• Carolina MIlanesi

Microsoft’s Two-Pronged Approach to Education

On Tuesday, Microsoft held an event in New York where it presented its new version of Windows called Windows 10 S as well as the new Surface Laptop. With the combination of the two, plus apps targeted at teachers and educators, Microsoft is hoping to gain traction in the K-12 as well as higher education.


In January 2017 at the BETT show in London, Microsoft announced “Intune for Education” which delivered a simple device management solution for schools that can customize over 150 settings, apply them to hardware and apps, and assign them to a student so they “follow” any device they use as they log in. Microsoft also announced a partnership with Acer, HP, and Lenovo to bring to market Windows 10 PCs starting at $189 including some 2-in-1s.


Chromebooks have been steadily growing in US education market which, according to FutureSource Consulting, represented close to 13 million units in 2016, of which 58% were Chromebooks. While most of the commentary around Chromebooks’ success rests on hardware pricing, there is a lot in the simplicity of the platform that is a big appeal for schools. However, with prices as low as $120, competing against Chromebooks is not an easy task.


Windows 10 S aims at taking Microsoft a step further from what we have seen thus far, especially when it comes to the initial set up of devices and subsequent management. By stripping down Windows 10 to its essential components and granting access to only store apps, Microsoft is hoping to deliver the simplicity schools are looking for.


Windows 10 S will need OEM Support to make a Difference


The battle in education is, however, a Windows/Microsoft battle for now, not an OEM battle, as most Microsoft hardware partners are selling Chromebooks. While Microsoft announced a list of partners that will bring to market Windows 10 S devices, the commitment will be judged on how many models, channel support, and overall push we will see from brands such as HP, Acer, and Dell.


No details have been given on the royalty OEMs will pay Microsoft for preloading Windows 10 S and how that differs from Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro. Nor have we heard whether Microsoft will help in any other way, such as marketing, to position the devices. My guess is Microsoft will have to do something, at least initially, so that Windows 10 S actually gets a shot to prove itself.


The Surface Laptop competes with the MacBook Air not Chromebooks


Looking at the Surface Laptop Microsoft announced during the event and dismissing Microsoft’s chances to compete against Chromebooks is a mistake. Surface Laptop, in my mind, has a different role to play.


First, it plays to Millennials’ need for a laptop form factor vs. a 2-in-1 or a tablet. In a recent study Creative Strategies conducted in the US, college students clearly shared their preference for a traditional laptop form factor with 73% primarily using a laptop when working on a school or work project.


Second, the Surface Laptop aims at picking up higher ed students who, in the past, might have picked up a MacBook Air. Eighty-eight percent of Mac users in the Creative Strategy study said they would pick a Mac if their employer offered them a choice. 9% said they would pick a Surface. Surface was the only Windows-based brand to register any real interest among the overall panel with 16% of Millennials mentioning Surface as the brand they would choose. If we exclude Apple from the brand option and only consider brands within the Windows ecosystem, then the preference for Surface grew to 43%. If you are not convinced, just watch the video Microsoft played at the launch. It is a love affair between you, the user, and Surface Laptop. They could not have made it more personal if they tried. I guarantee you, that is not how a school administrator picks hardware.


Lastly, Surface Laptop can appeal to those enterprises invested in the Windows ecosystem but who are looking for more affordable Surface hardware and a more traditional form factor. If they have not yet embraced Windows 10 apps, enterprises can upgrade Surface Laptop to Windows 10 Pro.


Windows 10 S has a Role to Play Outside Education


While the focus of Microsoft’s event was education, I see Windows 10 S playing a role in other areas as well, although Microsoft did the right thing by not talking about it at the event. People need time to get their head around Windows 10 S and trying to make it something for everybody would have been too confusing.


I see Windows 10 S as the modern implementation of the Windows ecosystem, one that puts Windows 10 apps right in the middle of the experience. Because of this, I see Windows 10 S appealing to consumers who want a mobile-first experience and are not concerned about support for legacy apps. I also see Windows 10 S potentially appealing to enterprises that have already transitioned to a Windows 10 app environment.


From a consumer perspective, I hope to hear more from Microsoft next week at Build how they are planning to help developers invest more in Store apps. This is going to make a huge difference in how users see their devices going forward – productivity only to one-stop device for both work and play. There is no question Microsoft has been putting a lot of effort in first party apps but more needs to be done for developers so the vision of inking, mixed reality, and 3D printing is brought to life sooner rather than later.


As to be expected, a lot of attention was given to Surface and the Windows 10 S but the other tools Microsoft launched today, such as Minecraft Code Builder, Microsoft Teams for education, and the STEM programs and camps really show the full commitment, not just to education but to the next generation of Windows users.

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