Windows 10 Home vs. Pro vs. S Mode

There is now special mode of Windows for buyers to consider to go along with the two different versions: In addition to Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro, there’s now Windows 10 in S mode.

Which is right for you? Let’s compare all the versions of Windows 10 to find out. Check out what makes each version unique before you buy.

Windows 10 Home

windows 10 adoption slowing home screen user

Home is the standard version of Windows 10, the baseline package designed for the individual user primarily using Windows at home or for take-home schoolwork. This version contains all the features that Microsoft aims at the broad consumer market, such as the Cortana voice assistant, Outlook, OneNote, and Microsoft Edge. Home is still compatible with the Windows Insider program, but it does limit the security and group management services that other versions of Windows have access to.

Windows 10 Home includes all of the features that are likely to be important to a consumer PC user. You’ll find support for all of Windows’ device features, including voice commands, Pen sketches, touch displays, Hello login, and more. While Windows 10 Home doesn’t usually come with a permanent version of the full Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), it does — for good or bad — include free trials for the subscription service Office 365 in hopes that new users will stay subscribed after the trial ends. Office 365’s standard rate is $69 for the one-person Personal version and $99 per year for the five-person Home version. If you don’t like this model, there are still options to buy permanent, individual licenses for a Home/Student version of Office.

In addition, Windows 10 home includes basic device encryption that’s turned on by default, but don’t confuse that with the much more powerful BitLocker encryption service (see below). The Xbox app, game streaming, Xbox controller support, game DVR, and other gaming features are all supported with Windows 10 Home, and there’s also access to the individual version of the cloud storage system OneDrive (with the free version limited to 5GB compared to Office 365’s 1TB), with automatic setup via your Microsoft Account.

Generally speaking, Windows 10 Home is light on professional features, bit it does include Mobile Device Management. That might be helpful for individuals or families that want to control apps and security settings for connected phones.

Windows 10 Pro

Windows 10 Pro

The professional version of Windows 10, as you may have guessed, includes many extra features designed for businesses. It has essentially everything offered by Windows Home, plus extra security and management services. This version of Windows 10 is typically purchased in bulk by companies or schools, although sole proprietors and freelancers may also be interested in buying it.

However, Pro doesn’t have much to offer the average at-home user.To begin with, there’s the powerful and configurable BitLocker Encryption and Windows Information Protection, which helps with advanced access control. These and similar features are valuable to IT administrators. In addition, you’ll find more customizable packages for education and enterprise (particularly large companies) purposes.

Windows 10 Pro includesa ccess to business versions of Microsoft services, including Windows Store for Business, Windows Update for Business, Enterprise Mode browser options, and more. These versions include extra features to buy and upload content in bulk. Options for virtualization, including Remote Desktop compatibility, Client Hyper-V, Shared PC configuration, and more are also on hand.

Note that Microsoft is transitioning to a convergence model for business services called Microsoft 365, which combines elements of Office 365, Windows 10, and larger enterprise packages. This is still a relatively new re-packaging of Windows services, but it may eventually alter how Windows 10 Pro is offered and what services are included. We will update the list if we see significant changes.

Windows 10 in S mode

Asus NovaGo review
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Windows 10 in S mode is a new mode of Windows 10 that Microsoft designed to run on lighter devices and to provide better security and easier management. That ‘S’ doesn’t have a specific designation, but Microsoft generally surrounds it with words like security, streamlined, superior performance … you get the idea. Windows 10 in S mode isn’t another version of Windows 10 — in fact, it can be enabled for wither Windows 10 Home or Pro — but rather it’s a special mode that essentially limits Windows 10 in a variety of ways to make it run faster, provide longer battery life, and be more secure and easier to manage. The idea is that PC manufacturers can ship devices in S mode and make them more competitive with Chromebooks in educational environments and for organizations that need higher security and easier maintenance.

Functionally, S mode supports the same basic functionality as the underlying Windows 10 version. Microsoft is aiming this mode at schools in particular and wants educators to have the necessary tools for class management. However, S mode also removes some significant capabilities to get these results.

The first and most significant different is that Windows 10 in S mode only allows apps to be installed from the Windows Store. This limitation allows Microsoft to root out malware more easily and ensure a certain level of app quality, but it does limit what people can download and use. Note that this limitation also applies to any proprietary software companies may have developed and any security software outside Windows Defender, which makes things very difficult for some businesses.

Next, Microsoft Edge is the default browser in S mode, and that can’t be changed. In theory, if other browsers have Windows Store apps you could use them, but this hasn’t happened yet, and links will always default to Edge. Again, Microsoft’s reason for this is greater control over security. Similarly, Bing is the default search engine for S mode activities.

Startup times and app activities are generally faster on 10 S because there are no Windows legacies apps to slow things down, as long as you aren’t eating up too much RAM. Files are automatically saved in the cloud via OneDrive, similar to how Chrome works on Chromebooks: This helps save space on smaller hard drives. Basic Windows features like Cortana, Windows Hello facial recognition, and Windows Ink for stylus use are still included.

Compatible devices

HP Spectre x360 versus the Microsoft Surface Laptop

Any PC can be compatible with Windows 10 in S mode. The biggest difference is that you’ll only get S Mode if the manufacturer ships it that way. And, all such PCs can easily be switched out of S Mode by visiting the Windows Store and selecting that option. Once the switch is complete, then the PC will be running either Windows 10 Home or Pro depending on the underlying license.

A few PCs are being shipped with Windows 10 in S mode, notably Windows 10 on ARM notebooks like the HP Envy X2 and Asus NovaGo. In addition, a number of manufacturers make low-cost notebooks running in S Mode, such as the Asus VivoBook Flip 14 and Acer Spin 1, and Microsoft’s own Surface Laptop can be purchased this way.

Feature Summary

Windows 10 Home

 

Windows 10 Pro Windows 10 S Mode
Cortana Yes Yes (including O365 integration) Yes
Windows Hello Sign-In Yes Yes Yes
Bitlocker Encryption No Yes Depends on underlying version
Xbox Gaming Yes Yes Yes
Virtualization Services No Remote Desktop, Client Hyper-V, Shared PC Depends on underlying version
App Availability Windows Store and Third Party Windows Store and Third Party (subject to administrator control) Windows Store
Browsers All available All available Edge
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