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Windows Autopilot and Microsoft Intune: Pros & Cons

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Joanne Yip|May 23, 2024
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General blog image 2

Windows Autopilot and Microsoft Intune are cloud-based solutions that sysadmins can use to manage devices. You can auto-enroll new devices into Intune and remotely configure them using Autopilot. Sounds easy — except it’s not.  

In this article, we explain Autopilot and Intune’s core functions and use cases, their pros and cons, how they’re not imaging tools (a common misconception) — and why computer imaging is still important.

What is Windows Autopilot?

Windows Autopilot is a cloud-based service that automates the setup and configuration of new Windows PCs based on predetermined policies — using the OEM-loaded operating system on Windows devices.  

Autopilot can be used for:

  • Pre-provisioning devices before deployment to end users (needs Intune) 

  • Self-deploying shared devices, like self-service kiosks 

  • Repurposing devices for new users (with Windows Autopilot Reset) 

  • Deploying Windows 10 and 11 on existing Autopilot-configured devices (needs Microsoft Configuration Manager, Intune, and Microsoft Entra ID)

Windows Autopilot pros & cons

For organizations with remote employees, Windows Autopilot may seem like a perfect tool, but there are tradeoffs. Here’s a list of pros and cons. 


Remote device setup

With Windows Autopilot, you can remotely apply settings and install apps on a Windows PC with little to no user interaction (a small mercy). User devices don’t have to be on-site or on a corporate network.  

Integration within Microsoft ecosystem

When configuring devices, Autopilot can be integrated with other Microsoft solutions. For instance, you can use Autopilot to automate domain joins to Microsoft Entra ID or Active Directory and device enrollments into MDM services, like Microsoft Intune (provided you have a Microsoft Entra ID P1 or P2 subscription).


Complex setup

Setting up Windows Autopilot is a complicated affair involving many prerequisites, from software and networking to licensing and configuration requirements. Configuring Microsoft 365 alone can make you feel like throwing yourself against the wall … except the wall keeps moving.

Limited visibility

Windows Autopilot offers only a limited view of the complex dependencies and configurations involved when setting up a deployment. If something goes wrong during the deployment process, troubleshooting can be difficult.

OEM bloatware

Windows Autopilot works with the default operating system installed on devices, which usually comes preloaded with OEM bloatware that can cause security and performance issues.

“Autopilot can be a good option if you only need to issue user devices occasionally, don’t have very strict requirements regarding device configuration, and don’t have on-prem apps that are persnickety. In other words, when good enough is good enough.” — Josh Mackelprang, Director of Service Operations at PDQ

Is Windows Autopilot an imaging solution?

No, Windows Autopilot isn’t an imaging solution — nor is Autopilot imaging a thing. You can’t use Autopilot to create Windows system images or deploy them to devices.  

Instead, Autopilot applies a standard series of policy-based configurations onto the existing OEM-optimized Windows operating system installed on new computers.  

Unlike computer imaging, Autopilot takes a different approach to setting up and deploying new devices. Is it a better choice? Like everything else in IT, the answer depends on your environment and the job you need to do.

How do Autopilot and Intune compare with a computer imaging tool like SmartDeploy? Check out this live webcast to hear IT pros tell it like it is, share their experience (warts and all), and explain how it boils down to having the right tools for the right job.

What is Microsoft Intune? 

Microsoft Intune is a cloud-based endpoint management solution used to remotely manage devices and apps across an organization. Intune is sometimes referred to as a mobile device management (MDM) or a mobile application management (MAM) solution.

Fun fact: Microsoft Intune is also the name for a collection of adjacent Microsoft endpoint management products — cleverly titled the Microsoft Intune Suite to avoid confusion.

Intune can be used to:

  • Centrally manage and control company devices 

  • Manage and deploy applications 

  • Apply compliance and security policies 

  • Apply company policy settings to BYOD devices

Microsoft Intune pros & cons

Like any IT tool, Microsoft Intune has its pros and cons. We put together a list below. 


