for certain devices. This is annoying, for example, with multifunction printers that only offer certain features via the manufacturer's driver.
  • Forced browser: Due to the restriction to the store, users in S mode were also previously restricted to Microsoft's Edge browser. And although Firefox is now also available there, no other browser can be set up as the standard browser in S mode. Microsoft confirms this in an FAQ.
  • Forced search service: The same applies to Microsoft's search engine Bing, which is hard-wired into Windows search or Cortana.

What does Windows 10 S mode cost?

The 10 S mode is only available pre-installed on new devices. However, Microsoft is demanding lower license fees from the hardware manufacturers in order to compete with the Chromebooks. For this reason, the variant can be found on many entry-level devices for around 300$. Even those switching from some Windows editions can switch to S mode free of charge. If you want to leave this, you initially had to purchase a license to switch to Windows 10 Pro. Microsoft is now doing without that. See the following sections for instructions.

Install Windows S mode

For Windows 10 there is the free Windows 10 S Downloader. This will switch you from standard Windows to S mode. But be careful, the installation only works with systems that are already running Windows 10. It must also be an edition used by educational institutions. These are:

  • Windows 10 Pro
  • Windows 10 Pro Education
  • Windows 10 Education
  • Windows 10 Enterprise

However, if you have the "normal" home version of Windows 10 (see Start> Settings> System> Info), you can install the S mode but not activate it. In addition, the way back is rocky! Microsoft offers detailed instructions for those interested.

Deactivate Windows S mode

In most cases, however, PC buyers want to exit the restricted S mode, for example to enable the standard version of Windows on an entry-level device. Fortunately, this path is very easy and free, but it cannot be reversed! Please note, therefore, that you will forego some of the advantages listed above and, for example, no longer be able to use the computer as intended at school. That is how it goes:

  1. Click Start and then click Settings.
  2. In the settings, select Update & Security and Activation.
  3. Under "Switch to Windows 10 Home" or "Switch to Windows 10 Pro" click on Go to Store.
  4. In the Microsoft Store, click the Get or Download button.

Complete. You can now install apps from outside the Microsoft Store.

Windows: Allow only Microsoft Store

Windows also offers a significant advantage of S mode - protection against "sideloading" from unknown sources - in standard mode. In this way, for example, you protect young children from installing unwanted programs and receive limited protection against malware. That is how it goes:

  1. Click Start and Settings.
  2. Click on Apps.
  3. For example, under "Choose sources to get apps from," click Everywhere, then click Microsoft Store only (Recommended). Alternatively, select the option Everywhere - but notify me if a comparable app is available in the Microsoft Store. Then installations from unknown sources are possible, but Windows may offer a safe alternative from the store.

If you would like to start a conventional software setup, repeat the instructions and select the option Everywhere.

Can I upgrade to Windows 11?

It depends. The basic requirement is, of course, that the device meets the system requirements of Windows 11. If the S mode then hides the home version of Windows 10 - this is usually the case with privately purchased entry-level devices - a Windows 11 upgrade is possible. You will then automatically receive Windows 11 in S mode.

If, on the other hand, it is a special school device with the Pro, Enterprise or Education Edition of Windows 10, you would first have to exit S mode in order to be able to upgrade to Windows 11. If the device is owned by a school, stay away from it and speak to the administrator first. Most likely, the computer will soon be converted to the new Windows 11 SE anyway.