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Microsoft Planning New UWP-Only Windows 10 S and Unveils Surface Laptop

Microsoft wants to see Windows PCs, Office 365 and its forthcoming mixed reality wares in every classroom from kindergarten through high school and college. The company has taken the wraps off perhaps its broadest effort yet to accomplish that goal.

At an event in New York today, Microsoft unveiled Windows 10 S, a version of Office 365 optimized for educational environments and a new Surface Laptop that company officials said will exceed the capabilities of existing mobile PCs, Chromebooks and Apple MacBooks. The company also released a version of its Intune configuration and management service customized for educational environments.

It's not lost on any provider of technology that capturing the student demographic is critical, since that's the time they form preferences and allegiances to specific platforms and applications. Likewise, making it easier for students to learn and collaborate with each other, teachers and parents is critical, said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who discussed how he's spent the past two years visiting classrooms all over the world.

"Technology should make teachers' lives simpler and spark students' creativity, not distract from it," Nadella said, in remarks kicking off today's MicrosoftEDU event. "This is a top priority we are focused on at Microsoft. Today we are delivering an accessible streamlined platform, readily available to all classrooms so teachers spend less time focused on technology and more time doing what they love doing: inspiring students."

While speculation about Microsoft's plans to release new hardware has mounted for months, perhaps the biggest surprise was the launch of Windows 10 S, a version of the operating system optimized for classroom environment. It will support forthcoming View Mixed Reality learning experiences as well as various new teaching applications and STEM-based lesson plans and apps such as Lego's WebDo 2.0 tools focused on headsets, interactive whiteboards and accessibility.

Terry Myerson, executive VP of Microsoft's Windows and devices group, described Windows 10 S, which can run on partner devices that start at $189, up to Microsoft's high-end Surface Book, as a streamlined version of the OS that's secure and able to maintain consistent performance over years of usage.

Windows 10 S will also test the appetite for Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP) in a big way because it will not run classic Win32 software -- only apps available in the Windows Store. This restriction will ensure consistent performance and better security, Myerson explained.

"Everything that runs on Windows 10 S is downloaded from the Windows Store, which means first it's verified for security and performance," Myerson said. "When it's downloaded to the device, it runs in a safe container to ensure that the execution of applications don't impact the overall performance of the rest of the system, allowing the performance of the device to be the same on day one as day 1,000."

Still lacking in the Windows Store is the complete desktop suite of Office applications consisting of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, which Myerson said, "will be coming soon." Another limitation that might raise some eyebrows, but also with the same goal of ensuring consistent performance and security, is the fact that Windows 10 S will only run Microsoft's Edge browser. Also, Windows 10 S won't support domain joins to Active Directory on-premises -- only via Azure AD.

Windows 10 S is slated for release this summer and can be deployed on existing Windows 10 Pro systems free of charge. New PCs sold for educational use will also include free subscriptions to Minecraft: Education Edition. Microsoft is also offering Office 365 for Education, including use of the new Microsoft Teams free of charge to students and educators. The company also released a version of Windows Intune for Education, which is now available.

Surface Laptop: 'Resets the Category'
The other big news at today's MicrosoftEDU event was the launch of the Surface Laptop, a thin and lightweight device with a 13.5-inch display available in high-end configurations that aims to offer a viable alternative to Apple MacBooks. While this is not the first Surface introduction to make such a claim -- in fact, most have -- it may have made the strongest argument yet, though it's too early to draw any conclusions since the device isn't shipping.

"This is the laptop that resets the category," said Panos Panay, Microsoft's corporate VP for devices. While it runs Windows 10 S, this system will clearly not just appeal to students, though clearly the company wants to grab the attention of those who want to go back to school this fall with a MacBook. Panay emphasized the engineering of the device, which is made of anodized metal, an Alcantara-covered textured backlit keyboard with keys that are 1.5 mm and a .2mm pitch which is has a maximum of 0.57 inches and weighs just 2.76 pounds. Microsoft officials claim the Surface Laptop will get 14.5 hours of battery life, but typically systems never achieve maximum power estimates.

Although I only spent a few minutes with the new Surface Laptop, it was quite light given its size, and its 3.4 million-pixel display renders high-resolution visuals. The systems are priced in the same general range as Microsoft's current Surface Pro 4 line. An entry level Surface Laptop costs $999, configured with an Intel 7th Generation Core i5 processor, 128GB SSD and 4GB or RAM. The company is taking orders for i5-based systems today, which are slated to ship June 15. Surface Laptops based on the Intel Core i7 processor are scheduled to ship in August. A Surface Laptop with an i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD is priced at $2,199.

While the Surface Laptop will run the new Windows 10 S operating system, it will also support Windows 10 Pro, and presumably enterprise editions. Microsoft is initially only selling the Surface Laptop through its own retail and online stores. Asked about plans for other retailers, resellers or channel partners to offer the Surface Laptop, a Microsoft spokeswoman said the company has no information to share at this time.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 05/02/2017 at 11:48 AM


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