What is Windows 11 S mode and should you use it?

Windows S mode completely locks down your computer. Once activated, S mode allows you to take advantage of the highest level of security that Microsoft has to offer. However, there are limits.

These limitations, by themselves, wouldn’t bother you if you’re not an experienced user or want your child to use the technology safely. You’ll also like S mode if you’re a business person who handles sensitive documents.

However, if you’re a power user or an adult who prefers the flexibility to make their own choices, you should get a full picture before getting a Windows 11 S mode computer. So let’s explore what it is and if it’s is for you.

What is Windows 11 S mode, exactly?

S mode is a feature created by Microsoft to provide users with a secure and smooth experience with the Windows operating system. In this mode, your computer only has access to basic resources and drivers. Most notably, S Mode freezes all other apps that are hogging your RAM and processes that can load your CPU. Windows S Mode will look very familiar to you if you’ve used a Chromebook.

Should you use your PC in S mode?

It depends. Here are four reasons why you might consider using a PC in Windows S Mode:

1. You want to keep your child safe

S mode limits the apps that can run on the computer to Microsoft Store apps only. Thus, your child cannot download software from third-party sources. Plus, they can only browse the web on Microsoft Edge, with added online security to prevent them from visiting dangerous websites. However, the browser does not exactly block access to all sites. So you should consider other parental control options for PC.

You can also buy a standard PC for your child and put it in S mode if you don’t want to buy a Chromebook for almost the same price. You can then take the computer out of S mode as their technical needs increase. But remember that disabling S mode is quite simple and your school-age child can learn how to bypass parental controls.

2. You handle sensitive documents

Windows S mode prevents users from installing third-party apps. This restriction means that your chances of installing malware on your computer are significantly reduced. Thus, if you are a businessman who regularly handles documents containing company secrets, you can use your personal computer in S mode.

Remember that you cannot run in-house or proprietary software in S-mode. So if your company has developed an application for its business, running in S-mode will prevent you from using it. Using your computer in S mode is only useful when you get a business laptop running Windows Pro or Enterprise.

3. You want to do a digital detox

If you need to escape the digital noise, but can’t completely avoid your PC, consider an S Mode PC that can help. The games on Microsoft Store aren’t the most exciting. And many handy third-party apps aren’t there either. Thus, you will only use the applications necessary for your productivity.

However, remember that S mode is a one-way street. There’s no leaving S mode and going back. So, if you need to install a new non-Microsoft Store app for work, you’ll need to exit S Mode. The alternative would be to use a separate computer or web version of the app, if available.

4. You want the Chromebook experience

S mode gives you a Chromebook-like experience. So you can get a high-end PC and try out S mode for days or weeks. This way you can decide if you want all that power or if the basics work for you. More importantly, you retain the ability to leave whenever you want, something you don’t get in Chromebooks.

5. Your computer boots faster

If you’ve been using a Windows computer for a while, you’ll notice that it takes longer to start up as you install more apps. This lag is because some autorun apps start running in the background once you turn on your computer. Third-party software and malware, in particular, cause this lag. S mode allows you to use applications optimized for Windows and reduces the risk of contracting malware that slows down your computer.

What are the disadvantages of using S mode?

Your computer works as Microsoft intended: safely and efficiently. However, there are drawbacks:

1. You can only get apps from the Microsoft Store

As seen on this Microsoft dev blog, Windows S users can only run Modern Universal Windows Platform (UWP) store apps. These are applications that Microsoft developers have directly created or verified. Other types of apps provided through third-party licenses to the Microsoft Store will not be available in S mode.

2. You can’t use the command line or code editors

S mode is not for you if you are a developer, hacker, administrator, or IT person managing a network of corporate computers. S mode prevents users from using Windows Terminal or PowerShell. You can’t use Linux either. The main reason is that these apps run outside the secure environment that protects the operating system from malware. So VS Code, other code editors and developer tools are irrelevant.

3. Windows registry is forbidden

Like the command line and code editors, the Windows Registry is also prohibited for S-Mode users. The Registry is a powerful database of configuration settings that allows power users to customize Windows to their liking, beyond usual settings. However, tinkering with the Windows registry can harm your PC, which the S mode clamshell is designed to prevent.

How to Enable S Mode in Windows 11

You can’t exactly enable S mode; it is pre-installed or bundled with the operating system. So when you get a new laptop, you have the option of using it in S mode when you first set it up. Some computers, like the Surface, come with S mode only, and you don’t have this option to try S mode first.

How to Exit S Mode in Windows 11

Before you begin, note that exiting S mode is a one-way street. You cannot leave and come back.

That said, the first step is to check if your PC is running in S mode in the first place. You can do this by browsing Windows > Settings > System > About. Your Windows spec will indicate if you’re running Windows 11 Home in S mode.

If your PC is indeed running Windows 11 Home in S mode, you can exit by navigating:

  • Windows > Settings > System > Activation
  • Click Upgrade your edition of Windows
  • Follow the instructions on the screen

Windows S mode: fast, secure, but limited

Mode S relieves you of the responsibility of maintaining your cybersecurity. You also get fast performance from your hardware. This nature makes Mode S better suited for people who don’t want to tinker with technology. If you still can’t make up your mind, the good news is that you can buy a regular PC and try S mode. The catch is that you can’t go back once you’ve decided to take things in hand.

About Jon Moses

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