It's back to school for Microsoft.
Microsoft wants its laptops and software once again to have a prime place in the classroom, where it once held a stronghold until Google's cheap, efficient Chromebooks came along.
At its EDU event on Tuesday, Microsoft announced a new Surface laptop, along with some partner PCs, meant to help it win back schools across the country. Windows PCs years ago dominated in schools, while Apple took a back seat until it rebuilt itself with the iPod, iMac and ultimately the iPhone.
Then came Google's Chrome OS software and Chromebooks, which offered schools an inexpensive and safe way to primarily surf the web for students. They were also easier to manage for teachers setting up computers in the classroom.
Chromebooks have since become the top choice for schools, with more than 20 million students using the laptops internationally, according to Google.
Microsoft is betting on its newest laptops to turn the tide again.
Microsoft introduced theto take on the MacBook Air, going with a traditional clamshell design and ditching the hybrid tablet-laptop format that built the Surface's name. The Surface Laptop will sell for $999 in the US, matching Apple's price range.
It comes with an Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage, and Microsoft is promising 14 hours of battery life. The 13-inch laptop weighs less than a 13-inch MacBook Pro at 2.76 pounds (1.25 kg) and comes with a touchscreen display and Surface Pen support.
The laptop comes in four colors: silver, gold, burgundy and gray.
Windows 10 S
The new Windows 10 S takes a walled-garden approach, offering faster load times and more security for students. Microsoft said it would also have faster start times and offer better battery performance than its predecessors, but there's a catch.
On Windows 10 S, you'll only be able to run Microsoft's apps and can only install third-party apps from Microsoft's Windows store. It takes a page from Google's Chrome OS, which school administrators flocked to for its simplicity.
The closed-in software should make it easier for teachers to manage laptops in the schools, along with features like classroom chat groups, assignment submissions and moderation tools.
The operating system allows for easy mass setups across classrooms by using a USB key. It will be free for any current PCs using Windows Pro.
People who have Windows 10 S and who want to get out of the limited, student experience will be able to update the operating system into the full-fledged Windows Pro. But be warned: Once you upgrade your license key, you can't go back.
It will cost $49 to upgrade from Windows 10 S to the full Windows 10 Pro. The change allows people to download software that is not curated and secured by Microsoft.
The new Surface Laptop won't be the only device running Windows 10 S. Acer and HP are both offering cheaper options for schools that might not want to shell out $1,000 for the premium device.
The Acer Travelmate Spin B1 and HP ProBook x360 11 Education Edition will both add Windows 10 S versions to their laptops, which are already available for $299. The cheapest education laptop starts at $189, the Windows executive vice president Terry Myerson said at the event.
Minecraft: Education Edition upgrades
Microsoft hopes students will use Minecraft as a building block to learn coding.
The company introduced a new Code Builder for Minecraft: Education Edition, which will allow players to write code to move, build and create in the game.
Students can get a free one-year trial of Minecraft: Education Edition, and the Code Builder upgrade will be available through the Microsoft Store for Education.
You can expect more virtual objects floating around in classrooms.
Microsoft is preparing to bring "mixed reality" into schools with new features on Window 10 S, saying there will be at least 7 million new jobs for creating 3D art in North America alone.
It's hoping to introduce virtual, augmented and mixed reality into classrooms so students can get a head start on the burgeoning creative field. View Mixed Reality is arriving in the fall to let people preview 3D objects in the real world through a mixed reality headset or their screens.
Microsoft will also be partnering with Pearson Education to bring 3D and MR devices into classroom curriculum by 2018. The packages will include subjects like history, science, math and commerce.
Originally published at 7:56 a.m. PT.
Updated at 8:38 a.m. PT: To include more details about Windows 10 S and its upgrading capabilities.
Updated at 2:15 p.m. PT: To add comparisons between the MacBook Air and the Surface Laptop.
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