Today as part of its education-oriented showcase in New York City, Microsoft introduced Windows 10 S, a stripped down version of its popular operating system that will compete with Google’s own streamlined Chrome OS.
The goal, Executive Vice President of Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group Terry Myerson said, is to allow students’ educational devices to run just as well at the end of the year as they did at the beginning. For that to happen, all the necessary apps are available in the Windows Store, and they “run in a safe container so execution of an app doesn’t impact overall performance of the system, allowing performance to be the same on day one as day 1000,” Myerson said.
The streamlined nature of the operating system allows for quick login speed. That means teachers and students don’t have to waste time waiting for devices to boot up.
Myerson also showed off a new wizard that lets teachers preload content for students’ devices onto a USB key that can quickly be uploaded to everyone’s laptops.
Microsoft said it is the global leader in devices used by K-12 educators, but in the operating system market it lags behind Google whose Chrome OS commanded 58 percent of the market in U.S. schools in 2016, up from 38 percent in 2014.
In order for Microsoft to get its new educational tools in classrooms around the world, they have to be affordable. Microsoft’s hardware partners are building a catalog education-oriented PCs that will start at just $189. In addition, Microsoft is offering Windows 10 S free to users of Windows 10 Pro devices, and Microsoft is including Office 365 for Education for free to teachers and students.
Windows 10 S, as well as the new educational devices will be available this summer, in time for teachers to get up to speed for the coming school year.
Microsoft also announced a new device designed to keep up with today’s tech-savvy students, the $999 Surface Laptop.
Last year, Microsoft released an educational version of its popular game Minecraft. Today at the event, Microsoft unveiled a new Codebuilder tool that makes it easier for students to design and build complex projects. A demonstration showed how students can use the new tool to reproduce historic buildings like the Parthenon, and learn algorithmic thinking by producing one column, and repeating the formula over and over.
The beta edition of this now feature for Minecraft is available now.
Collaboration is all the rage in the workplace these days, and Microsoft wants to bring that to the classroom as well. At the event, Catherine Boeger, Microsoft’s general manager of Office and Office 365, announced new features for its “chat-based workspace,” Teams, focused on getting students and teachers to work together.
The features allow teachers to send out readings and other content, create assignments, grade papers and tests and communicate with students, parents, and staff. Teachers can also bring in guest speakers and other content for students to work on and chat about.
Educational features on Teams will be available this summer.
A lot of what Microsoft debuted at the event was visual in nature, meant to appeal to learners of all types. Megan Saunders, a Microsoft general manager, said 3D learning and mixed reality can fill a lot of gaps for schools that don’t have the resources for big field trips and other special perks. Using low-cost virtual reality headsets coming out this holiday season, students can be transported to ancient times, or to the future, 400 years from now, the next time the planets are set to lineup.
“As humans we learn from the world around us, we learn by reading, by experiencing things first hand and by doing, it’s part of who we are.” Saunders said. “But today, we not only learn from the real world, we also have created new ways to learn through technology. We can see kids create through enriched 3D worlds like Minecraft. There they can bring ideas to life and creatively explore and problem solve right in the moment.
Saunders also introduced a new featured for Windows 10 called View Mixed Reality, which lets users leverage any device camera to blend a real life object, in this case Saunders, with a virtual concept. In the demonstration, Saunders and a Microsoft developer used the program to show the scale of the Mars rover Curiosity compared to a person.
Microsoft is teaming up with Pearson to offer a curriculum in health, commerce, history, and STEM, on all Windows Mixed Reality devices by the 2018 school year.
The event kicked off with a polo-clad Satya Nadella, extolling the virtues of education. He recounted how his grandfather’s educational opportunities lifted his family’s prospects and put him on the eventual trajectory to becoming Microsoft CEO. He wants to bring those same opportunities to people around the world. He cited the adage that “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.”
But Nadella cautioned that while technology has a part to play, people remain the most important educational resources.
“We are under no illusion that technology alone is the answer to transforming education,” Nadella said. “Dedicated administrators, great teachers, motivated students and involved parents and communities are the ones changing education. Technology is merely a tool to empower their creativity and their ingenuity. It is this opportunity that motivates our work in ed.