Future Decoded 2017 highlights

Today I took a trip down to ExCeL London for Microsoft’s annual Future Decoded conference. As always it proved an interesting showcase of their future vision and gain technical insights into current and future projects. Here’s a few of my take-aways from the day…

Deploying Windows 10 with Autopilot

Although I’d read a bit about this a while back it was useful to see the Windows 10 Autopilot deployment process in action and the rationale behind using it. Given that we have been deploying some pilot Windows 10 devices to staff it does in theory help speed up that initial out-of-box process for devices that we predominantly see as cloud-managed and want to hand out without too much fuss.

Future Decoded slides: https://www.futuredecoded.com/session/fd76e051-a6a9-e711-80c2-000d3a2269dd

Ref: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/deployment/windows-10-auto-pilot

For me this method will be applied to devices that will spend more time off the main AD network than on it and likely have a fairly simple requirements for pre-installed software. My colleagues in the office will also be pleased to hear Autopilot helps to skip the initial talking Cortana screen that’s been heard many a time so far during testing (!)

However the next part and real power of the “Modern” deployment method being showcased requires InTune in order to set up full profiles with customisable apps, settings etc. Although an MDM solution is on my wish list to get more control over roaming mobile devices it’s another software subscription bolt-on so making it an almost-necessary part of the Modern deployment experience sits a bit uneasy with me.

Another useful piece of advice was to check out Windows Analytics to help prepare for our Win10 migration project, which I need to have a proper look at tomorrow.

Ref: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/WindowsForBusiness/windows-analytics

Microsoft Hands On labs

During the break out sessions there were plenty of Surfaces put out on the 3rd floor running “Hands On” lab training materials. These looked like they’d be perfect for students in IT courses to use for trying out Azure etc. rather than needing access to a physical lab or trial accounts in a live environment.

The content covers Windows 10, Office 365 and Azure so it’s perfect for either keeping your own skills up to date or providing students with a good few hours’ worth of e-learning material, which is interactive because you actually configure VMs rather than just watching videos.

Check them out at https://www.microsoft.com/handsonlabs

All you need is some form of Microsoft account to log in with and away you go 🙂

here’s one I made earlier…

Security & ATP

One thing 2017 will certainly be remembered for in the tech world is the high profile ransomware attacks that have brought home the realities of modern malware threats to a much broader audience than perhaps ever before. As such the session on Advanced Threat Protection was particularly interesting.

Future Decoded slides: https://www.futuredecoded.com/session/f6204a3e-e5a8-e711-80c2-000d3a2269dd

We were also recommended to check out the NCSC presentation from yesterday, another one for tomorrow’s reading list:

NCSC slides: https://www.futuredecoded.com/session/e1382eb1-01a9-e711-80c2-000d3a2269dd

The ATP offering now covers email, endpoint and Azure-based analytics. Moving to Windows 10 (1709) brings additional security and exploit protection such as:

  • Windows Defender Application Guard
  • Windows Defender Exploit Guard (aka EMET for those who remember it from Windows 7 days)

Ref: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windowsforbusiness/windows-atp

All of this sounds great until the dreaded “l” word comes around… yup, it’s licensing. Although none of these services grow on trees there’s only so far budgets can stretch, particularly for us Education users. One thing that’s a real problem for Education in particular is that all the new cloud-first offerings are being sold solely on a per-user basis rather than the fairer per-FTE staff method for our on-prem EES-licensed products. Costs can soon spiral upwards and make some of these offerings (Azure AD Premium I’m looking at you!) almost unobtanium

A small plea to the powers that be…

If someone from Microsoft happens to end up reading this just think of it this way… in Edu we want to make use of these new solutions and embrace the tech that’s on offer to help provide the best environment we can for users.

I’m not saying we expect Microsoft to give it all away for free (although we’d be more than happy if you’re feeling generous!) but realise that we need to protect student accounts and machines as much as we do staff and paying for a 5000-seat EMS or ATP setup is just impossible. The end result, everyone loses (well perhaps not if you’re Google, who are working hard to take that Edu market if Microsoft don’t want it for some reason) so please rethink these pricing models and help make them work for non-profits as well.

Windows Mixed Reality

Towards the end of the day I went to the Mixed Reality stand to try out the new headsets, which sit in a much more affordable price range than the incredibly-cool-but-very-pricey HoloLens. We’re currently building a new campus for construction and engineering so I was interested to see if Mixed Reality could fit in there.


Having tried a Lenovo headset with its associated controllers I’m impressed! Whilst VR headsets \ Google Cardboard made that first step there still felt a disconnect in terms of interacting with the world you were immersed in but the hand-held controllers help take this a step further and bring you more into the 3D virtual environment.

The out-the-box demo of walking around a house picking up and manipulating objects showed potential for me as I can imagine students being able to design in 3D using something like Maya then showcase those objects in a virtual environment using Mixed Reality.

The idea of pinning multiple virtual screens, opening Windows apps and working through the headset is also intriguing, although I suspect it needs 4K lenses for longer periods of use than the 2K ones being fitted into the kit at present.

The demo finished off with a rather addictive space invaders-style game using the VR controllers. Anyone with a Playstation VR or similar has no doubt already experienced something similar and more but it’s good to see an attempt to bring the technology into productivity tools as well. One of the opening keynotes focused heavily on HoloLens and Mixed Reality so it does seem Microsoft are really going for this area of the market.

It’s also another reason to go down the Windows 10 (1709) route as these features are only available on the new Fall Creators Update.

Fail of the day

However Microsoft wouldn’t be Microsoft if they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot from time to time. At the first Future Decoded it was the irony of queuing at a tech event to collect a piece of aper but today’s award moves the bar up a notch… step forward the Future Decoded app!

Paris Tuileries Garden Facepalm statue

At an event where you spend the whole day watching cutting-edge Azure cloud technology Microsoft hired an external company to make possibly the worst conference app I’ve ever used…

  • slow to load and required registration to view even basic content, why MS would need that data is beyond me as they spend all day scanning your badge as you move between rooms
  • website scraping to populate the app content, if I wanted a web page I’d open it directly
  • seminar sessions list that had to be manually filtered per day (looks like a GETDATE function was too difficult to implement?)
  • but the worst & most irritating was the “My Agenda” planner that didn’t generate a personal agenda at all and just scraped the keynote details from the website… hopeless

Maybe next year get some of your in-house people to showcase some of those cutting-edge Azure technologies via the app,but whatever you do don’t bring this one back!