Thoughts on #MicrosoftEDU
Microsoft held a three-hour event in New York City this week in which it talked about education, a new version of Windows and the latest member of the Surface family. In this article, I look at the announcements as a Microsoft fan and customer, assessing the impact of the event.
Windows 10 S
Microsoft opened the event by launching Windows 10 S, a new Windows 10 variant that draws on the concepts first introduced with 2012's Windows RT. As with Windows RT, Windows 10 S can only run apps from the Windows Store. It's locked-down and fully sandboxed, preventing users from installing desktop programs.
Unlike RT, the architecture underneath is still full x86, so you can get out of the sandbox and onto a "proper" Windows installation. This costs $49 but it'll be available for free to education customers.
This is where the focus for 10 S lies: Schools. Indeed, the "S" is believed to stand for "School," or possibly "Store." We know from RT's past that consumers won't be flocking to Windows 10 S devices. Microsoft thinks schools will though, pitching it as a more powerful alternative to Google's Chrome OS that features a strong sandbox, powerful administrative features for IT managers and the ability to restrict the apps that students use.
Whether this requires its own Windows variant is questionable but it does give Microsoft a defined marketing pitch that allows schools to immediately identify the best Windows version to deploy to student devices. Windows 10 S will come preinstalled on a new range of school PCs from partners including Asus, Dell and HP, priced from only $189. It's firmly intruding on Chromebook territory.
As previously rumoured, Microsoft has expanded its Surface hardware range with its first proper laptop, the aptly-named Surface Laptop. It joins the Pro convertible, Book detachable and Studio all-in-one in Microsoft's growing premium PC selection.
Surface Laptop is built expressly to rival flagship laptops including the MacBook Pro. It's a response to feedback from existing and would-be Surface customers who have called on Microsoft to abandon the bulk of the Surface Book's fulcrum hinge and build a proper laptop. Although this conflicts with the Pro's "tablet that can replace your laptop" tagline, it has resulted in another beautiful Surface product crafted from the same magnesium alloy metal that has come to define the line.
Microsoft has included Intel's seventh-generation Intel Core processors, up to 16GB of RAM and a maximum of 1TB of SSD storage. In a first for a Surface product, four colours are available, including the Surface signature colour used on the Pro.
Overall, the Surface Laptop looks to be a compelling product that I'd probably pick over the Pro for my current use. Sadly, it will ship with Windows 10 S out of the box in a bizarre decision seemingly made only to benefit Microsoft's "not-quite Windows" marketing department.
Buyers will be eligible for a free upgrade from S to Pro but will still be forced through a trip to the Windows Store and subsequent upgrade procedure to do so. Seeing as few buyers of a $999 laptop (the starting price for Core i5/4GB) will be wanting to do away with desktop programs, the inclusion of Windows 10 S feels incongruous against the rest of the Surface ideals.
The best of the rest
#MicrosoftEDU was also used to make a few other announcements. Microsoft Office is coming to the Windows Store, there's a new Arc Mouse and PowerPoint is finally getting that 3D viewer promised months ago.
Perhaps more significantly, Microsoft Teams is being expanded to Office 365 for Education customers. Microsoft is bringing its enterprise-focused Slack rival to the classroom. While it's clear to see how Teams' features could be useful in this environment – particularly with the improvements Microsoft is making especially for this use case – it's odd that Teams will retain its original name. Like Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop, it's an oddity that Microsoft could have adjusted to better suit its purpose.
My impressions from this event are largely unchanged from what I'd perceived from the previous rumours. Windows 10 S remains a strange platform that could succeed in education, if it sticks firmly to its goals. Unfortunately Microsoft is already setting the stage for a return to the confusion of RT by forcing S onto a premium laptop that should be running Pro out of the box.
As for Surface Laptop itself, it's clear Microsoft could have another winner on its hands. With Surface continuing to be one of Microsoft's fastest growing divisions, Laptop will enable the brand to expand to a larger audience of people who've always liked the Pro but never quite needed a convertible.
This group includes myself. Although I won't be in the market for a new laptop for another year, it's likely I'll take a detailed look at the Surface offering when it's time to buy. Alternatively, I'll stay loyal to Asus and end up getting a top-spec ZenBook.
For more details of the announcements at #MicrosoftEDU, see my coverage for Digital Journal and Microsoft's official press releases.