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Windows 10 Home vs. Pro vs. S mode

Believe it or not, Microsoft serves up 12 versions of its Windows 10 operating system. For the mainstream market, you’ll find desktops and laptops packing Windows 10 Pro, Windows 10 Home, and Windows 10 in S mode.

But what are the differences between Windows 10 Home and Pro? And what is Windows 10 in S Mode? Which one is right for you?

Then what about Windows 11, Microsoft’s newest operating system? Are the versions of Windows 11 the same as Windows 10?

Let’s do a comparison to discover what makes them unique so you can make the right decision when purchasing your next PC — or when upgrading your current OS.

Windows 10 Home

A man in front of a Windows 10 PC.

Home is the standard version of Windows 10, the baseline package designed for the general user primarily accessing Windows at home. This version contains all the core features targeting a 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 made available to other versions.

Windows 10 Home includes all of the features that are likely important to the general user. You’ll find support for voice commands, pen sketches, touch displays, Windows Hello login, and more. Windows 10 Home also includes integral device encryption that’s turned on by default, but don’t confuse that with the much more powerful BitLocker encryption service (see below).

While Windows 10 Home doesn’t usually come installed with the full Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.), it does — for good or bad — include a 30-day free trial for the Microsoft 365 subscription service in hopes that new users will subscribe once the trial ends. There’s also access to Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage, with automatic setup via your Microsoft Account. The free version provides 5GB, whereas you can get additional storage through the Microsoft 365 subscription.

For gamers, the Xbox app, game streaming, Xbox controller support, game DVR, and more are all supported with Windows 10 Home.

Generally speaking, Windows 10 Home is light on professional features, but 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

The Windows 10 Pro Start Menu.

The professional version of Windows 10 includes many extra features designed for businesses. It has virtually everything offered by Windows Home, plus additional security and management services. This version of Windows 10 is typically purchased in bulk by companies or schools, though you can configure desktops and laptops to include it versus using Home.

Although Home and Pro have the same root features, the added items provided in Pro aren’t necessary for the average at-home user. For example, there’s the powerful and configurable BitLocker Encryption and Windows Information Protection, which helps with advanced access control.

You’ll also find more customizable packages for education and enterprise purposes. You’ll even find access to cool features like Windows Sandbox, which lets you run untrusted apps in a virtual environment.

Windows 10 Pro includes access 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 include Remote Desktop compatibility, Client Hyper-V, Shared PC configuration, Azure Active Directory, and more.

That all said, the additional features in Windows 10 Pro are valuable to IT administrators but not to the general PC owner.

Note that Microsoft 365 combines elements of Office 365, Windows 10, and Mobility and Security features. It’s a re-packaging of Windows services across the board. Packages like the E5, E3, and F1 plans include Windows 10 Enterprise at no additional cost.

Windows 10 in S mode

The Asus Novago laptop.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Windows 10 in S mode is a version of Windows 10 that Microsoft configured to run on lighter devices, provide better security, and enable easier management. The “S” doesn’t have a specific designation, but Microsoft generally surrounds it with words like security, streamlined, superior performance, and whatnot.

Windows 10 in S mode isn’t another version of Windows 10. Instead, it’s a special mode that substantially 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. You can opt out of this mode and revert to Windows 10 Home or Pro (see below).

Functionally, S mode supports the same basic services as the underlying Windows 10 license. Microsoft targets 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 difference is that Windows 10 in S mode only allows apps to be installed from the Windows Store. This limitation enables Microsoft to root out malware more efficiently and ensure a certain level of app quality, but it does limit what people can download and use.

Next, Microsoft Edge is the default browser in S mode, and you can’t change this setting. 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 in S mode, which is a plus. The reason for the speed is that there are no Windows legacy apps to slow things down. As long as you aren’t eating up too much RAM, S mode is positively snappy. Files automatically save in the cloud via OneDrive, which helps avoid bloat on smaller hard drives. Basic Windows features like Cortana, Windows Hello facial recognition, and Windows Ink for stylus use also remain.

Compatible devices

A Surface Laptop next to a pair of glasses.

Any PC can be compatible with Windows 10 in S mode. To get S mode, you’ll have to request that the manufacturer ship it that way.

A few PCs currently ship with Windows 10 in S mode. Notably, the Windows 10 on ARM notebooks like the HP Envy x2 and Asus NovaGo come with S mode ingrained. Also, several manufacturers make low-cost notebooks running in S Mode. The Asus VivoBook Flip 14 and Acer Spin 1 are two noteworthy examples. Another choice is to buy Microsoft’s Surface Laptop with out-of-the-box S Mode. Even premium devices like the Samsung Galaxy Book S come with Windows 10 S.

Switching out of Windows 10 S mode

the first step in switching a PC out of S mode.

Windows 10 S mode has numerous limitations, including browser restrictions to Edge and only letting you use Microsoft Store apps. That’s not great for many, so you should know how to switch out of it and to the default mode if your laptop arrives in S mode.

Step 1: Search for Settings in the Start Menu’s search box, and select the result to open the window. Choose Update & Security, then go to the Activation section.

Step 2: Here, you will see a heading for Switch to Windows 10 Home or Switch to Windows 10 Pro, depending on which version can be enabled on your device. Below that, select the option that says Go to the Store.

Step 3: A Store window will pop up with the option to Switch Out of S mode. Choose Get to start running the update, and confirm. There is a chance that this requires Admin access.

Many sometimes have trouble with this step. Errors usually come from an out-of-date OS. Update Windows 10 and try again after a few hours. 

When you disable S mode, you can’t go back, and your phone will never have it again. Only run this procedure if you don’t ever want S mode.

Feature summary of Windows 10 Home, Pro, and S

It can be challenging to work through all 12 Windows OS options to decide which one is right for your needs. All three mainstream versions are on this list and should give you the best choices for general computing or school. 

Windows 10 Home Windows 10 Pro Windows 10 S Mode
Cortana Yes Yes Yes
Windows Hello Yes Yes Yes
Bitlocker encryption No Yes Depends on the
underlying version
Xbox gaming Yes Yes Yes
Virtualization services No Remote Desktop
Client Hyper-V
Shared PC
Depends on the
underlying version
App availability Windows Store
third-party
Windows Store
third-party
Windows Store only
Browsers All available All available Edge/Bing

Different versions of Windows 11

A woman in front of a Windows 11 laptop.

Windows 11 is still in beta testing but comes in the same flavors as Windows 10. It introduces some big visual changes like a new Start Menu, Taskbar, and more rounded corners — we compared Windows 11 to Windows 10 in a separate piece, if you want to learn more — but the core of Windows 11 is much the same.

When it comes to Windows 11 editions, the differences are very minimal. Everything we mentioned above also applies to the new Windows 11 operating system. There is, however, one exception.

In Windows 11 Home, Microsoft mandates you to use a Microsoft account for login. This can be removed once you set up the PC and add a secondary account, but it will be required the first time you boot up the system. Using a Microsoft account gets you a lot of extra experiences like cross-device sync, the ability to download apps from the store, and more. Check out our Windows 11 hands-on if you’re interested in trying out the new operating system.

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