Compliance management

Intune is useful for organizations that need to continuously monitor devices and keep them in a compliant state. You can, for instance, use Intune with Microsoft Defender for centralized security reporting and policy enforcement. 

Unified endpoint management 

Intune is useful if you manage a hardware- or platform-diverse environment or a distributed workforce. As a unified endpoint management tool, Intune allows organizations to centrally manage mobile and desktop devices, including Android, Apple, Linux, and Windows devices.

Intune, Microsoft, and the sunk cost fallacy

Many organizations have sunk a lot into Microsoft infrastructure and solutions (like Microsoft 365 and Enterprise Mobility and Security (EMS)), which include Intune practically for free. So, IT must stick with using Intune — even if it’s not the best solution for the job. After all, why spend money on a better tool when you can just make do? And that, my friends, is the story of Intune, Microsoft, and the sunk cost fallacy.


Limited speed and visibility

Instead of configuring devices on the spot, Intune acts asynchronously and only when it detects that devices don’t comply with preset configurations. Because of this, deployments can be slow and you won’t know exactly when they happen. If you don’t like to be kept waiting, using Intune can be maddening.

Reporting gaps

While Intune does report on the status of software installed on devices, it’s not always immediate or accurate. Is Chrome really installed? Have devices really been patched? Were there any issues (and when did they occur)? Is this all just a dream? So much existential dread.

Limited flexibility for custom deployments

Intune may be useful for wide-scale policy enforcement, but it offers less flexibility for custom deployments — especially if it involves immediate actions, building app packages, or complex scripts.

Can you image devices with Intune? 

No, you cannot use Intune to image computers or use Intune to deploy images. Intune is not a computer imaging solution. But Intune and imaging tools are not mutually exclusive, either. It’s also not a bad idea to have both tools in your sysadmin toolbox so that you have options when tackling certain tasks, like moving your fleet from Windows 10 to Windows 11.

Why computer imaging is important

Some forego imaging in favor of tools like Autopilot and Intune. But computer imaging is important because you establish greater control, consistency, and compliance across endpoints from the start.

It sets a consistent baseline

By creating a custom golden image and deploying that same image to user devices, you ensure that endpoints always start from a known, clean state and are less likely to need remediation later.

It sets up a bloatware-free environment

Applying a custom operating system image to new devices also removes pesky bloatware, which can mess with device security and performance. (Let’s face it, Candy Crush isn’t exactly a productivity booster, either.)

It ensures system compatibility

With computer imaging, you can install system updates and test for compatibility with line-of-business apps on the reference machine — catching issues before deployment.

It streamlines help desk resolution

Imaging a device can be a much quicker and more effective fix for system-level issues or virus damage, reducing user downtime and midday meltdowns.

It facilitates recovery from cyberattacks

If your organization is hit by a cyberattack, such as ransomware, you can image computers to quickly restore them to a clean, working state.

“For many sysadmins, what they almost always want is a combination of declarative plus imperative device management. Because you need something to do that broad-sweeping policy stuff, and then you also need something for instances when you need to do your job, and you need to do it right now.” — Josh Mackelprang, Director of Service Operations, PDQ

Knowing how to choose computer imaging software and what to look for also matters. Adding the right imaging solution to your device management toolkit can free up time for more important things, like lunchtime naps and catching up on the latest Reddit rants.

The reality is there’s no one-tool-fits-all approach to device management. Some tools do what others can’t, and you need to pick the right tool for the right job.  

Computer imaging allows you to customize your endpoint environment in ways you can’t with Microsoft Intune or Windows Autopilot. Try SmartDeploy free for 15 days to see how you can easily build and deploy custom hardware-independent Windows images to on-prem and remote devices — in less than a day.

joanne profile
Joanne Yip

Joanne has always loved the impact that words can make. When she isn’t typing away in the world of sysadmin, Joanne loves hiking with her husband and dog, true-crime podcasts, and dreaming of her next scuba diving adventure.

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