The Surface Go 3, which ships in S Mode
Microsoft

Some Windows 10 or Windows 11 PCs, like Microsoft’s Surface Go 3, come with “Windows 10 in S Mode” or “Windows 11 in S Mode.” PCs in S Mode can only install applications from the Microsoft Store. But you’re free to leave S Mode, if you like.

Update: We originally wrote this article for Windows 10, and little has changed for Windows 11. If you have a PC running Windows 10 in S Mode and you upgrade to Windows 11, your PC will now be running Windows 11 in S Mode.

What Is S Mode?

Windows 10's Store

Windows 10 or Windows 11 in S Mode is a more limited, locked-down Windows operating system. On Windows 10 in S Mode, you can only install apps from the Store, and you can only browse the web with Microsoft Edge. On Windows 11 in S Mode, you can install other browsers from the Microsoft Store—but Edge will always be your default browser.

Microsoft is pitching security, speed, and stability here. Because Windows can only run apps from the Store, malware from the web won’t be able to run. You can’t install applications from the web, so they can’t install startup tasks that slow down your boot process or junkware that hides in the background and spies on you.

S Mode also pushes the Bing search engine. While in S Mode, the Microsoft Edge web browser uses Bing as its default search engine. You can’t change Edge’s default search engine to Google or anything else without leaving S Mode first. You can still use other search engines in Edge, for example by navigating to Google.com.

Windows 10 in S Mode can’t use command-line shells like PowerShell, Command Prompt, or Bash, either. Various other developer tools are also off limits. You don’t have direct access to the Windows Registry via the Registry Editor, either.

If all the applications you want to run are available in the Microsoft Store, S Mode is a more secure experience. That’s why Microsoft initially pitched S Mode for schools. You can run Microsoft Edge, Microsoft Office, and anything else available in the Store, including apps like Apple iTunes and Spotify.

It’s a bit like Apple’s iOS operating system on an iPhone or iPad, which only allows you to install apps from the App Store. But S Mode limits you to the Windows apps available in the Microsoft Store.

S Mode Is Optional

Windows 10's Start menu

Windows 10’s S Mode is optional, and so is Windows 11’s. Most Windows 10 and Windows 11 PCs come with standard Windows 10 Home or Windows 11 Home operating systems that let you run software from everywhere. PCs that ship with S Mode will say they use “Windows 10 Home in S Mode” or “Windows 11 Home in S Mode” in their product specifications.

Even if you purchase a PC in S Mode, you can leave S Mode for free. It doesn’t cost anything, but it is a one-time decision—once you’ve taken the PC out of S Mode, you can never put it back into S Mode.

We don’t know why Microsoft makes this a one-way process. But that’s what Microsoft did. (See Microsoft’s official S Mode documentation for confirmation of this.)

How to Check If You’re Using S Mode

You can check whether you’re using S Mode by heading to Settings > System > About. On the About page, scroll down to the “Windows Specifications” section.

If you see the words “in S mode” to the right of the Edition entry, you’re using an S Mode PC. If you don’t, you’re not using S Mode.

"Windows 10 Pro in S Mode" displayed in Windows 10's Settings app.

Should I Buy a PC With S Mode?

Because it’s easy and free to leave S Mode, there’s no downside to buying a Windows 10 or Windows 11 PC that comes with S Mode. Even if you don’t want S Mode, you can easily switch out of it.

For example, Microsoft only sells the Surface Laptop in S Mode. But that’s fine—even if you want a Surface Laptop that runs a standard Windows operating system, you can just buy it and take it out of S Mode for free.

Should I Use the PC in S Mode?

S Mode sounds limited, and that’s the point. If you only need a basic Microsoft Edge web browser, Microsoft Office applications like Word, and anything else that’s available in the Microsoft Store, you should try using the PC in S Mode. The S Mode restrictions provide additional protection against malware.

PCs running in S Mode can also be ideal for young students, business PCs that only need a few applications, and less experienced computer users.

Of course, if you need software that isn’t available in the Store, you have to leave S Mode. But you can try using the PC in S Mode for a while and see how well it works for you. You can leave S Mode at any point.

Remember: While you can leave S Mode whenever you like, your choice to leave S Mode is a permanent decision. Once you’ve left S Mode, you can never put the PC back into S Mode. It will use a standard Windows 10 Home or Windows 11 Home operating system. However, you can choose to only allow apps from the Store on Windows 10 or on Windows 11.

How to Leave S Mode

To leave S Mode, open the Store app on your PC and search for “Switch out of S Mode.” The Store will guide you through taking your PC out of S Mode.

The "Switch out of S Mode" page in the Microsoft Store.

How is S Mode Different From Windows 10 S?

Starting with the April 2018 Update, Windows 10’s “S Mode” replaces Windows 10 S. Windows 10 S worked similarly, but it was technically a separate “edition” of Windows 10 instead of a “mode.”

Most editions of Windows 10 can be placed into S Mode. You can buy PCs with either Windows 10 Home in S Mode or Windows 10 Professional in S Mode, and organizations can use Windows 10 Enterprise in S Mode. However, only a PC’s manufacturer can place it into S Mode. Most Windows 10 PCs don’t ship in S Mode.

Microsoft also lets you leave Windows 10 S Mode without spending any additional money. So, if you need software that isn’t available in the Microsoft Store, you can get it without spending any money. Microsoft planned a $50 fee to leave Windows 10 S.

Any existing PCs with Windows 10 S will be converted to Windows 10 Professional in S Mode when they install the April 2018 Update.

RELATED: What Is Windows 10 S, and How Is It Different?

What About Windows 10 on ARM?

Microsoft is now shipping Windows 10 PCs that use ARM processors (and Windows 11 PCs that use ARM processors, too). These computers have an emulation layer that allows them to run traditional Windows software.

While these ARM PCs may ship in S Mode, you can also choose to leave S Mode for free on these PCs. That will let you install 32-bit desktop applications from everywhere, although many demanding applications and games don’t perform well in the emulation layer.

Many S Mode PCs have Intel processors. A PC with any type of hardware can be configured in S Mode, and Windows 10 on ARM PCs don’t have to use S Mode.

RELATED: What Is Windows 10 on ARM, and How Is It Different?

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read nearly one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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