Same old complexity beneath Windows 10 Cloud Config means it's unlikely to compete with the likes of Chrome OS

Modernisation that happens to be an upsell to premium cloudy plans


Analysis Microsoft has introduced a cloud configuration for Windows 10 with the claim of "easy to manage cloud endpoints," but complex manual steps and interaction with InTune management means it is unlikely to match Google's Chrome OS for ease of deployment.

A post from Microsoft 365 corporate VP Jared Spataro explains that Cloud Config is not new technology but "a set of recommended configurations that uses the technology infrastructure you already have" – presuming your organisation has bought into the full 365 stack.

There are two key strategic elements here. One is that Microsoft is keen to compete with Google's Chrome OS, which, unlike Windows, was built specifically as a cloud client.

According to analyst Canalys, Chromebook sales "almost quadrupled in size over the same period a year ago," with 11.2 million sold globally in the fourth quarter of 2020. That is a small but growing share of the total PC market (including tablets), which reached 143.7 million in that quarter, but significant not only because they do not run Windows, but also because they hook into Google's cloud ecosystem. Chrome OS is easy to configure, with auto updating and a Google login giving access to its cloud workspace.

Second, Microsoft is engaged in upselling its customers from Office 365 – desktop Office plus cloud-hosted email, OneDrive, SharePoint, Teams – to Microsoft 365, including PC and mobile device management. Organisations with up to 300 users can get Microsoft 365 Business Premium for £15.10 per user/month, ($20 in the US), while enterprises pay from £28.10 ($32 in US) for Microsoft 365 E3.

Windows 10 Cloud Config has its own microsite promising cloud-based identity management and "IT-curated applications" but the real detail is in this overview and setup guide [PDF]. Here we learn the licensing requirements:

  • Azure Active Directory Premium P1
  • Microsoft Intune
  • Microsoft Teams
  • OneDrive for Business
  • Windows 10 Pro

All these requirements are satisfied by Microsoft 365 Business Premium and E3, but not by the much cheaper Microsoft 365 Business Standard or Office 365 E3.

What do you get for your money?

The essence is that Cloud Config PCs are joined to Azure AD, not on-premises Active Directory, and managed through InTune mobile device management in a locked-down configuration. "A major airline told us they are looking to empower frontline workers by deploying devices with a simple configuration that are easy to manage and swap out," according to the configuration document.

The suggested configuration blocks the Microsoft Store app, and does not give users local admin rights on their PCs. Settings block user access unless all required apps are installed, and do not permit the user to reset their device. Windows automatic update is turned on with a deferral period of zero days.

Microsoft summarises the pros and cons of Cloud Config, saying that it only works for 'a subset of people' who can manage with simplified, locked-down PCs

Microsoft summarises the pros and cons of Cloud Config, saying that it only works for 'a subset of people' who can manage with simplified, locked-down PCs

Additional applications (including custom and non-Microsoft applications) can be deployed through InTune, part of which is Microsoft Endpoint Manager, though Microsoft suggests such applications are kept to a minimum.

Password expiration is set to 41 days – a controversial setting among security professionals, some of whom feel that forced expiration encourages passwords to be written down insecurely since users cannot remember their passwords. Windows Autopilot can be used, making configuration automatic based on registration by the hardware vendor, in which case all a user needs to do is to turn on and connect to the internet.

Some flexibility is proposed in Microsoft's guide. The default is to block browser password managers, for example, but according to the document: "you might consider allowing end user to use password managers."

Bitlocker drive encryption is on by default for removable drives, but this can be turned off. In the end, anything in the proposed policy can be varied by Windows administrators who know how they work; what Microsoft is offering is a best-practice solution that will achieve relatively secure PCs that can be easily replaced in the event of a fault or theft. Cloud document storage means that a new PC should restore everything as the user left it.

There is a lot of sense in this approach, though locked-down PCs can be annoying for users, and the cost is considerable for businesses (education gets generous discounts). The bigger problem perhaps is that Microsoft's PC management technology, grafted onto Windows, is no match for what can be done with newer operating systems like Chrome OS or iOS.

InTune is great when it works, but it is not always a smooth experience, especially for Android devices where users have to suffer a thing called the Company Portal app, which can be problematic. Starting with a brand-new PC in the manner envisaged by Cloud Config give it the best chance of success, but Microsoft will not match the low administrative burden of Chrome OS unless it performs further major surgery on Windows.

The benefit of Microsoft's approach is use of the familiar Office desktop applications and the ability to run Windows applications rather than being pushed towards doing everything in a web browser. Cloud Config is also a substantial step forward from the old world of managing PC images, Windows Server Update Services, System Center Configuration Manager, and the rest. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Google has more reasons why it doesn't like antitrust law that affects Google
    It'll ruin Gmail, claims web ads giant

    Google has a fresh list of reasons why it opposes tech antitrust legislation making its way through Congress but, like others who've expressed discontent, the ad giant's complaints leave out mention of portions of the proposed law that address said gripes.

