The classroom used to be Microsoft territory, but Apple and Google have made major inroads. The new software and hardware Microsoft unveiled Tuesday is its biggest push in years to recapture this critical pool of technology consumers.
NEW YORK — Microsoft is launching a renewed push to get its technology in front of teachers and students, firing back at Google and Apple after those companies’ inroads into the classroom
The Redmond company on Tuesday introduced a slimmed- down version of Windows 10, called Windows 10 S, and the Surface Laptop, a computer that runs the new software and is aimed at college students.
Combined with a slate of new software updates, the products represent Microsoft’s biggest push in years to capture a critical pool of technology consumers.
Microsoft is no stranger to education. The classroom was Microsoft territory at the height of its power — the domain of Windows, Word and PowerPoint.
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But Apple’s iPad and Google’s inexpensive, easy-to-use Chromebooks have eroded that dominance, putting Microsoft on the defensive.
In 2010, before the iPad and Chromebook came along, Windows-powered 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 smartphone unit, Microsoft has few 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 and Apple.
“Already, this next generation is learning you don’t have to use Windows to communicate with the world,” said Ed Anderson, who tracks Microsoft with researcher Gartner. “They need to get out ahead of that.”
The new version of Windows 10 announced Tuesday, called Windows 10 S, is aimed at the success of Google’s Chromebooks in the classroom.
Chromebooks, rugged laptops that generally cost less than $200, run the browser-like Chrome operating system and easily plug in to Google’s range of mostly free-to-use productivity software.
Microsoft’s Windows 10 S looks and feels similar to the well-regarded Windows 10, with one major difference: It can run only applications downloaded from Microsoft’s proprietary Windows Store.
For educators, the pitch is simplicity. A curated app store keeps kids from downloading insecure or unauthorized applications from the web, and puts in Microsoft’s hands the time-consuming and tedious task of keeping those applications up to date.
But it also lops off one of the advantages of Windows: compatibility with the millions of applications written for the operating system over the years.
For technology analysts, the “walled garden” of Windows 10 S recalls the last time Microsoft created a version of Windows incapable of running most applications.
Windows RT — a version of Windows 8 released in 2012 and designed to run on tablets and mobile devices built on ARM processors — flopped. It couldn’t run mainstream Windows applications, and few developers were interested in creating applications for the operating system.
The current iteration of the Windows store has also been criticized, both for slimmed down versions of major apps, as well as the wholesale absence of mainstays like Chrome and Microsoft’s Office suite (Office will be in the store by the end of the year, Microsoft said Tuesday).
Joe Belfiore — a longtime Microsoft software engineering executive who is back on the Windows team after most of a year spent abroad with his family — acknowledged the shortcomings of Windows RT, but said this time would be different. The willingness of companies like Dell, HP and Acer to build laptops designed for the operating system was a vote of confidence, and the Windows Store, he said, was improving.
“We feel really good about the progress that we’re making,” he said.
He’ll have to prove that to people like Phil Biggs, education-technology coordinator with the Lake Stevens School District.
A few years ago, Biggs managed 1,500 Windows computers for the district’s teachers and students. Today, he oversees an armada of 9,000 devices — all Chromebooks — drawn to their simplicity and ease of use.
Biggs watched a portion of Microsoft’s presentation online Tuesday, and said he’ll wait and see if the changes the company promises materialize. “You really don’t know yet,” he said. “We’ve been down this path with [Microsoft] before.”
Microsoft introduced other bells and whistles Tuesday, including a version of Teams, a chat service catering to educators, and, for its video game “Minecraft,” an expanded coding tutorial to help kids learn to code.
The new Surface Laptop is expected to ship in mid-June, and starts at $999. Microsoft positioned the device as a competitor to Apple’s MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, and one primarily aimed at university students.
Microsoft executives here tried to frame the education effort as a moral — rather than entrepreneurial — push.
India-born Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella came to the U.S. to pursue higher education. He kicked off the event here, in a Manhattan event space, by recounting the choice his great-grandmother faced after she was widowed. She could afford to send only one of her two sons to school. The other worked.
His grandfather, after schooling, got work as a police officer, and Nadella drew a line from that to his own success.
“Talent is everywhere,” he said. “Opportunity is not.”
That message made it down through the executive ranks.
“It’s one of our top priorities,” Kirk Koenigsbauer, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Office 365 applications, said of the education push. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort, for sure.”