Surface Cloudbook vs Chromebook (Or Computing in Education)

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We are now a week away from Microsoft’s next big event in which they may show off a new piece of hardware (or not).

However we do now that this event will be focused on the Education market.

Now the event is believed to be the unveiling of Windows 10 Cloud; a version of Windows that from leaks appears to be designed to compete with Google’s Chromebooks. For those that don’t know, Chromebooks run ChromeOS (a operating system based on Google’s Chrome browser). Chromebooks have seen steady growth; especially in the education market. This growth, along with data suggesting Chrome has helped grow the stagnating PC market, is cited as reason for the new Windows variant.

Windows 10 Cloud is a version of Windows 10 that locks the system so users can only use applications coming out of the Windows store. In some ways it is similar to Windows RT (the version of Windows 8 for ARM devices) with the difference being Cloud users can upgrade to full Windows. Now according to information from Windows Central, Cloud’s target specs are designed to compete with ChromeOS.

For Windows 10 Cloud and devices running it to compete they have to make a case for why it is a better choice than a Chromebook or an iPad.

For educators and schools a Chromebook has benefits in terms of cost, software, and maintenance. Cost is simple; compared to a Windows PC, Mac, or an iPad Chromebooks are cheaper. For example Dell sells an Education laptop  with both Windows and Chrome. For a 13 inch laptop the Windows device runs for $519 and the Chromebook for $299. Compare that same Chromebook to a 9.7 inch iPad (sans keyboard) that runs for $309; Chromebooks make sense. With software the benefit of running Chrome is it’s lightweight and limited. ChromeOS is basically a browser so it doesn’t have the same overhead a PC or Mac does. Also a lot of the materials used in schools today are web based like testing. Lastly ChromeOS is easier to deploy and maintain. Chromebooks limited nature makes it perfect for schools and school districts that have little or no IT support. This is not mentioning Google’s services like G Suite; which are free or discounted.

 

Win_central_edu_sales

image: Windows Central

 

 

Another factor in the education space is the differing needs of students according to age. The needs of a teacher with First graders is much different than a 10th grade History teacher. One reason iPads work well in schools and had larger adoption than Macs is they are excellent tools for K-5. In those grades the simpler and more intuitive tablet works. Touch is an easier concept for early learning. Making an iPad work beyond this period requires extras like keyboards and sometimes isn’t the best solution for older students.

So Windows 10 Cloud is facing a few hurdles.

And this was just the education market.

Windows 10 Cloud’s first hurdle will be explaining why it exists and why customers should consider it. Microsoft went down this path with Windows RT and it was rejected. Now there have been improvements. Windows Store and Windows 10, unlike RT, allow all apps to run on the desktop. Also Cloud will allow users to upgrade to “real” Windows whenever they like. But it also brings back something RT did have; a light weight, faster version of Windows.

Windows Cloud’s education and student focus allows for it to be sold as a secure OS. The fact it only runs pre-approved apps means it avoids a lot of the things people associate  Windows with; viruses  and undeletable junk software. One of the benefits of having a simpler system like a Chromebook is its built to work as an appliance. They are designed to be easily picked up and used. In an education environment that ability to pick it up and just use it without a lot load time or checking for updates is benefit. And this brings us to cost and deployment.

Perhaps the biggest factor in what device schools buy is cost. If you are a cash strapped district buying $200-400 dollar iPads along with Apple Pencils and keyboards is a non-starter. Remember they are buying in bulk and for about 4-6 years worth of use (and this is just me spit balling about devices for in school use, not 1-to-1 programs). Microsoft has recently introduced a Windows version for Education along with deals for low cost education PCs. However they are still more expensive than a Chromebook which can be picked up at an OfficeMax (I have personally seen teachers in stores looking).

The other factor in choosing devices is maintenance. Some schools have dedicated IT staff; others have at least one teacher who is the dedicated tech support. So deployment and upkeep are big factors. iPads and Chromebooks work in part because they are easier to deploy. They are also easier for teachers to fix without calling tech support. Microsoft has simplified management and deployment with Intune for Education (simplified computer management). However I am unclear if they have solutions for triaging apps and devices.

Now I haven’t talked about software yet and I guess its as good as time as any.

So at the 800 word mark I will switch it up and describe how I think Microsoft will sell Windows 10 Cloud.

 

Win_Cloud_Performance

image: Windows Central

 

 

From an education standpoint, Windows 10 Cloud’s selling point is that it can grow with the student. The fact that Windows went touch three years ago means it runs on tablets but also on those clamshells kids upgrade to as they age. For institutions the argument is they have a one stop shop. Also this is Windows which means Office and in particular OneNote. OneNote is tailor built for students in mind and it’s growing feature set has been designed to appeal to teachers building ad hoc lesson plans. Also Office 365 offers both free and paid options for schools, students, and teachers (including 24/7 customer care). Microsoft also has software like Minecraft for Education (aka Lego Crack). With Windows 10 Microsoft has inking and touch built in.

Unlike Apple they have multiple vendors. In comparison to Google they are more expensive. Or not because Windows 10 Cloud will probably be a free version of the OS. In terms of manageability Windows 10 Cloud Microsoft will argue it has more flexibility; from homegrown offering like Active Directory and Intune to 3rd party vendors. In terms of third party apps and other features I think Microsoft may ink new deals with education software vendors and tout their Edge Browser.

And as far as hardware goes, if there is branded hardware it will be around 10-11 inches (good middle ground for K-12), 6GB of RAM, 64/128 GB, and a SSD. It will have an attached keyboard and come with a pen. I also think it may be built with a different type of material than the magnesium of Surface.

(Now this isn’t certain, but I’m betting on two devices; a clamshell and a smaller tablet)

Okay that’s it turn in later for a nice (and brief) piece on Windows 10 Cloud for everyone else.

 

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