What is a WinBook, and why do we like it?

Smoothwall’s Tom Newton shares his views on a new environment type emerging in these pandemic times.

Since the start of Covid-19, Smoothwall’s engineers have been working with a vast amount of customers to enable remote filtering.

Where others use remote-proxy, or DNS, Smoothwall’s remote filtering technology uses a browser plugin to enable full content filtering right there in the browser. This also avoids MiTM and, in our view, provides the most accurate filtering.

We’ve been doing this consistently on Chromebooks for some time, but Windows has always been a mixed bag – the myriad deployment types have made it less simple to apply filtering. A School might have Active Directory, or Azure AD. They might have Chrome, or Edge, or one of the less popular browsers. Students might be identified by one of a number of different usernames. Sometimes we might even see older versions of Windows.

Whilst we’re able to deploy effectively in the majority of Windows environments, we were interested to see the emergence of a much more familiar environment type. Something which was starting to appear more often, and more similarly across our customer base.

We call this type ‘Winbook’ – so called because Windows becomes almost as easy to deal with as a Chromebook. It’s characterized by Windows 10 machines, joined purely to Azure AD. These machines are running the newest Chromium Edge, and are managed by Intune, Microsoft’s MDM. Students are part of an Office365 domain, and log in with their email addresses. At this point, the Edge browser is automatically logged in to their Office365 account (some people with this deployment miss this useful step – you can start here for Microsoft’s docs on browser sign-in: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/deployedge/microsoft-edge-policies#browsersignin).

The popularity of this deployment has surged with Covid-19 because traditional Active Directory works poorly when the machines are ‘out of the office’ the majority of the time. Intune and Azure AD allow much more control without resorting to VPNs or 3rd party MDM. It’s a great deployment for students as well since they only need to remember one password and enter it once.

In our view, the new Edge is possibly the first time Microsoft have had the ‘best’ browser by any metric since IE6.

All told, we’re pleased to see a student-friendly, remote-administrable Windows deployment really take shape. Sure, it’s not quite as simple as ChromeOS but it certainly has legs. We’d love to hear your experiences – maybe there are some top tips you can share, or you’re using Intune for non-Windows devices?

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