MICROSOFT’S MOST MODERN OS TO DATE
With Windows 10 S, Microsoft shows its hand for the future.
Many people branded Microsoft’s Windows 10 S and Surface Laptop event in May as the start of the company’s clash with Google in education. I don’t see it that way. I view it as both a culmination and a brief respite of the Redmond-quartered company’s long ongoing education efforts. If anything, Google’s threat with its Chrome OS and Chromebooks has provided Microsoft the impetus to push more aggressively into education.
Success in education isn’t as simple as releasing a new operating system and/or a product or two. It’s a long play that requires a lot of planning and significant investments. Windows 10 S may be getting all the headlines, but let’s not forget that in the past year Microsoft has also unveiled Microsoft Classroom, a digital platform for simplifying the grading of assignments and student communication; School Data Sync, an online classroom automation solution; and Intune for Education preview, a cloud-based mobile device and application management service.
Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group chief Terry Myerson called Windows 10 S a streamlined version of Windows 10, with a specific focus on performance and security. That’s mainly due to the fact that it can’t run apps that aren’t from the Windows Store.
Now, we all know how the reliance on the Store caused Windows RT its life. Is Windows 10 S Windows RT round two? Not exactly. For one, Windows RT only worked on ARM devices, but Windows 10 S works on both ARM and x86 processors.
In terms of lineage, it’s also closer to Windows 10 Pro than the short-lived RT or even Windows 10 Home. It supports Azure Active Directory Join, Enterprise State Roaming via Azure AD, full Bit-Locker encryption, Windows Update and Windows Store for Business, and plays nice with mobile device management policies. If this isn’t enough, you can unlock Windows 10 Pro on a Windows 10 S device. At the moment, Microsoft is making this upgrade free until the end of 2017; after which it’ll cost US$49.
A few things have also changed since the Windows RT days. Key amongst them is Microsoft’s Desktop Bridge, a toolkit that helps developers port their desktops apps to the company’s Universal Windows Platform and Windows Store. Alas, support for it remains weak at the moment, so I’m under no illusion that the availability of Windows 10 S will automagically cause, say, Apple and Google to have a change of heart overnight and release iTunes and Chrome in the Windows Store.
So, yes, while Windows 10 S’ target of baseline performance for the low-cost 'education PC' makes a lot of sense in an anti-Chromebook narrative, that won’t be the story forever. The Surface Laptop, a decidedly premium laptop that runs Windows 10 S, is a hint to that. Primary schools won’t buy this laptop in droves, that’s for sure, but tertiary students who often prefer to have their own personal laptop and cloud-connected working professionals may just lap it up. Windows 10 S for business isn’t a strong narrative now despite its many pro business features because of the whole app situation, but no one should deny its potential.