Microsoft announced Intune for Education. Here’s our analysis. (Updated)

Regardless of how you feel about Windows 10 versus Chromebooks, there are a lot of interesting things to like about Intune for Education.

Note: This article, which was originally posted on Wednesday, 1/25, was updated on Thursday, 1/26. Updates are noted inline and at the end of the article.

Yesterday Microsoft announced Intune for Education, a product for managing Windows 10 devices in schools. At the same time, OEM partners announced a range of inexpensive Windows 10 devices intended to compete with Chromebooks in the education market.

The Windows 10 versus Chromebook campaign is worth following on its own, but there are a couple of other things to remark on here: Intune for Education shows the flexibility of the new Azure-based Intune console, and it could result in more widespread use of MDM to manage Windows 10.

More details about Intune for Education

Think of Intune for Education as a highly-customized version of the standard Intune. It’s dedicated to managing Windows 10 devices, web apps, and apps from the Windows Store for Business. (Update: It can also manage Win32 desktop apps.) The management console has been simplified to be friendly to non-professional IT staff, and it contains wizards, default settings, and group types that are appropriate for schools. In addition, it supports shared devices, roaming user settings, and a device lockdown mode for student testing.

Intune for Education can integrate with Office 365 for Education, and of course it uses Azure AD for the identity infrastructure. It pulls directory data from student information systems via School Data Sync. Devices can be enrolled individually, or for bulk enrollment, the Set up School PCs app can create provisioning packages, which are deployed via USB drive.

Licensing is $30 per device; or Volume Licensing is around $0.69 per month per teacher with student benefits, according to Mary Jo Foley.

Our thoughts

One of the macro questions here is if inexpensive Windows 10 devices combined with a simple and modern management experience can pull educational market share away from Chromebooks. On one hand, yes, Windows 10 devices are more full-featured than Chromebooks. But to what degree does this matter, given other limitations?

The Intune for Education experience is oriented towards Windows Store and web apps and desktop apps aren't part of the story. (Update: They are. Read my endnote for an explanation.) (Okay, so it looks like they could be added later with an additional provisioning package, but still, that’s clearly not the point of Intune for Education.) Even then, there’s still more management overhead with Windows 10 than with a Chromebook.

I spoke to a teacher friend who helps with student-facing IT at his school, and his reaction was “So what does this give me that I can’t do with a Chromebook?” He explained that most of his students’ workloads were either browser-based (writing, collaborating, emailing, presentations, etc.) or relied on desktop apps on higher-end devices (Adobe, Rhino, etc.). In other words, what this boils down to is the value of the Windows Store. Microsoft was playing up Ink and touch support; but then again Google was also touting similar capabilities in Chromebooks at the same conference. (Plus Chromebooks will have Android apps soon.)

Anyway, there’s a lot that goes into a computing platform decision, and different customers will come to different conclusions.

What I think is especially interesting is how Intune for Education came together. As I mentioned, this is all thanks to the flexibility of the new Intune console in Azure. (You can see demos by Brad Anderson in yesterday’s episode of the Endpoint Zone.) In the future, we should see plenty more ways of leveraging it from Microsoft, customers, and partners. (This is very exciting; I’ll write more about it next week.)

Finally, I’ll mention that while it’s not explicitly stated, it’s pretty clear that the device management in Intune for Education is based on Windows 10 MDM APIs. (Update: This has been confirmed.) We just learned that right now there are about 40,000 Windows 10 devices managed with EMM. Chromebook versus Windows debate aside, education is a great place to use MDM for Windows. If this spreads, it will be a good way for Microsoft and customers to get a more experience with these newer management techniques.

Update, Thursday 1/26/2017

A contact at Microsoft pointed out that Intune for Education can indeed manage Win32 desktop apps. How did I miss this? This wasn’t mentioned in any blog posts or pointed out in any of the videos, but if you take a close look at the demos here and here, you can see that desktop apps are indeed included in the management console. This is great news!

Win32 apps noted, I stand by my original opinion regarding inexpensive Windows 10 devices (managed with Intune for Education) versus Chromebooks: the value of the Windows Store is a major factor in this decision. (Plus in their announcements, Microsoft clearly put the emphasis on Windows Store Apps, too.) Almost all basic apps have been perfected in the browser, and if you’re using more powerful desktop apps like Adobe, you probably need a higher-end laptop. So this means you’re not going to be in that $200-$300 device range anymore. Still, it’s cool that if you do have higher-end devices and desktop apps, Intune for Education will still be able to help you out.

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