    The law bill in question is S.2992, the Senate version of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA), which is closer than ever to getting votes in the House and Senate, which could see it advanced to President Biden's desk.

    AICOA prohibits tech companies above a certain size from favoring their own products and services over their competitors. It applies to businesses considered "critical trading partners," meaning the company controls access to a platform through which business users reach their customers. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta in one way or another seemingly fall under the scope of this US legislation. 

    Continue reading
  • Makers of ad blockers and browser privacy extensions fear the end is near
    Overhaul of Chrome add-ons set for January, Google says it's for all our own good

    Special report Seven months from now, assuming all goes as planned, Google Chrome will drop support for its legacy extension platform, known as Manifest v2 (Mv2). This is significant if you use a browser extension to, for instance, filter out certain kinds of content and safeguard your privacy.

    Google's Chrome Web Store is supposed to stop accepting Mv2 extension submissions sometime this month. As of January 2023, Chrome will stop running extensions created using Mv2, with limited exceptions for enterprise versions of Chrome operating under corporate policy. And by June 2023, even enterprise versions of Chrome will prevent Mv2 extensions from running.

    The anticipated result will be fewer extensions and less innovation, according to several extension developers.

    Continue reading
  • I was fired for blowing the whistle on cult's status in Google unit, says contractor
    The internet giant, a doomsday religious sect, and a lawsuit in Silicon Valley

    A former Google video producer has sued the internet giant alleging he was unfairly fired for blowing the whistle on a religious sect that had all but taken over his business unit. 

    The lawsuit demands a jury trial and financial restitution for "religious discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation and related causes of action." It alleges Peter Lubbers, director of the Google Developer Studio (GDS) film group in which 34-year-old plaintiff Kevin Lloyd worked, is not only a member of The Fellowship of Friends, the exec was influential in growing the studio into a team that, in essence, funneled money back to the fellowship.

    In his complaint [PDF], filed in a California Superior Court in Silicon Valley, Lloyd lays down a case that he was fired for expressing concerns over the fellowship's influence at Google, specifically in the GDS. When these concerns were reported to a manager, Lloyd was told to drop the issue or risk losing his job, it is claimed. 

    Continue reading
  • UK competition watchdog seeks to make mobile browsers, cloud gaming and payments more competitive
    Investigation could help end WebKit monoculture on iOS devices

    The United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Friday said it intends to launch an investigation of Apple's and Google's market power with respect to mobile browsers and cloud gaming, and to take enforcement action against Google for its app store payment practices.

    "When it comes to how people use mobile phones, Apple and Google hold all the cards," said Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, in a statement. "As good as many of their services and products are, their strong grip on mobile ecosystems allows them to shut out competitors, holding back the British tech sector and limiting choice."

    The decision to open a formal investigation follows the CMA's year-long study of the mobile ecosystem. The competition watchdog's findings have been published in a report that concludes Apple and Google have a duopoly that limits competition.

    Continue reading
  • End of the road for biz living off free G Suite legacy edition
    Firms accustomed to freebies miffed that web giant's largess doesn't last

    After offering free G Suite apps for more than a decade, Google next week plans to discontinue its legacy service – which hasn't been offered to new customers since 2012 – and force business users to transition to a paid subscription for the service's successor, Google Workspace.

    "For businesses, the G Suite legacy free edition will no longer be available after June 27, 2022," Google explains in its support document. "Your account will be automatically transitioned to a paid Google Workspace subscription where we continue to deliver new capabilities to help businesses transform the way they work."

    Small business owners who have relied on the G Suite legacy free edition aren't thrilled that they will have to pay for Workspace or migrate to a rival like Microsoft, which happens to be actively encouraging defectors. As noted by The New York Times on Monday, the approaching deadline has elicited complaints from small firms that bet on Google's cloud productivity apps in the 2006-2012 period and have enjoyed the lack of billing since then.

    Continue reading
  • Google offers $118m to settle gender discrimination lawsuit
    Don't even think about putting LaMDA on the compensation committee

    Google has promised to cough up $118 million to settle a years-long gender-discrimination class-action lawsuit that alleged the internet giant unfairly pays men more than women.

    The case, launched in 2017, was led by three women, Kelly Ellis, Holly Pease, and Kelli Wisuri, who filed a complaint alleging the search giant hires women in lower-paying positions compared to men despite them having the same qualifications. Female staff are also less likely to get promoted, it was claimed.

    Gender discrimination also exists within the same job tier, too, the complaint stated. Google was accused of paying women less than their male counterparts despite them doing the same work. The lawsuit was later upgraded to a class-action status when a fourth woman, Heidi Lamar, joined as a plaintiff. The class is said to cover more than 15,000 people.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022