Quick Thoughts: A Little Confused About Windows 10 S in Education

Microsoft recently announced a new version of Windows 10 called Windows 10 S. This new version of Windows 10 is designed with education customers in mind, offering manageability and security similar to that of Chromebooks (which is what this OS is essentially competing with).

Windows 10 S machines are to be managed from Intune/Intune for Education, with programs available only from the Windows Store, and identity management is handled via Azure Active Directory. Windows 10 S machines prices will start around $189, making these machines definitely competitive with Chromebooks.

But why in the world would a school district choose to purchase these devices?

First off, the timing of this announcement seems a little late. Most schools where I live needed to have their budgets turned in long ago, and as a result have made purchasing decisions already. The machines are either already ordered and on their way, and/or the decision has already been made for the summer infrastructure plans and schools are preparing for the changes. Nothing in Windows 10 S stands out enough to stop the process and rethink what machines need to be deployed.

Second, Windows 10 S seems like it’s stuck in the middle of being like Windows, but also some new Windows Cloud OS. It looks and feels just like Windows 10, but behaves like a Microsoft Chromebook, and if an end-user, thinking that this Windows environment is just like any other Windows environment, they’ll probably find unexpectedly that they can’t install applications, are forced to have Edge as their default browser and Bing as their search engine, and probably won’t find Google Chrome in the Windows Store.

This is a huge problem for most mid-to-large school districts because there is a certain paradigm about how Windows machines are to be used, and administrators have designed their entire management infrastructure around this. Windows 10 S has no on-premise Active Directory domain-join, so that also means no group policy, no certificate enrollment for RADIUS authentication, or any other service that ties into the existing on-premise infrastructure.

As a result, Windows 10 S devices live as a fourth type of device to manage, next to Apple products, Chromebooks, and Windows machines. Windows 10 S devices are, in essence, in some other management world, unless, of course, you start tying together your on-premise devices with Intune/Intune for Education, but that assumes you’re not using a third-party MDM, which would complicate this further.

Even if you’re a small school/school district with limited resources, you’ve probably already moved to Chromebooks as your device of choice. Your email, office suite, and even file management¬†are tied into G Suite now. Students, teachers, and staff are all familiar with G Suite and probably don’t care to uproot their files and teaching methods for Microsoft.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Microsoft has some pretty cool services and features in Office 365, but is it enough to for schools to have a complete paradigm shift and start purchasing cheap Microsoft devices? Not yet, but maybe. Microsoft needs to have a more compelling case that targets teachers and principals because people in information technology already understand what Microsoft has to offer, but sysadmins just maintain and expand the services based on the policies of what the curriculum makers decide.

Google has done an excellent job in giving teachers the tools they need, and they were the first to market for cheap, easy-to-manage devices. As a result, Microsoft has a tough hill to climb, and I just don’t think Windows 10 S is going to help enough to propel Microsoft over the hill, let alone up it.