Updates from Tuesday's MicrosoftEDU event.

Share story

NEW YORK — Microsoft invited a room full of journalists and analysts to a MicrosoftEDU press conference Tuesday in the Big Apple, where the company  launched new devices and software aimed at teachers and students.

Microsoft is trying to hold its ground in the classroom, a technology market that has been reshaped by three things: the arrival of Apple’s iPad in 2010; Google’s inexpensive, easy-to-use Chromebook laptops a year later; and classroom management applications from both of the Redmond company’s rivals.

Here are updates from the two-hour-long event.


Update, 8:09 a.m.

Microsoft’s new Windows 10 S operating system is getting new hardware to go with it: the Surface Laptop.

The 13.5-inch, 2.76 pound laptop comes in four colors (burgundy, cobalt, platinum, gold). The target market, says Panos Panay, the leader of Microsoft’s Surface hardware group, is college students.

The Surface Laptop, which starts at $999, is available for preorders on Tuesday and is expected to be available by June 15.

Plenty of students use Apple’s MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, “and we know that,” Panay said. “They are awesome products.”

There’s a “but.” Panay says Microsoft’s new device is slimmer than either, and packs more power and battery life, he says.


Update, 7:31 a.m.

Meet Minecraft, Microsoft’s killer app.

The blocky, open-world, crafting and exploring video game’s education-focused edition is getting an update, called Minecraft Code Builder. Microsoft employees here tout the game’s potential to help teach kids to code as a core piece of the company’s offerings for the classroom.

Since Microsoft shelled out $2.5 billion for Minecraft builder Mojang, the company has woven the game  into its sales pitch for all sorts of areas. From showcasing the possibility of video gaming with HoloLens, to the effort to pitch Windows 10’s smartphone variant, and today’s education push.

In addition to the more than $100 million in profit the game churns out annually, Microsoft seems to have acquired a flagship application — something the company is showing off in as broad a range of settings as Microsoft Word was, back when office software was a novelty.


Update, 7:04 a.m.

Windows 10 is getting leaner for the classroom, a shot at Google’s browser-like Chrome operating system.

Terry Myerson, who leads Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group, introduced Windows 10 S, a streamlined version of the software that can run only applications downloaded from Microsoft’s Windows Store.

That cuts down the range of programs for the device — from the millions of applications that run on Windows, to the smaller collection vetted by Microsoft and written specifically for Windows 10’s application platform. The aim, Myerson says, is security, simplicity and administrative control of devices.

Analysts’ reviews of Microsoft’s Windows Store, though, have been lukewarm. The store lacks many common Windows applications, including Microsoft’s own Office suite. (Those programs are coming, Myerson said).

Meanwhile, others have raised concerns that the store represents an effort by Microsoft to exert a greater degree of control on the formerly wide open world of Windows applications developed over the last 30 years.

Computer makers, including Acer and Dell, have built new, education market-focused devices for the new software, starting at $189.

The whole package will be available “this summer” — in time for the new school year, Myerson said.


Update, 6:45 a.m.

Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella kicked things off here with an anecdote about his grandfather and a brother growing up in India after the First World War. His great grandmother could only afford to send one of her sons to school. The other worked.

Nadella draws a line from his grandfather, whose education led to a career as a police officer, to his own path.

The CEO says helping educators is core to Microsoft, but the company is keen to avoid the techno-utopianism churned out by Silicon Valley.

He quotes former Microsoft researcher Kentaro Toyama, whose book, “Geek Heresy,” is critical of the view that technology alone will improve education, and society at large.

“I am here today as a heretic,” Nadella said. “We are under no illusion that technology alone is the answer to transforming education.”

Still, Microsoft is about to introduce some products designed to help.


Update, 6:25 a.m.

Before Microsoft pulls the curtains on its new products, some context on why education matters to Microsoft.

The classroom was Microsoft territory at the height of its power, the domain of Windows, Word and PowerPoint. Before the iPad and Chromebook came along, Windows-powered laptops and other devices accounted for more than three quarters of all computers shipped to schools, according to researcher IDC.

Last year, just 22 percent of mobile devices bound for U.S. K-12 classrooms were Windows computers, according to Futuresource Consulting. (Microsoft fares better abroad, where Windows held 65 percent of the market, the consultancy estimates).

After shutting down its moneylosing smartphone unit, Microsoft is running low on businesses that reach young people outside the workplace (Xbox is a notable exception). The company is counting on schools to help keep Microsoft a household name with a generation of technology users more familiar with Google.

Google’s Chromebooks accounted for 58 percent of K-12 mobile device shipments late last year, Futuresource estimates, up from 50 percent a year earlier. Google is also making inroads in classroom software with its modified versions of the consumer Gmail, calendar and word processing apps.

“We continue to see tremendous momentum in education,” Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai said last week on a quarterly earnings conference call. “Our products are leading the industry, thanks to their simplicity.”

He said 70 million people use Google’s G Suite for education, and 20 million students and teachers use Chromebooks.

Expect some competing stats from Microsoft shortly.