Microsoft held its special Education event on Wednesday, and announced a handful of new products and services designed for and geared specifically towards teachers and students. While Microsoft dominates the installed educational base, Google Chromebooks and G Suite have grown in popularity in K-12 over the past few years as have Apple MacBooks for high schoolers off to college. While the education market isn’t a very profitable market, K-12 students may go off to college or secondary school and then off to a job where the industry standard tool is Microsoft Office and increasingly Office 365. Microsoft would like to see that continue. Given Microsoft’s challenges in the smartphone OS space, the company needs positive interaction with kids and schools beyond the very successful Minecraft and XBox franchises. Microsoft needed a meaningful response and this announcement was the day for it and the messages were as much for educators as it was for their broad partner base of hardware OEMS and ISVs. Microsoft needed to show it was in-touch with the needs of schools and students and could muster a simple and cost-effective solution.
Here’s a rundown of what was announced, and what I thought about it. I’m going to focus mainly on the software and services side of the announcements—as I already weighed in on the Surface Laptop here.
Nadella nails the opening
CEO Satya Nadella kicked off the day with a very personal and passionate story of how his grandfather and great uncle took two very paths and he wouldn’t be on stage if his grandfather wasn’t able to get the schooling he needed. I was touched. He related those personal experiences to the Microsoft mission and just how important education was to him and to Microsoft. Nadella was on fire and to me gave to me the most impassioned CEO plea I’ve heard in years. He really meant it and came across as very genuine and is onto solidifying his position as the one of tech industry’s best if the not the best oraters.
Microsoft finds its “(s)oul” with Windows 10 S
After Nadella’s opening remarks, he introduced Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group. Myerson’s first big announcement was the unveiling of the new Window 10 S—an experience targeted to students and teachers with a strong emphasis on the (s)ecurity, (s)afety and (s)peed needed for educational settings. Myerson attempted to appeal to the audience’s emotions by repeatedly referring to 10 S as Microsoft’s “(s)oul,”—espousing the necessity for teachers to have the right tools to shape tomorrow’s innovators in today’s classroom.
In the interest of security, safety, and speed, all the applications in Windows 10 S are downloaded from the Windows Store, where they are initially verified. The applications are then run locally within a secure container, which should provide consistency in performance, increased security and privacy and quick login times for students. However, for the certain teachers and administrators who understand the inherent risks involved in downloading apps from the Wild West of the Internet, they do have the option of making a one-way switch to Windows 10 Pro, so that they’re able to download and install anything they desire. Including this option was a good move—the open platform nature of Windows is one of its key strengths after all. Interesting to me was that this sets the table nicely for a Windows on Qualcomm notebook solution in the future.
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All in on Edge and Bing
While Microsoft has been pushing really hard to make its browser, Microsoft Edge, ideally suited for the classroom, Windows 10 S does have the ability to run any browser—as long as it’s available in the Windows Store. But right now, Google Chrome is not in the store and this culd be an issue for some students and educators, particularly if they’re standardized on G Suite. At a minimum, I’d like to see Microsoft allow Google to be the default search engine or give some really good reasons why not. Bing is good quality search and it’s the default searche egine for Apple iOS, but people like choice.
Edge is very fast, power-efficient and Microsoft reinforced some of its differentiating features for Microsoft Edge at the event as well—a new Tab Preview Bar, and a feature called Windows Ink, which allows students to scribble notes directly onto a web page for saving and sharing. Inking in education is a big deal, bigger than in any other market and I’m excited to see where this goes. It’s going to take a lot of effort and innovation to cut into…
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