Windows 10 S vs Chrome OS

Comparing the stripped-back version of Microsoft's desktop OS to Google's web-based equivalent

20 January 2020

Microsoft’s release of Windows 10 S was a clear ploy to target Chrome OS. Google’s software was previously dominating the budget market, so Microsoft had to prove it could also provide a simplified experience. 

What is Windows 10 S?

Windows 10 S is Microsoft’s slimmed down version of Windows 10 that is clearly aimed at both the education and entry level markets. While it is still a proper version of Windows 10, S does have some purposeful limitations intended to make the operating system fast, secure, and simple to run.

It was only available on the Microsoft Surface Laptop at launch, but that has since expanded to a wide range of laptops from the likes of Lenovo, HP and Asus. These are all budget devices, often with flexibility such as a detachable keyboard. 




Which features are missing?

Windows 10 S looks and acts like standard Windows 10 in many ways. In fact, Microsoft describes it as a ‘specific configuration of Windows 10 Pro that offers a familiar, productive Windows experience that is streamlined for security and performance’.  

The major difference is that this is a locked down environment that will only allow you to download apps from the Windows Store.

Microsoft says this is to ensure security, as all the apps will be vetted to guarantee no nasty malware will make its way onto the system.

This tight control over the system is also posited to prevent PCs from slowing down over time, which is often caused by cruft building up in the start-up sequences as well as apps making demands of system resources.

This may frustrate people who are used to being able to download software through a browser, but we would recommend a different version of Windows if you are looking for this functionality. It makes Windows 10 S perfect for education, where students may have access to a PC for long periods while working. 

Google’s Chrome OS is another lightweight system that acts as the powering force behind Chromebooks.

While Windows 10 S is more of a traditional PC-style operating system that installs apps locally on the hard drive, Chrome OS looks to the internet as its primary source.

Apps can be downloaded from the Google Play Store, as is the case on Android devices. However, they are shopfronts for web-based apps, as nearly everything Chrome OS does is online. 

If you have used the Chrome browser, then the layout of Chrome OS is pretty much identical. Everything is conducted through browser windows, with the majority of tasks linking to servers in the cloud.

Originally this meant that using Chrome OS offline was pretty much impossible, but over the years a number of apps – including Google’s own Docs, Numbers, Sheets, and others – now allow you to work offline and then sync with the web servers once you find a Wi-Fi point.

Windows 10 S is definitely more advanced in terms of file management and design, but the simplicity of Chrome OS can be very good for casual users who just want to browse the web or do basic office-related tasks.

What browsers and search engines do they use?

As you might suspect from proprietary systems like these your choice of browsers and search engines are very limited indeed.

On Windows 10 S you are supplied the Microsoft Edge browser, and you would better like it because it is the only one you are going to get. The same goes for the Bing search engine.

Thankfully Edge has become a lot more useful in recent years, particularly once Microsoft added compatibility with a host of extensions, including ad-blockers.

Edge also has some pretty cool features built-in such as a reading list, Cortana-enabled voice search, a simplified view to make reading webpages easier, and pen integration so you can annotate a webpage with either a stylus or the trackpad.

Chrome OS takes a similar approach, with the only browser on offer being the titular Chrome. This is not that much of a drawback though, as Chrome is now the most popular browser in the world.

Chrome is very mature platform, with lots of useful extensions and fast rendering of pages. It is also regularly updated to keep things running smoothly. While it does not allow you to install another browser, you can change the default search engine to Yahoo, Bing, Ask, or AOL if you prefer.

There is some question over whether the amount of functionality in Chrome is now beginning to slow down overall performance, and Microsoft is currently claiming that Edge will give users 45% more battery life than a similar machine running Chrome.

What apps are available?

As both operating systems only allow apps that come from their relevant stores, the choices available are slightly different.

The Windows Store does have some pretty big hitters available, including streaming sites such as Netflix, Now TV, BT Sport, and Spotify.

Productivity is accounted for with Office online, Evernote, OneNote, Skype, Adobe Photoshop, and Wunderlist, plus there are a number of games and general lifestyle apps. We now also have editing software such as Adobe Lightroom, although do not expect the likes of Premiere Pro just yet.

There is even an iTunes app, which will continue to be supported despite Apple retiring it on macOS Catalina. 

Obviously, Windows 10 S does not have the huge selection of software that traditional Windows offers, but for browsing, shopping, and light work it has got plenty of options covered.

Chrome OS has slowly been building up a solid selection of apps on the Google Play Store over the years, and many of the streaming and productivity apps mentioned above are also to be found here.

Bear in mind though that Chromebooks are primarily designed to work online, so the need for local apps is something of an afterthought. By that token Windows 10 S can also access many of the same web-based apps used in Chrome OS. 

One interesting addition that is slowly appearing on Chrome OS is the ability to run Android apps locally on some of the newer machines.

What hardware is available?

For the most part Chromebooks are cheap and cheerful devices that usually cost around £250 and work well. You can get very compact units like the Asus Flip, or larger offerings such as the Acer Chromebook 14, that comes with a big 14-inch screen and spacious keyboard.  

There is even a flagship device in the Google Pixelbook, which is absolutely gorgeous, but hard to justify spending almost four figures on it. Fortunately, a budget version in the Pixelbook Go has proven to be much better value for money.

Due to their low cost and decent productivity Chromebooks have become popular with schools, kids, and casual users. They are also a great internet browsing machine to buy your gran, as they need next to no IT support from you once you set them up.

Windows 10 S is similarly well-supported, with the headliner being Microsoft’s own Surface Laptop 3. However, there is also plenty of choice if you are on a budget, with the likes of HP, Acer and Lenovo all releasing laptops for under £300. At this price point, they are directly competing with Chromebooks on the affordable end of the market. 

Which is best?

The decision between the two will likely come down to personal preference. 

Windows 10 S is an interesting idea, taking the world’s dominant desktop OS and making it even more secure and stable.   With these refinements come limitations though, ones that might be a bit much for long-term Windows fans.

If you can find the apps you want, and do not mind Edge as your main gateway to the web, then Windows 10 S could be a simple and enjoyable place to spend some time.

Chrome OS offers many of the same advantages – easy to use, cheap devices, plenty of apps – and has excellent integration with Google programs, which may be a deciding factor.

Having access to the Play Store is a nice touch, but in reality, these mobile-designed apps are not optimised for the bigger screen.

Ultimately, if you want a stripped-down OS where you can get on with basic tasks, do some shopping, and watch YouTube and a plethora of online content, then either will do just fine.

The main decider might well be which world you want to inhabit – Google’s or Microsoft’s.

IDG News Service

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