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Microsoft introduces Windows 10 S, education-focused competitor to Chrome OS

Windows 10 S won't let users change default web browser, search engine

Microsoft held its education-focused event this morning, May 2, where it extolled its solutions aimed at helping students learn, teachers teach, and IT staff focus on letting technology assist both without stifling anyone’s creativity. With an obvious nod to Google’s success in education with its Chromebook platform, Microsoft announced a new lightweight version of Windows 10 dubbed Windows 10 S.

The focus of Windows 10 S, which was originally expected to be called Windows 10 Cloud Edition, is on providing the minimum functionality required to get work done. Microsoft provided a very general overview of the newest version of Windows 10.

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First, Windows 10 S allows app installations from the Windows Store only. Doing so limits a machine to only the most secure apps, and to a limited set. If a user or administrator tries to install an app from outside the Store, then an error message will be displayed.

This policy limits what apps can be installed on a Windows 10 S machine, but it also significantly reduces first-use loading times down to 10-15 seconds. Microsoft noted that administrators can switch a machine from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro in order to install a non-Store application (though probably only if they’ve purchased a valid license).

Next is the new “Setup my new school PC” app, which walks administrators through the process of setting up a new machine for students. The end result of the process is the creation of a USB flash drive image that can be plugged into a new PC, and that automatically configures the machine from scratch without user intervention.

Finally, Microsoft’s support page provides an interesting qualification that imposes a couple of rather severe limitations on Windows 10 S users. In answer to the question, “Are there any defaults that I cannot change on my Windows 10 S PC?” Microsoft says:

“Yes, Microsoft Edge is the default web browser on Microsoft 10 S. You are able to download another browser that might be available from the Windows Store, but Microsoft Edge will remain the default if, for example, you open an .htm file. Additionally, the default search provider in Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer cannot be changed.”

In a nod to anyone responsible for managing a large number of educational systems, Microsoft has also introduced Intune for Education, which is an optimized version of its enterprise administration tool optimized for educational institutions. This brings the company’s powerful system management solution to educational IT departments.

Microsoft finished the Windows 10 S session by highlighting how it’s working to make Microsoft solutions affordable for education. The company announced a number of new initiatives to do just that:

  • Microsoft highlighted the low-cost Windows 10 S machines being brought to the market by its OEM partners. Windows 10 education PCs will start at $189, making them an affordable alternative to Google Chromebooks.
  • Each education PC will come with a free subscription to Minecraft: Education Edition.
  • Windows 10 S will be free for all schools on their current genuine Windows Pro PCs.
  • Office 365 for Education with Microsoft Teams will be free for educational customers.
  • Microsoft Intune for Education is available today for educational institutions.

Windows 10 S will be available this summer, in preparation for the next school year. Microsoft did not provide more details on the technical workings of Windows 10 S, but clearly, the company is focused on providing a low-cost, easy-to-administer solution for education to ensure that an entire generation of students doesn’t grow up using Google solutions.

Updated on 5-2-2017 by Mark Coppock: Added Microsoft support note regarding defaults that cannot be changed in Windows 10 S.

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