Microsoft used to be king of the classroom, but Google has increasingly muscled in on its turf. Google announced Chrome OS nearly eight years ago, and the first few waves of devices were of little interest to anyone. Then, Chrome OS became more powerful and easier to manage, and schools started buying boatloads of super-cheap Chromebooks instead of Windows laptops. Now, Microsoft is set to fight back with Windows 10 S. It’s a stripped down version of the platform that’s intended to be faster and more secure, but that also means tighter restrictions on apps.
The biggest change with Windows 10 S will be familiar to anyone who remembers the Windows RT debacle of several years ago. This version of the OS will only be able to run apps downloaded from the Windows Store. That covers apps designed natively for the store using the Universal Windows Program (UWP) framework, as well as traditional Win32 apps that have been repackaged for the store. That can be done fairly easily using the Microsoft Desktop Bridge (formerly known as Project Centennial), but simply downloading and installing an EXE will be blocked. So, that means you’ll be stuck using Microsoft Edge unless Google or Mozilla list their browsers.
Locking these machines to the Windows Store is intended to ensure more consistent performance and improved battery life. We’ve all dealt with machines that seemed fast and efficient at first, but a few months later the battery can’t keep up. Microsoft specifically talks about the login speed, saying it will only take 15 seconds for a device to be ready after a student logs in the first time. Schools can even configure a USB key to load custom settings on a computer. Simply plug it in, and Windows 10 S will configure itself accordingly.
Applications designed with the UWP framework run in sandboxes that prevent them from bogging down the overall system. Windows can also manage UWP apps more aggressively, rather like Android does. When system resources are tight, Windows can suspend or terminate UWP processes. Ported Win32 apps are not as restricted, but they are still prevented from installing and running background services without specific user authorization.
Windows 10 S will also support Intune, Microsoft’s cloud-based device management system. This is something Chrome OS has done well with Google’s cloud-based device management tools. Microsoft is throwing in a free 1-year license to Minecraft: Education Edition too.
If schools feel that the Window 10 S restrictions aren’t working out, machines can be upgraded to Windows 10 Pro for free. Individuals will have to pay $50 for that, though. Oddly, an upgrade from the much more capable Windows 10 Home to Pro costs $100. The free upgrade option will be nice for schools, but it might not push the Windows Store like Microsoft would like. Unless there’s significant usage of Windows 10 S, developers won’t bother to list their apps in the store. The first education-oriented PCs with Windows 10 S will be out this summer with prices starting at $189.
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