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Microsoft unveils new battle plan against Google Chromebooks

  • Windows 10 S targeted at education sector
  • Windows 10 S is limited but can be fully upgraded to Windows 10 Professional
  • Microsoft's new Surface Laptop runs Windows 10 S and will target Chromebooks
  • Google Chromebooks have a 58 percent share of US education market, compared to 22 percent for Windows, according to Futuresource

Microsoft on Tuesday officially unveiled its battle plan to take on Google Chromebooks and the Apple iPad in the education sector.

The heart of Microsoft's plan is a new version of Windows called Windows 10 S, which will be available on new laptops targeted at schools. Unlike the full version of Windows 10, Windows 10 S only allows applications from Microsoft's Windows Store to be installed. (You can install anything you want if you upgrade.)

In other words, students won't be able to visit a website and install any app they please, allowing teachers and administrators to provide more control on what can and can't be accessed. Microsoft's "Set Up School PC" app allows IT administrators to easily manage and preload each computer with a preselected set of applications all with a USB key.

Windows 10 S can operate on any product capable of running Windows, from high-end computers to low-power devices. Microsoft's partners including Dell, Toshiba, Acer, HP and others will also sell Windows 10 S computers for the education market starting at $189. Each education device comes with a free one-year subscription to Minecraft. Schools with Windows Pro PCs will be able to download Windows 10 S for free ahead of next school year.

Handout: Surface Laptop
Microsoft

Microsoft also introduced the Surface Laptop which will run Windows 10 S out of the box. It features a 13.5-inch display, just a half of an inch larger than a MacBook Air, and a sharp and colorful display, which LCD said features the thinnest LCD touch module ever inserted into a laptop.

Unlike most educational notebooks, this one doesn't look cumbersome or covered in rubber for added support against drops; it's sleek and attractive, similar to a high-end Chromebook. It sports Intel's high-end and newest Core i7 or Core i5 processors, which means it'll have plenty of power for running apps like Adobe Photoshop. Microsoft is promising up to 14.5 hours of battery life, too, which it specifically highlighted is more than users get from a MacBook. At $999, the Surface Laptop is most likely to compete with MacBooks on price, which are far more expensive than Chromebooks — the leading hardware in education.

Despite all of this, Microsoft's battle against Chromebooks won't be easy. According to consulting firm Futuresource, Windows had just a 22 percent share of the U.S. K-12 mobile computing market in 2016. Chrome OS had a lion's share with 58 percent of the market, largely because it already offers an extremely simple operating system that's easy for schools to manage, and integration with its suite of Google Apps services. The Surface Laptop and Windows 10 S are its latest attempt to close that gap.