Microsoft may have stuck to its script Tuesday when it unveiled a Windows 10 spin-off aimed at the K-12 educational market, but the new operating system will be enticing to businesses as well, analysts said today.
"They were very focused on Windows 10 S as an education play, but no question, this will also appeal to enterprises," said Carolina Milanesi of Creative Strategies.
Microsoft yesterday announced Windows 10 S -- the "S" isn't a placeholder for something specific, the company maintained -- for school settings.
The operating system is Windows 10, but comes with important restrictions, the most notable that users can only install and run apps from Microsoft's Windows Store.
This summer, Microsoft will begin testing a version of its Office suite that will be available from the store in September.
"All the applications which teachers and students download come from the Windows Store, where they are first verified for security, and then locally they each run in a safe 'container,' ensuring consistent performance of the system," Terry Myerson, who leads Microsoft's Windows division, said in a post to a company blog.
The combination of Windows 10 S, device management software and new notebooks coming from hardware partners points a broadside at Google, its Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Those inexpensive laptops running Chrome OS have captured a majority of the U.S. educational market.
"Microsoft has been watching Google and Chrome very closely," said Ryan Reith of IDC, adding that he believes the campaign was years in development.
And Microsoft stayed on message yesterday during the long presentation that introduced Windows 10 S and a new Surface-branded laptop: The drumbeat of education, education and more education was never interrupted or misdirected.
Yet most analysts smelled enterprise potential for Windows 10 S, whether Microsoft would admit it or not.
"I think there's a real enterprise story there, frankly," said Bob O'Donnell, chief analyst at Technalysis Research. "I think there are people in the enterprise who are looking for a cleaner system, one that runs only apps from a store. By going only with apps, it is more secure, which is hugely important to enterprise."
Others agreed, pointing out that the 10 S characteristics that Microsoft touted for schools -- Store-only apps, simplified manageability, faster boot times, longer battery life -- would be just as compelling for business.
"What makes Windows 10 S good for enterprise is that [the devices] can be cheaper, it's easier to manage and it's less prone to viruses," said Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research. "There's a lot about it that has the same sort of benefits as an iPad."
Apple's iOS model, which lets iPhone and iPad owners install only software from the App Store, has long been trumpeted as safer for users -- it's extremely difficult to sneak malware into the mart -- and lucrative for Apple. Some critics have urged Microsoft for years to mimic that approach, primarily for security reasons.
Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, a research firm that specializes in covering the Redmond, Wash. company, also brought up Apple's tablet. "A lot of our customers, especially those using fixed-function devices, want something that behaves like an iPad," said Miller. "They want something that is a toaster today, a toaster tomorrow."
Miller ticked off possible uses for Windows 10 S outside education, including healthcare, retail and the hospitality business. O'Donnell added customer support and sales, places where workers often rely on powerful web apps.
None of the analysts thought Windows 10 S would be suitable enterprise-wide. Instead, they said, some businesses, for some purposes, would find the OS a good fit.
"Take something like a call center, where admins already restrict what can be downloaded and installed," said IDC's Reith, citing an example of where Windows 10 S might make sense. "It could be almost a thin-client kind of approach."
Other restrictions Microsoft wove into Windows 10 S signaled the company's admission of enterprise use, albeit not on the same grounds as the standard editions, Business and Enterprise. Although a Windows 10 S device cannot join an on-premises domain using Active Directory, it can via Azure Active Directory, Microsoft's cloud-based identity and access platform. And it can be managed by mobile device management software, like Microsoft's own Intune.
That Microsoft did not boast of Windows 10 S's potential in business was understandable, said several of the experts.
"They are looking to gain ground on Chromebooks, not to confuse people by talking about Windows 10 S rolling out to the enterprise," said Milanesi. "I'd think Microsoft will be having private conversations with large [enterprise] customers about this."