Microsoft has long had a beef with Google—even if the company won’t always admit it today—dating back to the “Scroogled” advertisement campaign that critiqued the search giant’s Chromebooks and privacy policies.
The attacks may have since toned down in intensity. Yet the Redmond, Wa.-based company again took a swipe at the search giant in today’s announcement to its educational offerings. Among them: a blog post from a Microsoft executive, touting new Windows devices that provide “more options for schools who don’t want to compromise on Chromebooks.”
When it comes to the market for U.S. K-12 mobile devices, Microsoft still has some catching up to do. According to Futuresource Consulting, a market research firm, in the third quarter of 2017, Google’s Chromebooks captured 59.8 percent of K-12 mobile computing shipments in the United States, whereas Windows had a 22.3 percent share. But Futuresource also noted that while Google “remains the dominant market share, its growth shows signs of slowing.”
“With Microsoft’s increased investment and major changes to the platform offering like Intune for education, MS Teams and rising availability of low cost Windows devices we do expect Windows to gain share in the US K-12 mobile PC market in 2018," said Ben Davis, a senior market analyst in education at Futuresource Consulting. "Despite this, beating a path to market leadership would likely be a lengthy and hard fought affair as Google also continue to innovate and invest in the space."
Is the window of opportunity open for Microsoft to catch up? The company will unveil a slew of updates this week at the Bett Show 2018, a major education technology expo in London. The announcement reads like a laundry list of new laptop offerings, upgrades to existing software and plans for “sparking creativity” with STEM. Here’s what Microsoft wants the world to know.
Among the updates are four new Windows 10 devices starting at $189. That low price point is competitive with Google Chromebooks that start at under $200.
In a call with EdSurge, Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s Vice President of Worldwide Education, elaborated on the Chromebook “compromise” by emphasizing how Windows devices offers students and teachers greater flexibility and a wider range of tools they can use. “Everything that you want to do on a Chromebook can be done in Windows,” Salcito said, adding that it comes with Windows-specific tools such as such as Paint 3D and Minecraft: Education Edition.
‘Personalized Learning’ Upgrades
Microsoft has also adopted the “personalized learning” slogan, as it described a series of new features to existing software as upgrades to its “personalized learning tools.”
Among them are Microsoft Learning Tools, which starting in February will get a dictation feature so students can write with their voice. Immersive Reader functionality, which allows students to change the appearance of their text or hear it read out loud, “with support for many new languages,” will also expand to other platforms, including OneNote iPad and Outlook Desktop.
And for teachers using OneNote Class Notebook, they will now be able to integrate student assignments and grades with PowerSchool, a widely-used school information system that claims more than 100 million users.
Creativity and STEM
Minecraft: Education Edition will also be getting a chemistry update in February that allows students to craft from a compound level—according to Salcito, they can mix compounds together to create objects that can be used in the Minecraft world.
“I’m really excited about what students are going to build with this chemistry update, but I’m also excited for teachers who either want to teach chemistry to students and have now a practical tool to make it easier and exciting for students, but really for some teachers who want to introduce chemistry at younger ages,” Salcito said.
There are also new partnerships to bring new augmented and virtual reality experiences. Microsoft, PBS and NASA will deliver “Bringing the Universe to America’s Classrooms” to AR and VR headsets. In addition, Microsoft announced it has partnered with Pearson to release six new AR and VR apps for schools “in time for the upcoming school year to teach everything from anatomy to math.”
Salcito said that while amazing things can be done with virtual reality, students today increasingly “don’t distinguish between the physical and digital worlds.” Mixed reality, he said, blends that spectrum “where you’re actually augmenting the real world with digital tools.”
Seizing the Window of Opportunity
When it comes to sizing up the competition, Salcito insists it’s not about Microsoft versus Google or Apple, but rather about Microsoft “versus student drop out” and “students looking to find a job.”
Those are rather diplomatic answers. But today’s updates clearly signal Microsoft’s intentions to strengthen its influence in the education sphere. Salcito claims there are over 100 million actively using Office 365 everyday around the world (For comparison, Google claimed a year ago that it had more than 70 million active G Suite for Education users).
Some schools have made the switch. Goal Academy, a blended online charter school in Colorado, recently switched back to using the Windows operating system after a period of using Chromebooks.
For Goal Academy’s chief information officer, Jamie Trujillo, that decision was spurred by security considerations. As an online school, Goal Academy has different types of security requirements than a brick-and-mortar school, where it makes some sense to deploy a Chromebook because all the devices are located under one roof. But his school’s distributed model called for a more “airtight solution” to manage things “a little bit better.”
Trujillo added that his school serves students with special needs who need tools that can’t be delivered on a Chromebook platform. Another reason Goal Academy moved to the Microsoft operating system was because it felt it would prepare its students better, because chances are Microsoft technology is “what they’re going to see.”