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.

Quick Thoughts: Operating Between G Suite and Office 365

(I’ve decided to change things up a little bit and add some tech opinions every now and then, especially since I’ve changed jobs and I am now working for a medium-large school district. I’m titling these, “Quick Thoughts” that I’m going to write during my lunch breaks. Perhaps first of many…)

As a systems engineer for a school district, one of the tasks I have is to assist in the configuration and maintenance of our end-users working with whatever tools are offered by and Microsoft and Google. At our school district, we are primarily a G Suite shop, with students and staff working within the G Suite apps, but what about the tools that Microsoft offers with Office 365 such as OneNote, Microsoft Classroom, and others? How do we, as the administrators of such tools, give these users the ability to work with whatever tools they want?

It seems a bit difficult at times because each platform, G Suite and Office 365, appear to really rely on their email services to leverage alerts and messaging, so if you miss a conversation in Skype for Business, you’ll only receive the email within your Exchange email, but you won’t receive it on the Gmail side. I’m not entirely sure this is a two-way street on the Google side, as I’ve seem to have no problems logging into services like Meetup.com with my G Suite account, but receive my emails from the account on my Office 365 account.

It seems like Google is playing fair with their services, but Microsoft certainly doesn’t seem that way. So do we move email services to Office 365, and will this provide our users a better experience?

I’m not sure, and of course I don’t make those decisions, but I do think about it.

Maybe the more accurate question is “How cleanly can users operate in both worlds?” Sadly, while Google appears to behave better than Microsoft, this behavior actually hurts them a little bit for organizations like ours that want to use both services, as it forces us to consider using Exchange services for email to make the overall user experience better.

Microsoft seems to be the bad actor in this situation because they’re services don’t behave well with email systems other than Exchange. Even on-premise Exchange takes a bit of work to get working with Office 365 services.

Microsoft really wants all the business and tries to push organizations that way, but Google plays better with others, and Google’s platform seems to be more easily adopted by teachers than Microsoft’s (especially evident by how much marketing Microsoft has to do for education).

Of course, I’m assuming Google does play nice, but I haven’t tested every Google product, but Google has shown signs of not playing nice too, like dropping XMPP support for Hangouts, but that’s another conversation, and I’ve got to head back to work.