Today was a big day for Microsoft. Google, too. An education-focused event in New York City hosted by Microsoft didn’t just involve its own future. Because of the products announced, Google will play defense until ready to go on offense again.
The Surface Laptop, following in the footsteps of the Surface predecessors, is a stunning and very capable laptop. What’s majorly different about this latest device is its software. It runs a stripped-down version of Windows that’s meant for anyone who needs simplicity. Windows 10 S essentially limits users to anything offered in the Windows Store. Sound familiar? You can see where Microsoft is going with this. After sitting on the sidelines as Google proved the viability of Chrome OS, the Redmond-based company is going to battle for supremacy in simplicity.
But Google shouldn’t be worried about the Surface Laptop. Windows 10 S is the real threat to Chromebooks worldwide. It’s now possible for Microsoft to repeal and replace the success Chrome OS has had in education, once again supplanting itself as the go-to for students, teachers, administrators, and the people who want a basic device.
Again, let’s be very clear: the Surface Laptop is not, in any way, going to compete with a Chromebook. It’s a totally different device for a totally different consumer. The head-to-head competition between Microsoft and Google for attention in education and beyond will take place through Windows 10 S and Chrome OS, their respective operating systems.
Microsoft’s Surface Laptop drops what you may have thought were gimmicks with the Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. There’s no kickstand, and there’s no detaching the display for a tablet mode. Even the hinge is standard and prevents you from flipping the display all the way back. It’s purely a laptop. Just like the ones Apple and countless companies have created. The Surface Laptop is definitely high-end, too. Aluminum and a soft, warm fabric comprise the body and keyboard while the internal specifications are stacked. You get Intel’s latest generation of processors to choose from, a spacious PixelSense display, and Dolby-powered Omnisonic speakers. Pricing starts at $999, and that’s exactly why this laptop doesn’t scare Google.
What’s the average price of a Chromebook? It’s not even half of what the Surface Laptop costs. Most of them are below $300, and not a single one sold through the Google Store is above $449. So, if you’re comparing the Surface Laptop to a Chromebook, you’re thinking is way off. Look back at the Chromebook Pixel, which Google had to have known wouldn’t sell and used it only as a reference device. Chrome OS is incredibly plain, thus meaning an expensive device doesn’t make sense. Hardware and software have to be made for each other. If you’re needing to compare the Surface Laptop to something, compare it to Apple’s MacBooks. Apple, too, sells a range of high-end laptops with full-fledged operating systems.
See, Microsoft created the Surface Laptop for multiple purposes. The most obvious everyone is noticing today is that Windows 10 S, the simpler operating system, needs to be showcased somehow. Like Google did with the Chromebook Pixel, this is Microsoft’s reference device. Then consider the fact that you can upgrade from Windows 10 S to Windows 10 Pro at no extra cost through the rest of the year. That’s because, from a hardware standpoint, Microsoft is going all-in on attacking Apple’s MacBooks. People have long complained about the MacBook Air’s dated look and performance, and now Microsoft has the alternative of their dreams.
Pressure on Google is coming now because Microsoft’s strategy is transitioning. For decades, its primary operating system was used by pretty much everyone. While Apple’s macOS isn’t nearly as popular as Windows, MacBooks are certainly preferred over other laptops among younger folks. When I was in college from 2012-2016, rarely did I see a Windows-based laptop except for anything the school itself distrusted courtesy of a deal with Lenovo. The vast majority of students carried around a macOS-based laptop. Google, meanwhile, hasn’t quite paid much attention to college students. Instead it was focused heavily on education levels from elementary school through high school. Staying away from the consumers Microsoft and Apple cared about, like college-level students and businesspeople, turned out to be brilliant as Chrome OS devices are rising quickly due to cheap hardware and straightforward software.
In 2017, Microsoft is finally serious about reclaiming its dominance in the classroom. Windows 10 S is built for education, and it could be enough to suppress Chrome OS’ growth.
Windows 10 S poses a serious threat to Google as it’s just like Chrome OS but with the brand recognition of Windows. You can’t deny Windows is still dominant around the world. Machines based on Windows are being used in homes, in schools, at the workplace, and beyond. Chrome OS was built to be basic. It’s still extremely basic, evident by the struggles of managing files on a Chromebook. That’s why you don’t see them used everywhere imaginable.
Sure, the Windows Store is severely lacking. I think many would say the same about Chrome Web Store. Both have the necessities, though. Google’s Chrome OS did recently gained support for Android apps. That’ll open up the appeal of Chromebooks. Yet it’s not as trusted as Windows among the masses. You and I may know what a Chromebook is. Your parents or grandparents, however, probably don’t. Microsoft’s been around for a long time, and Windows is a global product.
The administrators running school districts are more inclined to pick Microsoft’s offering over Google’s because for years they’ve been utilizing Windows. Why switch what’s already working, especially now that there’s an optimized version? Google has to penetrate the market and show value while Microsoft can just explain to its customers how switching to Windows 10 S will benefit them and their users.
Before you interject with reasoning that no school is going to spend money on a Surface Laptop, know that I agree. Schools are not prepared to spend $999 on a single device in 2017. Budget cuts in education, especially in the United States, are why Chromebooks rose to the top. And it’s why Microsoft’s partners are vital to Windows 10 S’ climb to relevancy. ASUS, Acer, HP, and Dell have each introduced laptops based on the new software. Those companies are who schools buy from. Microsoft’s approach with Windows 10 S is much like Google’s with Android. It doesn’t want to jump into the bargain bin. Partners can do the dirty work to grow the platform while Microsoft manages and improves the software.
Windows 10 S’ existence is logical whether you like Windows or not. Microsoft may have been losing in education and simplicity, but the battle is far from over. And today it got even more complicated. The next few years we’re going to witness Microsoft and Google fight for simplicity supremacy.