Microsoft plans to offer customers a new restricted operating system, "Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode," in April or May 2018, according to a marketing director who recently walked IT professionals and developers through the product.
Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode will be a locked-down operating system sibling to Windows 10 S, which Microsoft announced in May.
But while the original 10 S has been tossed at the education market target, Enterprise in S Mode will, not surprisingly, be thrown at businesses.
In a 40-minute session at Ignite, the technology conference Microsoft hosted earlier this month in Orlando, Fla., Augusto Valdez, a director of product marketing in the Windows group, laid out Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode.
"By the spring of 2018, around April or May of 2018, we're going to have a Windows 10 Enterprise version in that [S] mode as well, that will take advantage of the enterprise capabilities that make sense into the S environment itself," said Valdez.
"It's about having the best of Windows 10 S and the best of Windows 10 Enterprise in just one subscription package."
The subscription Valdez referred to was the also-just-announced Microsoft 365 F1 (M365 F1), a US$10-per-month per user plan designed to get companies paying Redmond to equip "first-line" workers with personal computing tools.
Firstline workers, in Microsoft's view, are the employees on the front lines of their organizations, those behind counters or in the field or on factory floors.
Like Windows 10 S, only more
The distinguishing feature of Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode is - like its predecessor, Windows 10 S - this: only apps from the just-renamed Microsoft Store can be installed under the OS and will run on it.
Because users will be blocked from installing and running traditional Win32 applications, Microsoft has argued, the device will be more secure and thus less likely to fall under the sway of hackers.
The company also touted other benefits, all os which surfaced from the apps-only limitation, including faster device boot times, longer device battery lifespans, and perhaps most importantly to the bottom line, simpler management for IT.
It's no surprise that Microsoft spun off Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode from 10 S. When the later debuted months ago, analysts agreed that commercial customers would be just as interested in a hampered operating system as educators.
Only on 10 S devices
Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode is not a SKU (stock-keeping unit) that customers can order from Microsoft or a reseller, or buy at retail, before slapping it on a device.
Although an existing PC running Windows 10 Pro, Windows 10 Education or Windows 10 Enterprise can be converted to one that runs Windows 10 S, Microsoft's emphasis for Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode will be on systems sold by OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) that are powered by the factory-installed Windows 10 S.
Valdez reminded his Ignite audience that Windows 10 S is an OEM product, meaning it is not sold or licensed to end users or customers, but only to computer makers. (On an already-in-place PC that has had Windows 10 S installed, the underlying license is actually the predecessor to 10 S, such as Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise.)
Microsoft and its OEM partners have touted Windows 10 S, even in its current form, as suitable for businesses, notably the first-line workers in the crosshairs of Microsoft 365 F1.
During Ignite, several OEMs, including HP and Lenovo, trotted out new notebooks, some starting as low as $275, that came with Windows 10 S.
Valdez pitched such devices as a boon to corporate customers. "Some of the devices with Windows 10 S are going to have a better total cost of ownership because of the characteristics of the device itself and the price point that we are able to achieve now with Windows 10 S running on a Windows device," Valdez said.
Enter Microsoft 365 F1
If Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode has to start with Windows 10 S, and it's not sold as a license to customers, how do businesses acquire it?
Valdez put it plainly. "If you have a Windows 10 S device, and you subscribe to Microsoft 365 F1, that Windows 10 S device will automatically get upgraded, if you will, into Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode," he said.
M365 F1 consists of three parts: Office 365, Windows 10 and Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS), a collection of device- and user-management services and tools. The included Windows 10 licence, said Valdez, is identical to that provided by Windows 10 Enterprise E3, a different subscription deal that launched last year and runs US$7 per user per month.
"The Windows 10 component of Microsoft 365 F1 is Windows 10 Enterprise," Valdez said at one point in the session. He later specified that it was the same as the E3 plan of Windows 10 Enterprise.
While M365 F1 gives customers the top-tier Windows 10 Enterprise, it also morphs a Windows 10 S PC, automatically changing the operating system to the more capable Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode. Simply activating the subscription on a device does the trick, Valdez said.
And like Windows 10 S, which can be swapped out for Windows 10 Pro -- for a fee -- Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode can mutate into the full Windows 10 Enterprise. If the M365 F1 subscription is still active, the latter change won't cost a dime.
Although Microsoft hasn't said anything beyond the M365 F1 link to Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode, it seems obvious that more could be done along similar lines.
Other subscription plans, for instance, could be equipped with the capability to change Windows 10 S into Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode, which would also give the user rights to upgrade all the way to Windows 10 Enterprise.
Microsoft has talked obliquely about Windows 10 S, and the less expensive hardware designed for it, as suitable for some "information workers," its term for most office workers. To fuel such a campaign, Microsoft could simply add upgrade rights for Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode to, say, Microsoft 365 E3, the corporate subscription it's pushed since the summer.
That flexibility would let IT managers provision a stay-at-the-office PC with Windows Enterprise and the locally-installed Office 365 applications, but at the same time, and for the same user, create a theoretically-more-secure notebook powered by Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode.
In that scenario, only the latter would leave the multi-layered defences of the company's network.