There’s been a lot of talk that under the leadership of Satya Nadella, Microsoft has become a new company. In some notable ways, I agree. The emphasis of “Windows on All the Things” that characterized the Ballmer years seems to have receded. Instead, we have a company much more focused on Azure and services.
It’s nice to see though that one convention remains, a penchant for terrible product names. The company that once green lit “Windows Phone 7 Series” shows its roots with the newly announced Windows 10 S.
Coming at Chrome OS
The OS is a completely unsubtle attempt to disrupt the momentum Chrome OS has built in the education market. It’s geared to boot quickly for new users, supports decent management features, and can be configured to an organization’s preferences via a USB drive.
One of the unique features of Windows 10 S seems to be the most controversial. Microsoft has been pushing Universal Windows Platform Apps and their own App Store since Windows 8 introduced the Metro interface. While it’s been largely met with a collective shrug, I can see the benefits of a dedicated App Store managed by Microsoft. Just like using iOS, it allows for a simpler installation and update experience. It also theoretically guarentees better quality and security of apps. But in Windows 10 S, that’s the only way you can install apps. Anything not wrapped up as a Universal Windows Platform App cannot be installed.
Have an app you need that it’s in the App Store? Well, you can either get the developer to update it and submit it, or you can pay $50 to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. That’s right, one of the features of Windows 10 Pro is the ability to run a .EXE file. We live in odd times.
Will Windows 10 S work in the classroom? Honestly I’m not sure. If they can bring a better fleet management model than Chrome OS for administrators, I’m sure it is tempting. For smaller schools with limited IT resources, the ease of configuring installs is a killer feature. Still, it’s hard to beat the convenience of a Chromebook where all you need to do is login and the machine has everything the student expects.
Microsoft’s biggest hurdle might be on a cognitive level. Windows 10 S feels restrictive. Not just from a user perspective, but on a buying level. Windows 10 S is Windows 10, minus the ability to install any application. Minus the ability to select a new default browser. Windows is a platform, and it’s hard for buyers on any level to know that they are essentially getting less.
Chrome OS has many of the same restriction, even more! Installing any apps is a no-go. Changing web browsers, ha! Heck, when it launched it barely had a file explorer. But because it’s based on Chrome, a web browser, it feel like you get things. You get Chrome, plus support for multiple logins. Plus Google services. Plus it’s a laptop. That distinction may quickly wear down to nothing with use, but I still wouldn’t discount it as influencing buying decisions.
Windows 10 S in the Enterprise?
As far as Windows 10 S in the enterprise? That’s a mighty tough pill to swallow. The legacy app problem is a killer for a lot of organization. Sure “all you have to do” is wrap it up in a UWP container and get it listed on the Windows Store. Even at its most simple, that requires overcoming the inertia of “just” using a standard version of Windows. Ultimately, Microsoft doesn’t care too much as long as they’re paying some form of license. The other IT advantage 10 S provides, configuring laptops via a USB key, seems almost quaint when compared to just imaging a disk for a new machine, something any IT shop can easily do.
If Windows 10 S is going to find any footing in the enterprise, their security and lockdown angle is their way in. The only conundrum I see is a lot of organizations that are working mostly with web apps are probably also the organizations that switched over to G Suite.
Based on the announcement, I think Windows 10 S has a chance to combat the surge of Chromebooks. Education is a market Microsoft understands, and it’s clear this release is almost exclusively catering to its needs. In a lot of ways the OS is a result of the lessons they learned with Windows RT. They kept with an x86 platform for technical compatibility, and gave users a way to use legacy apps, albeit with a paid upgrade. But if deployed too widely, where users chafe at the constraints inherent in the OS, it may become know as Windows 10 Minus.