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Microsoft pushes 'in cloud' settings collection to simplify PC management

Redmond is offering corporate customers a new set of configuration settings designed to ease management of PCs for a wide swaths of users, including remote workers and students who need little more than a browser and a few productivity apps

Microsoft has offered corporate customers a new set of configuration settings that it said  would create easier-to-manage PCs suitable for wide swaths of users, ranging from remote workers to students who needed little more than a browser and a handful of productivity applications.

Variously dubbed "in cloud" and "cloud config," the collection of settings was pitched as a way to deploy standardised PCs equipped for the most basic tasks: browsing the web, using Office and running a limited number of business line apps.

"Microsoft sees an opportunity to empower organisations by providing a recommended configuration of Windows 10 for users with focused workflow needs," Ravi Ashok and Stan White, senior program manager and principal software engineer, respectively, wrote in a setup guide. "Windows 10 in cloud configuration helps IT standardise and simplify management for these users."

Microsoft's goals were then two-fold. First, provide IT administrators with ready-made and Microsoft-recommended settings that can be applied to new or existing - but waiting to be re-imaged - PCs so that the machines will be useful for lower-rung information workers, front-line workers and students.

Second, create a standardised cadre of PCs so they can be managed by admins with the tools they already have, or more properly, have if their employers licence specific Microsoft 365 plans. Prime among those tools: Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

The in cloud/cloud config set is reminiscent of other ready-to-deploy configuration settings that Microsoft offers customers, notably its various security baselines for Windows, Edge and other products. Like those baselines, in cloud is free, although it cannot be used by all.

Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education PCs can apply in cloud, but the user must be covered by licenses for several Microsoft products, including:

  • Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) Premium P1
  • Microsoft Intune
  • Microsoft Teams
  • OneDrive for Business

Microsoft recommended that "the bare minimum necessary for cloud config" was Enterprise Mobility + Security E3 ($8.80 per user per month) and Office 365 E3 ($20 per user per month), and a device running Windows 10 Pro.

A more comprehensive license would be Microsoft 365 E3 ($32 per user per month), which includes Windows 10 Enterprise. Other packaged options range from Microsoft 365 F3 ($10 per user per month) and Microsoft 365 Business Premium ($20 per user per month), to Microsoft 365 E5 ($57 per user per month).

The name of the settings collection both described the basis for this Microsoft-recommended default configuration and set its limits. The primary management tool for implementing in cloud is Intune, the cloud-native management platform that's part of Microsoft Endpoint Manager. Also, most of what's deployed by the configuration is cloud-based — online storage (OneDrive), authentication and identification (Azure AD) — even as important pieces are not (like the Office apps, which are still installed locally).

But in cloud is, Microsoft said, suitable only for users who don't rely on on-premises services, which is why important components, such as email and storage, originated from Office 365 or Microsoft 365 subscriptions. The ideal candidates for in cloud, according to Microsoft, are users who "have no dependency on on-premises infrastructure to be productive and successful in their role."

Out of the gate, the in cloud settings must be configured manually by IT admins. That's why the Ashok- and White-written setup guide is crucial to implementing the configuration.

Microsoft said it would improve in cloud with additional settings, or removing or modifying those already present, but, importantly, is currently creating an Intune "guided scenario" that will assemble the bits and pieces automatically.

More information about in cloud can be found in several locations, including a new website (which boasted a short FAQ), the setup guide and a blog post where Joe Lurie, a senior product manager for Microsoft 365, answered several important questions about the configuration.