Microsoft going back to school with new laptop and Windows version

Microsoft going back to school with new laptop and Windows version

Microsoft is going back to school with a new Surface laptop and a version of Windows 10 geared to the education market. It’s all part of a strategy to win back the classroom from its chief competitors, Apple and Google.

Both Microsoft and Apple have long been big players in education. One of Microsoft’s competitive advantages has been the low-cost machines from its hardware partners that appealed to a school’s budget, regardless of whether they were preferred by students and teachers.

But now Google is in the education business in a big way through its Chromebook laptops, which give schools and students an even lower-cost way to access the web and the many apps that can run inside the Chrome browser. Not only are Chromebooks cheaper than Windows and Mac PCs (and sometimes even iPads) but they’re easier for schools to manage because they limit what applications students can run and are less prone to malicious software and other problems.

But Microsoft’s plan is to provide a new set of machines across the price spectrum with a version of Windows that restricts what software students can load on the machine.

A view of the new Microsoft Surface Laptop following a Microsoft launch event, May 2, 2017 in New York City. The Windows 10 S operating system is geared toward the education market and is Microsoft's answer to Google's Chrome OS. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A view of the new Microsoft Surface Laptop following a Microsoft launch event, May 2, 2017 in New York City. The Windows 10 S operating system is geared toward the education market and is Microsoft’s answer to Google’s Chrome OS. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images) 

One of those new laptops is the somewhat pricey $999 Surface Laptop, from Microsoft itself. But thanks to its extensive list of partners like Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung and Toshiba, some machines will start at $189, a price that will compete with Chromebooks and iPads.

Microsoft’s $999 Surface Laptop has only 4 gigabytes of memory and 128 GB of storage, which is barely adequate for high school and college students. A more suitable 8 GB of memory and 256K of storage will cost $1,299. Well-heeled college students could spend as much as $2,100 for a Surface with 16 GB of memory and 512 GB storage and a newer and faster Intel CPU.  By comparison, $999 buys you a MacBook Air with the same storage and twice the memory of the entry-level Surface while $1,199 buys you a MacBook Air with the same amount of memory and storage as the $1,299 surface. Both Apple and Microsoft offer education discounts for students and teachers.

I had a few minutes of hands-on time with the new Surface Laptop, and it struck me as a perfectly good device for students or anyone else looking for a competitively priced Windows laptop. Unlike many Windows 10 machines, it’s not a “convertible” or “2 in 1” that lets you use it as both a laptop or a tablet. Some of the newer Windows machines have hinges that let you place the screen in any position, including all the way back, while others, like Microsoft’s Surface Book, let you separate the screen and keyboard to turn the machine into a tablet.

I have a convertible laptop from HP and I almost never use it in tablet mode, which I’m told is typical, so if Microsoft could lower the price by going with a traditional laptop design, that may be a good move. The Surface Laptop weighs 2.76 pounds and has a 13.5-inch display. Microsoft claims 14.5 hours of video playback but “your mileage may vary.”

Like most Windows 10 laptops, the new Surface has a touch screen that I found responsive and easy to use. It also has a very good track pad that, unlike older Window track pads, offers smooth scrolling.

But if you really want a part of the K-12 education market, you can’t expect schools or parents to shell out a thousand dollars for a laptop. That’s why it’s so important that Microsoft is making its new Windows 10S operating system available to hardware partners who can compete on cost. The new OS also comes with a free one-year subscription to Office 365 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote) as well as a terabyte of free cloud storage. Schools can cut deals with Microsoft for educational use of that software.

For schools, the most appealing aspect of Windows 10S is the ability to restrict apps and configure the machines over their networks or via USB device.It won’t allow you to download any software unless it’s from Microsoft’s app store. The app store vets programs so that they’re less likely to contain malware than software obtained elsewhere. There are also some parental and school controls to restrict when the machine can be used and to keep kids from using the machine to access inappropriate content. Anyone wanting the full-fledged Windows 10 experience can upgrade to Windows 10 Pro for $49.

Whether this strategy results in increased education market share remains to be seen. Personally, I think schools and parents should seriously consider Windows 10S laptops from Microsoft’s partners as a low-cost way to equip students with machines that can run a vast amount of software. Macs are wonderful, but they’re very expensive and Chromebooks are great, but they’re quite limited. Having said that, I don’t expect to see a huge exodus from the Chromebook market because Google has done an excellent job of providing schools access to free apps and services that support the Chrome ecosystem.

Still, Microsoft has done a good enough job on Windows 10 to wean this Mac user from his MacBook Air, and I’m sure that at least some in the education market will take another look at what Microsoft is offering.

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Published at Thu, 04 May 2017 17:47:45 +0000