Living with Windows 10 S: What it’s like to survive on Store apps alone
Windows 10 S will allow users to install only those apps found in the Windows 10 Store. Things aren’t as grim as they were back in the days of Windows 8, when the only apps found in Microsoft’s Store were the “Modern” apps forced to follow Microsoft’s strict and awkward UI guidelines.
Instead, the Store is now comprised of both Universal Windows Programs (mobile-style apps that can run across the full spectrum of Windows devices) and old-school Win32 applications ported to the Store using Desktop Bridge (such as Photoshop Elements).
The Win32 apps have constraints placed on them that don’t apply to regular Windows 10 apps with their own installer, but these largely work in favour of the consumer. They’re not allowed to sneakily add extra programs or background services during installation, for example, and all updates must be provided through the Store, meaning that apps should automatically upgrade to the latest version (if you want them to). We’ve been ploughing through the Windows Store to find out what’s on offer in certain key categories.
Microsoft is naturally very keen that you use its own Edge browser. So keen, in fact, that Windows 10 S won’t allow you to change the default browser, nor can you shift Bing as the default search provider. That noise you can hear is a nation tutting.
There are a couple of niche browsers in the Store. The incredibly basic Monument Browser is, judging by its screenshots and feature set (offline reading, ad blocker), designed for the eight Windows smartphone owners still in existence. It feels very much like a re-skinned Edge on the desktop and can also be installed on the Xbox One console.
Sidekick, meanwhile, is a browser that claims to protect your privacy by automatically blocking site tracking, spyware and pop-ups and wiping your browsing history at the end of every session. It has a bizarre ad-blocker where you must press the Clean button at the top of the browser and click on ads to make them vanish, a system that’s heavy on effort and low on reward.
These are the best of desperately thin pickings.
As with Windows RT, Microsoft has announced it will be bringing its flagship Office apps to Windows 10 S. This time they will appear in the Store rather than pre-installed on PCs. That’s just as well, as there’s little in the way of Office-style apps elsewhere in the Store: no LibreOffice, Scrivener or any of those focused writing apps that clutter the iOS App Store.
Productivity as a category is pretty well served, though. There are apps for Dropbox, TeamViewer, LastPass, Evernote, GoToMeeting and many other well-known brands.
If you don’t want to access Slack through the Edge browser, there’s a dedicated Windows Store app for that, but rivals such as Basecamp, Trello and even Microsoft Teams are all absent – although still accessible
through the browser.
If you’re a developer, the shock news that three of the most popular Linux distros Ubuntu, SUSE and Fedora – are on their way to the Windows Store will come as a very welcome surprise. Even if you’re not a coder, it might even help you get around some of the Store’s conspicuous absentees. Chrome and Firefox both run on Linux, as does Audacity and many other useful apps that aren’t in the Windows Store. It seems odd Microsoft is almost encouraging this “backdoor”.
Creative professionals might struggle to rub along with what’s available in the Windows Store. There’s no Adobe Creative Suite, none of the well-known video editing suites and no Audacity for audio editors.
At a consumer level, Adobe Photoshop Elements 15 is in the Store, but its priced rather handsomely at £77.29 at the time of writing. Given you can buy it for £50 online, it highlights a key disadvantage of Windows 10 S: you can’t shop around. You’re stuck with whatever price the developer sets, and given that Microsoft takes a 30% cut on apps sold through the Store, there’s no real incentive for software developers to sell through that channel when they can take 100% of the profit if they sell directly to consumers.
Aside from Adobe, there’s also a healthy selection of the free or low-cost photo-editing apps that are perennially popular in app stores: Polarr, Phototastic and PhotoFunia to name but a few. You won’t go short if you’re looking to ruin your photos with crazy filters, that’s for sure…
Games are one of Windows 10 S’s strongest hands. Not only does it now have a healthy stock of the lightweight game apps you’ll find on other platforms – various Candy Crush titles, Fallout Shelter, Grand Theft Auto and a Windows 10 version of Minecraft – it also has full-blown PC games nestling in the Store.
There are plenty of AAA titles on offer, including Forza Horizon 3, the Halo range and Gears of War 4. Some of these title support Xbox Play Anywhere, so you can play the game on both the PC or Xbox One console and only pay for it once.
The difficulty here is system requirements: unlike most games you’ll pick up on mobile stores, the PC games each have different minimum specs, but here the Windows Store does something quite clever. The game’s minimum and recommended specs are listed on each app’s page, and Windows automatically puts a tick or cross alongside each spec to show whether your PC is up to the job.
Even if you don’t have a top-of-the-range graphics card, the Windows Store is also beginning to house a selection of titles from indie developers; the kind you’d more often associate with Steam, which aren’t quite as demanding. Titles such as the Monkey Island-like Thimbleweed Park and its quirky 8-bit graphics will run on pretty much any Windows 10 system. Space sandbox game Astroneer is slightly more demanding, but keenly priced at £15.74.
Certainly, no other app store has the breadth and diversity of games that the Windows Store boasts.
You won’t go short of things to watch and listen to with Windows 10 S. The Store includes apps for some of the major video-on-demand apps, such as Netflix and Sky’s Now TV. Amazon Prime and the BBC iPlayer are notable absentees, although both will remain viewable via the web browser. Still, the convenience of offline downloads is lost without dedicated apps.
There is a Windows Store version of the increasingly omnipotent Plex, but its user interface is hateful and the installation of the various add-ons required to get some of the more “interesting” content is hit and miss. We tried to install several add-ons for video services, including BBC iPlayer, but only the Vimeo add-on worked reliably.
The Windows Store does offer both video-on-demand and music itself. It’s always mind-boggling why people would pay £20 for a season pass to a series such as Better Call Saul when you could buy a month’s worth of Netflix at £8.99 to watch the entire canon and much more besides instead, but, judging by the charts, people do.
Music can be purchased as individual tracks or albums, although Microsoft steers you towards the £8.99 Groove Music Pass at every opportunity, which offers a promised library of 40 million tracks to stream across pretty much any device. However, with Spotify and (large gulp) iTunes both on their way to the Windows Store, Groove faces stiff streaming competition.