Microsoft’s direct aim at Google Chromebooks is old wine in a new bottle

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Microsoft has fired a thinly veiled salvo at Google’s Chromebooks, with the education market in sight. The company has announced new affordable laptops which will be meant for educational purposes, something that students and teachers may buy. These laptops will run the Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 S operating systems, and will also come with the free Office 365 Education software bundled. The idea is to keep the costs low, which is why prices start at $189 (around Rs12,000).

At present, the education-centric line-up will include four laptops. The first is the Lenovo 100e laptop, which is priced at $189. This has an 11.6-inch screen, runs the Intel Celeron processor with 4GB RAM and has 64GB storage space. The next in line is the Lenovo 300e, which is priced at $279 and is designed as a convertible computing device with additional Pen support on the touchscreen. The Lenovo devices are joined by two computing devices from a brand called JP—the first is a Windows Hello laptop priced at $199, and a touchscreen variant with support for the Pen priced at $299.

FlenovoThese laptops are aimed squarely at schools, in the hope that these will be able to convince schools to not spend on Google’s Chromebooks. Microsoft isn’t mincing words either. In its official announcement, Yusuf Mehdi, Corporate Vice President, Windows and Devices Group says, “This week at Bett, we’ll show new Windows 10 and Windows 10 S devices from Lenovo and JP, starting at just $189, providing more options for schools who don’t want to compromise on Chromebooks. We’ll add new capabilities to our free Office 365 for Education software, enabling any student to write a paper using only their voice and making it easier to access Teams via mobile devices. And we’re making STEM learning fun with a new Chemistry update to Minecraft: Education Edition and new mixed reality and video curricula from partners like BBC Worldwide Learning, LEGO Education, PBS, NASA, and Pearson.”

Microsoft believes that these specifications, along with Windows 10 S, a lightweight build and low initial cost, will be enough to wean educational institutions away from Chromebooks.

However, the entire gamble on Windows 10 S isn’t without its limitations, and hence potential risks. The platform only supports applications from the Microsoft Store—the idea is to make it safer by reducing unverified software installations which will in turn reduce the risk of malware infections. Also, quite a few features seen in the more loaded Windows 10 and Windows 10 Pro variants have been removed from this, which means this will be more power-efficient and thus have longer battery life.

However, do we really need a bare basic laptop with specifications that although powerful enough to run Office 365, but not powerful enough to run much else? The reality is, Google’s Chromebooks aren’t a bad proposition anyway. They run the Chrome OS, which is incredibly streamlined, perfect for a variety of specific tasks such as writing, jotting down notes, working on spreadsheets and doing research. The advantage Microsoft has is of the familiarity—Windows 10 S looks exactly like the Windows 10 you may be using in a PC all this while, and you may feel more comfortable with that. This might be too enticing a bait for many potential buyers, parents and teachers to ignore. But this isn’t necessarily the same Windows that you have on your home PC or the one at work. It has been almost a year since Windows 10 S was first announced as a stripped down and streamlined Windows for laptops, and the restrictions cannot be ignored—for instance, you cannot install apps that may not be available on the Windows Store (education apps, perhaps?), games or even drivers for peripherals such as printers or external drives—and this can cause significant problems later.

Also, this entire focus on low-cost laptops meant for educational purposes isn’t new. Remember the netbooks from many years ago?

At the end of the day, if the Windows 10 S-powered educational laptops are going to be restrictive in many ways, and essentially limit students to specific apps such as a web browser, then what was it that the Google Chrome OS platform, which powers Chromebooks, was doing wrong all along? At present, you can buy the ASUS Chromebook C300SA with a larger 13.3-inch screen for $169, the HP 14 Chromebook (2018 edition) with a 14-inch screen for $149.95 and the Samsung Chromebook 3 with an 11.6-inch screen for $199, for instance.livemint