Microsoft Gets Serious About Education4 Minute Read

 In Communications

For those IT professionals who work to support K12 educational institutions, Microsoft made a big effort this week to make your job easier.  In many ways, IT staffs of educational institutions have to support computer fleets and network infrastructures that rival large corporations.

  • They often have to support tens of thousands of users
  • Every year they have to image and deploy up to tens of thousands of devices
  • They have to manage desktops for all those users and devices
  • They have harden those devices against cybersecurity threats that target unsuspecting users
  • They have to support multiple wireless LANs spread out amongst their districts

Oh, and unlike corporations, they have to do all of this on limited budgets that once set at the start of the school year cannot be altered or supplemented.  With the proliferation of one-to-one programs becoming more commonplace amongst school districts, IT teams are highly challenged deploying and managing all of these devices.

Microsoft has been striving to achieve a larger presence in education the past several years, as they grown aware of the fact that the devices that children use in the classroom influence their device preferences going forward.  Both Apple and Google have made great inroads into the school districts across the country as the deployment of iPads and Chromebooks has become commonplace.  This week, Microsoft announced a series of product and service deployments that show how seriously they are taking education now.

Intune for Education
Just as corporations are finding themselves saddled with the challenging task of managing employee laptops that constantly leave the safety of the on premise network, IT teams in the educational community are facing the same dilemma with student laptop programs.  While Group Policy has been a staple of the network manager in years past for managing desktops, GP has definite limitations for mobile devices.  While SCCM is a viable alternative for corporations who can afford to pay for SMEs of this robust Microsoft solution, school districts often lack the knowledge base or the time to master SCCM.

On May 2, Microsoft released Intune for education, providing school districts with limited resources the ability to manage their fleets of mobile devices.  Just like the traditional Intune service, the new educational release allows admins to assign applications to user desktops, create a defined windows store for approved applications, configure security and basic configuration settings and remote wipe compromised devices.  Many of these settings come with preconfigured templates that are customized to the educational environment.

In an obvious move to combat Chrome books, Microsoft unveiled a new release of Windows 10 called Windows-S.  The “S” denotes simplicity.  Microsoft refers to Window-S as the “Soul” of Windows 10.  So what is so special about Windows-S and why should schools care about it?

  • It boots super-fast thanks to the absence of bloatware and a smaller operating system footprint.  This means that students can start up their devices faster, the teacher does not have to wait, and there is more time to learn.
  • Windows-S only runs apps that reside in the Windows store, which means that they have been checked and verified for security.  This guarantees the students a safe device that won’t become a depository for malware that can then infect the school network. In an added note, Office 365 will be available in the Windows store.
  • Cost savings! Microsoft announced during their presentation that OEMs will be introducing computing devices that run Windows-S for less than $200, which makes them affordable for nearly any school district.

Provisioning Package Deployments
Like Windows Pro, Enterprise and Education editions, Windows-S can be deployed through provision packaging.  Although it is not a new feature, it is one still overlooked by many organizations and companies that can greatly simplify the deployment process, especially for school districts that must deploy tens of thousands of devices at the beginning of every school year.  Using Windows Configuration Designer, admins can create provisioning packages using a simple wizard that emulates MDT task sequences.  With WCD, you can:

  • Name the devices, make them domain joined or azure joined
  • Connect them to Intune as well as many other settings
  • Preconfigure SSIDs
  • Create local admin accounts
  • Add applications and certificates

The provisioning packages are then saved to a USB stick.  As devices go through the reset process, a technician can simply insert the USB stick at the appropriate time and the machine is configured within seconds.  This allows IT teams to configure thousands of devices quickly.  Microsoft states that the days of imaging are over.

Surface Laptop
Microsoft announced the launch of a new product within their Surface line of devices, which targets high school and college students. The Surface Laptop features an I5 or I7 processer and a 13.5” display. This new line has a starting price of $999.  Like Apple, Microsoft is stressing the design and ergonomics of this new device calling it a computer that anyone would be proud to own.

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