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How to switch from Windows 10 S to Pro, and back again

It’s easy to go from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro. Switching back is harder, but still possible.

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The switch from Windows 10 S to Windows Pro is both free and fast.

Screenshot by Brianne Garrett/CNET

Windows 10 S is the latest version of Microsoft Windows, and you'll find it mostly on low-cost PCs aimed at schools and students, as well as on the premium Surface Laptop. It's a "walled garden" version of Windows, meaning it promises a safer, more secure experience by only allowing software found in the official Windows app store to be installed. Try to download and install something like the Google Chrome browser or Photoshop, and Windows 10 S will tell you that it's just not allowed.

Fortunately, upgrading to the full version of Windows 10 Pro is quick and easy. If you ever want to switch back, there's a way to do that, too -- although it's much more complicated and time-consuming (and will wipe your data in the process.).

Switching from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro

Go to the Windows Start button on the bottom left of your screen and click on the Settings icon, then select Update & Security within the settings menu.

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There are two ways to switch from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro: Go directly to the Windows store or try downloading a forbidden app to be directed to the installation page.

Screenshot by Brianne Garrett/CNET

Once there, select Activation and then Go to Store. That will take you to a "Switch to Windows 10 Pro" page and it's time to install. Click the install button, labeled "Free," to begin the installation process. Be sure to save all of your work before hitting the "Yes, let's go" option to begin the upgrade.

Here's another way: you can also simply download a forbidden app (anything not from the official Microsoft app store) and try to install it. A pop-up window will ask if you want to see how to install it, and you'll be directed to the same upgrade page.

It only takes a few minutes, if that, and soon enough your computer will be updated to Windows 10 Pro. It's that easy.

To revert to Windows 10 S -- it's complicated

At first, Microsoft said it was impossible to revert to Windows 10 S from Pro once you did the initial upgrade. However, the company soon after made a disk image -- a giant file for resetting your hard drive -- available for download. You can get it here, but you'll need your Surface Laptop's serial number.

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In order to switch back to Windows 10 S, you'll first need your Surface product's serial number to download a recovery image.

Screenshot by Brianne Garrett/CNET

Next, you'll need a USB drive. Download the recovery image file to your Surface laptop, then install it on the USB drive. Keep in mind that creating this Surface recovery drive will erase anything that was previously stored on your USB drive, so don't use one with important files on it.

Turn your Surface off, plug it into its power connector and insert your USB recovery drive into the USB port on the side of the Surface.

Then, press and hold the volume-down button while pressing and releasing the power button. When you see the Surface logo appear on screen, you can release the volume button. That will start the recovery process.

Run the recovery utility to get Windows 10 S back:

Select Troubleshoot > Recover. If you're asked what to recovery, you can hit "skip this drive" at the bottom of the screen. Then, select the current operating system that's installed on your computer.

Next, select either one of these options: Just remove my files or Fully clean the drive. That controls how much Microsoft will shred the data currently on your hard drive.

Finally, you can select "recover," which will restart your Surface and install Windows 10 S from the USB key. It can take a good deal longer than the simple Windows 10 S to 10 Pro switch, but when you're done, your Surface Laptop will be back to Windows 10 S. 

That said, Windows 10 Pro is much more useful -- so you'll probably want to stick with that anyway.