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There are so many things arising from the Windows 10S presentation this week from Microsoft.
Inevitably, as I'll be critical of some things that I think they might do differently, this might come over as being negative - but that is absolutely not my intention: I think it demonstrated a really positive, visionary and serious commitment to education and advancing education using technology. Microsoft are no longer the big influence on education they once were, although we still use a lot of their products, but at the current rate of innovation they are catching up with the competition.
Within the flow of news though there were some parts and some claims that I'd like to explore a little.
Windows 10S as a Chromebook CompetitorI've been an advocate for Chromebooks for some time. They are simple to manage, cheap and boot up in seconds - but that has never been the most important thing (I'd struggle to recommend something that was easy to manage, cost very little and was really fast if it was otherwise useless!) - it has been the way they deliver G-Suite and in particular Google Drive in a simple package.
Is Windows 10S and the new hardware a serious competitor?
Windows 10S seems to be a number of things. It is a way for Microsoft to sell something cheaper to manufacturers so that they can compete on price with Chromebooks better without sacrificing the price of Windows for other markets. In truth I think that's most of the story, but it is a good story and it means cheaper computers for schools, so hurrah.
It makes Windows PCs boot up faster - sometimes much faster - to negate an advantage their competition holds. But the times they showed in the film aren't close to their competitors... well anyone who uses a Chromebook or an iPad will struggle to get excited. Mind you Apple are working on slowing iPads down as they introduce shared accounts, and Google are adding Android Apps which will slow boot ups - so maybe in a year it will be even.
Is It a Cloud OS?Microsoft have got a wonderful cloud platform - Office 365. We use it on Chromebooks and every other kind of computer we own. Great.
But Windows 10S has nothing specifically "cloudy" - it doesn't even default to OneDrive for storage.
I would have liked it much more if when you opened a computer with Windows 10S you logged in with your Office 365 account and the storage you see for your files is OneDrive - it might use tricks to keep an invisible copy cached locally so you can work offline like Google let you do, but the user should never be encouraged to keep stuff anywhere else... They won't have a C: drive, My Documents will be their OneDrive.
I think this would have been a simple way to differentiate 10S from vanilla Windows and have made a lot of sense.
ManagementThe way you set up and manage Windows 10S though looks to be a much more radical departure: It uses InTune to set up devices rather than traditional tools for Windows like Active Directory and SCCM. This is interesting and confusing. We're managing these PCs like any other mobile device rather than a traditional Windows computer. Personally I think this is a great idea but one that could take a long time to take hold.
I can't see any of the people I know that earn a living setting up and managing Windows PCs being any more keen on using InTune instead of the tools they know and use than they are in using tools for Chromebooks or iPads.
Worse, you seem to have to use a USB drive to set up a new PC. The example given was a team of staff with 30 USB pen drives setting up 1000 PCs in a day. Impressive.
Let's compare the systems.
- Chromebook - open it, plug it in, hold down CTRL-ALT and press E. Login. Job done - your Chromebook will take all your settings from the web.
- Windows 10S - open it, plug it in, insert USB drive, power it up. OK you don't need WiFi/ internet but am I really about to go to the shops to buy bags of USB pen drives, just as we've started eliminating them from our schools?
- Apple - do a mass of complex things that take too long to learn with an MDM you paid for - open the device and it is already magically set up.
Of the three the Apple way is easily best for the person getting the device but the most effort for the people behind the scenes (and the greatest cost)
The Google way is marginally better for the person looking after the computer and is much cheaper. That isn't the be all and end all of IT obviously - better something good that is hard to set up than something awful that is easily managed.
Microsoft are leading IT people into a new world of how to set up and manage devices, and if you accept that I would not be enthusiastic to start buying bags of pen drives for setting up PCs!
I don't think it is a rash prediction to say that either a lot of schools will end up paying the upgrade fee to put normal Windows on these PCs, or hacks will be found.
Teams for Education
I use Google Classroom and Google Drive, so the next part is very subjective. I thought Microsoft Classroom was going in the right direction. They had an offer for their customers that brought together a group (set up from your management system) with a OneNote notebook, a shared library of files, a calendar and a few other bits and bobs. Each tool was in reality something made elsewhere in Microsoft and brought together. This did mean that if you followed a link away from a Microsoft Classroom you actually had left it - and that made it feel clunky to me. It also looks like it was made with Sharepoint. Well it was made with Sharepoint. Not good.
It was what a lot of people wanted and it was close to being a released product.
But it is not going to carry on past July.
Instead we have a new product that looks great, based on Microsoft Teams, their Slack competitor. Teams for Education.
Front and centre is the feed of discussion in the Team - the class. Around that we have a calendar, files, OneNote. Very much the same things that Classroom had. Great. It looks better too - much much better. I do wonder why 365 Video doesn't feature in it (or indeed in anything Microsoft make except Yammer... which Microsoft didn't actually make).
But, it is built on a model of a group stream of comments and discussion around learning. Online. I would use it and a lot of the people I work with would too. There are however many people who do not want to have an online discussion space - they want a timeline with tasks, announcements and files and no social element at all. Many of their reasons for that are entirely sensible.
When we do training for Google Classroom, one thing we show early on is the course designers control over the level of social interaction within a course ranging from all able to post and comment, to only the teacher being able to do so. People like the fact that they can set that.
But if the backbone of your offering for the classroom is a social product (Teams) if you did switch it off what will there be left? Will it be a stream of one person posting messages and no comments? I really hope that there is an option to limit interaction in Microsoft Teams for Education, and when you choose to, that the resulting classroom operates and feels like a place you want to be.
Confession I wasn't a Minecraft for Education fan. It's fun and it's impressive but I've never really seen it used in a way that genuinely brings something that helps people make much more progress without huge amounts of extra effort and resource. But... the Minecraft Code Connection stuff has completely changed my mind. You are able to enter the virtual world of Minecraft and then use any of a number of tools to automate activity using programs. Build a tower, hunt for stuff all using code. #Genius