Microsoft put on an interesting show last week at its #MicrosoftEDU conference last week. Along with the announcement of Windows 10 S came a brand spankin’ new Surface laptop. This is really great news for those who want to see a Surface phone, because frankly, Microsoft is running out of form factors. In the process of that announcement, Microsoft may have sent out some mixed messages, so I wanted to take a moment to set the record straight. Or at least how I saw it.

Chromebooks beware

Listening to the latest Pocketnow Weekly podcast, there was some confusion as to how a $1,000 laptop could possibly compete with a school’s laptop of choice – the Chromebook. Chromebooks are famously pretty cheap, so asking a grammar school for $1,000 a pop for new laptops seems counterintuitive. Indeed it is exactly that. Because the Surface Laptop is not meant to compete with Chromebooks – Windows S is. We’ll get to the Surface Laptop in a little bit.

Windows S is basically Windows RT 2.0. It’s a stripped-down version of Windows 10 that is fast and light-weight. It only allows installation of apps from the Windows store; EXE files need not apply. Windows 10 S is made to be fast and easy to install and manage remotely, potentially along with InTune – Microsoft’s Mobile Device Management solution. Windows 10 S can be installed from a thumb drive quickly, allowing school IT admins to blow through 300 laptops in under a day.

This is my jam

My wife is a teacher, so I’m a little familiar with schools and how they’re managed from an IT standpoint. There are some lucky schools which have a small IT staff. There are many other schools with a “computer teacher who can also install Windows when needed”. Schools are one place where easy and familiar have to be in the conversation. And the fact of the matter is, everybody knows Windows. Which is what makes Windows 10 S so powerful – it combined simplicity with speed.

Plus, Windows 10 S can be run on lighter-weight hardware, such as the stack of netbooks that Terry Myerson pulled out during his demonstration. Windows 10 S doesn’t require high-end software, which brings me to the Surface Laptop and the confusion surrounding Microsoft’s message last week. The Surface Laptop isn’t supposed to compete with Chromebooks – that’s Windows 10 S’s job. The Surface 10 laptop competes with Macbook Airs.

Remember, this was an EDU a.k.a. education event, and grammar schools aren’t the only aspect of education where laptops are relevant. College kids also need hardware, and probably more durable hardware to get their work done. That’s where the Surface Laptop comes into play.

College bound!

Sure, the Surface laptop comes with Windows 10 S already installed, but for an extra $50, you can get the full version of Windows 10 Pro. That includes EXE files and everything. The Surface laptop is a Macbook Air competitor through and through as the comparisons showed throughout the hardware portion of Microsoft’s show. So, it’s not necessarily Chromebooks that the Surface Laptop is targeting, unless you count the Chromebook Pixel.

Because, like the Chromebook Pixel, the Surface Laptop is reference hardware for Windows 10 S – the best it can be. It’s really a relief that Microsoft decided to keep pushing the high-end design envelope when it comes to the Surface Laptop. Personally, I would hate to see a Surface device that was the equivalent of a Chromebook or netbook. Microsoft tried that with the Surface, Surface 2, and Surface 3 with predictable results. I don’t mind seeing the Surface laptop ship with Windows 10 S – there’s a lot to be said for it. I’d pay the extra $50, but that’s me.

Covering the whole spectrum

So, in some ways, Microsoft’s message last week was confusing, but put into context, I think it’s clear that Microsoft has a great strategy to go after the education sector from first grade through college. This is important because technology is becoming more and more important in education. Just ask my fourth grader son with the Google Drive account. As technology becomes more important in our daily lives, it will change how we learn and how we grow.

Microsoft basically put on two shows last week – one for teachers and administrators and one for college kids. It made for a confusing message to be sure. But Microsoft has a great plan to put itself right in the center of the education experience at all levels. I for one applaud it, even if the message was a little confusing at times.

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