Microsoft’s Surface Laptop isn’t just a laptop, it’s also a demonstration platform for Microsoft’s new, locked down variant of Windows, dubbed Windows 10 S. This version of the OS heavily restricts the applications you can run, limiting users to products downloaded from the Windows Store. It also prevents users from changing the default search engine or browser, limiting you to Edge and Bing.
This kind of lockdown has its uses, particularly in the education markets that Microsoft is targeting. But the company is clearly trying to avoid the headaches that struck when users bought Windows RT systems, only to discover that despite looking like Windows, they couldn’t actually run Windows applications. Microsoft’s solution to this problem is to allow all Surface Laptop owners to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for free until the end of the year (upgrades after that point will cost an additional $ 50).
Previously, upgrading to Windows 10 Pro was a one-way affair, with no way to reset the machine to Windows 10 S. Microsoft is now offering an option to reset a machine and reinstall Windows 10 S’ restrictions, but it won’t be particularly easy. You’ll have to wipe the machine and install a recovery image that you previously downloaded from Microsoft’s own website. This isn’t a huge problem, but it’s a little odd that you can upgrade from one version of Windows 10 to another without doing a full OS install, but you can’t roll the process back.
Of course, rolling back in this fashion would mean losing the ability to run apps from sources other than the Windows Store. Presumably that’s why MS requires a full reinstall. It may simply be too difficult to prevent Win32 applications from running once they’ve already installed.
Hat tip to Mashable for finding this info, but I’ve got to disagree with the writer on this: “Microsoft’s Surface Laptop is one of the best Windows 10 laptops you can buy and a solid alternative to Apple’s MacBook Pro.” The MacBook Pro isn’t particularly repairable, and it’s generally overpriced relative to equivalent hardware in the PC market. But the Surface Laptop isn’t well specified compared with other laptops you can buy. It’s also essentially unrepairable.
I’m willing to grant that Windows 10 S is a real value for certain markets that can use it, and that it gives the Surface Laptop a specific value proposition. Unfortunately, the iFixit teardown has revealed just how tenuous that value proposition is. With the entire machine unable to be repaired in any particular fashion, and given the beating that laptops take, owning and distributing a fleet of systems based on the Surface Laptop is incredibly risky.
Still, being able to roll the system back to Windows 10 S is handy if the Windows 10 Store improves or you decide to hand a personal machine off to a kid for their own laptop without worrying about it degenerating into a malware-ridden wreck in under a week. It’s not enough for me to recommend the Surface Laptop as a general system, but if you fit the machine’s target use case, it should serve you well.
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