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Microsoft Unveils Lightweight Windows 10 for Students

Microsoft on Tuesday took the wraps off "Windows 10 S," a new version of Windows geared for classroom use that only runs Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps.

At its MicrosoftEDU event in New York City, Microsoft sketched out its vision for equipping classroom environments -- from kindergarten through high school and college -- with its wares. Besides the education-oriented Windows 10 S, the company also unveiled 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, Google Chromebooks and Apple MacBooks.

Microsoft also released a version of its Intune configuration and management service customized for educational environments.

Kicking off the event, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella that in his classroom visits over the past two years, he has noted the importance of making it easier for students to learn and collaborate with each other, teachers and parents.

"Technology should make teachers' lives simpler and spark students' creativity, not distract from it," Nadella said. "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."

Windows 10 S can run on partner devices that start at $189 up to Microsoft's high-end Surface Book, which starts at $1,500. It will support forthcoming mixed reality learning experiences, new teaching applications and STEM-based lesson plans, and apps like Lego's WebDo 2.0 tools that are focused on headsets, interactive whiteboards and accessibility.

Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft's Windows and Devices group, described Windows 10 S as a streamlined version of Windows 10 that's still secure and can maintain consistent performance over years of usage. Windows 10 S will also test the appetite for Microsoft's UWP 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 [doesn't] impact the overall performance of the rest of the system, allowing the performance of the device to be the same on Day 1 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 that Microsoft is also pitching as a way to ensure 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 feature, free of charge to students and educators.

Microsoft 'Resets' Laptop Category with Surface
The other big news from the MicrosoftEDU event was the launch of the Surface Laptop, Microsoft's alternative to MacBooks.

The Surface Laptop is a thin and lightweight device with a 13.5-inch display that's available in high-end configurations. While the device runs Windows 10 S, Microsoft clearly designed it to appeal to more than just students.

"This is the laptop that resets the category," said Panos Panay, Microsoft's corporate vice president for devices. Panay emphasized the engineering of the device, which is made of anodized metal and features a 3.4 million-pixel display and an Alcantara-covered textured backlit keyboard. It has a maximum thickness of 0.57 inches and weighs just 2.76 pounds. Microsoft officials claim the Surface Laptop will get 14.5 hours of battery life (though systems typically never achieve maximum power estimates).

The systems are priced similarly as Microsoft's current Surface Pro 4 line. An entry-level Surface Laptop, configured with an Intel 7th Generation Core i5 processor, 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM, costs $999. A model with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD is priced at $2,199.

Microsoft is currently taking orders for i5-based systems, which are slated to ship June 15. Surface Laptops based on the i7 processor are scheduled to ship in August.

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 will initially sell the Surface Laptop only through its own retail and online stores. Asked about plans for other retailers, resellers or channel partners to offer the Surface Laptop, a Microsoft spokesperson said the company has no information to share at this time.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.