Chrome OS has been dominating the education market for a while, mainly because of its low-cost and ease of use have been unparalleled in the space. Today, though, Microsoft announced Windows 10 S, its answer to Google’s education efforts. And Google needs to take note, because this one might have some power behind it.
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Looking back, Microsoft’s efforts in getting Windows to run on affordable, low-powered hardware have, well, not been that successful (although there are certainly exceptions to the rule). The full version of the OS was and still is a bit too much for cheap machines. A while back, Microsoft introduced Windows RT to solve that, but it was a hilarious failure. Now, we have Windows 10 S, and based on what we’ve seen so far, Google might have some serious competition.
The big point for Windows 10 S is that it’s a simplified version of Windows 10. First off, this OS can’t install apps like a traditional Windows PC — it requires apps to be installed from the Windows Store. Microsoft says this is for sake of security, and that should come in handy in the education market. By blocking installs of potentially virus-infested programs and time-wasting games, teachers will be able to keep track of their students better.
In Windows RT (which wasn’t particularly aimed at education), this same restriction was a deal breaker for many, and it made it difficult for anyone to use it for basically anything. In the time since, app selection in the Windows Store has grown significantly, with plenty of major apps available through the store, and many more on the way. Those include apps like Spotify, for example, which is confirmed to be coming to the store “soon.”
Microsoft’s other big play for 10 S is bringing the entire Office suite in its full desktop glory to the Windows Store. That includes Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, and Outlook. All of these will be available to download from the store with the “Office 365 Personal” bundle, and of course, they’ll all work with a 365 subscription. While Chromebooks w/ Android apps now offer these same apps on Chrome OS, there’s no argument that those apps are as powerful as the real, desktop version of Office. And that’s not the mention the brand name recognition that these apps enjoy.
Also of note, Microsoft is pre-loading every Windows 10 S device for schools with Minecraft Education Edition for free, which seems like a silly gimmick, but actually highlights a great benefit for schools using this hardware. It’s an example of how native apps still play a role in schools, as that program simply couldn’t run on a Chromebook.
App support is one of the features that is going to attract buyers to Windows 10 S over Chrome OS. Chrome OS works great with web apps, but so many of those are limited compared to their true, native desktop counterparts (although this is becoming less the case over time). For many people, myself included, the workflow of using apps like that is better than using the browser for everything.
Of course, Windows 10 S won’t be restricted when it comes to web apps. If it can run on Microsoft’s Edge browser, it will work with this OS. Unfortunately, Chrome won’t run on Windows 10 S, but all Google needs to do to remedy that is put the Chrome browser in the Windows Store. Will that happen? Maybe, but doing so would give users another reason to use Microsoft’s new option over Chrome OS.
Windows 10 S also competes with Chrome OS is terms of speed. Chromebooks are well-known for booting up extremely quickly, with most taking just seconds to get from being completely off to being ready for action. Microsoft says that Windows 10 S will be able to boot up completely in about 15 seconds on its first boot, which lines up with what most Chromebooks are capable of.
Google’s platform has been destroying Microsoft in education sales, so to make Windows 10 S more appealing, Microsoft is making it clear that education apps are going to be a big focus for the Windows Store. Microsoft is making it easy for schools to set up Windows 10 S on a fleet of laptops in school with a USB drive, and they’re offering administrative tools for Windows 10 S that make it easy to control a collection of computers. Granted, Chrome OS already offers some these same features.
And then, of course, there’s the price of Windows 10 S hardware. Laptops pre-loaded with Windows 10 S are going to start at $189, lining up closely with Chrome OS devices.
Microsoft’s flagship 10 S product, the Surface Laptop, comes in at $999, however. This is definitely a high-end machine (that’s actually very reminiscent of Google’s Chromebook Pixel), but it’s not the focus. It shouldn’t be either, as it’s a bit ridiculous to me that Microsoft just launched an expensive computer in 2017 that… doesn’t have USB-C. Of course, users can upgrade this machine (and any other Windows 10 S device) to Windows 10 Pro to unlock its full capabilities.
At the end of the day, Windows 10 S is going to have an uphill battle against Chrome OS. It offers an experience that is richer in certain ways to Google’s, but I don’t see it being the winner in the long run. Chrome OS ages very well, and Windows doesn’t yet, especially on low-end hardware. App support and education features are going to be the things that attract schools to inexpensive computers with Windows 10 S, but in the long run, I think Chrome OS is still going to win. Why?
The future of computing is on the web. Google Docs has made huge strides in competing with Microsoft’s Office suite, and various other online options have done the same. Unless Windows 10 S hits the market and blows us away with performance, security, and long-term reliability on low-end hardware, I don’t see it winning this war. It might make Google a little bit anxious, though, since Windows (without 10 S in the picture) is already a modest contender at ~22% market share vs Chrome’s 58%.