This week Microsoft announced two products focused on Education that have implications for the rest of the ecosystem, Windows 10 S and the Surface Laptop. The Surface Laptop has a hefty price tag at $999 which isn’t aiming to take on the budget Chrombook, in fact, it’s a worthy competitor to Apple’s Macbook Pro or Dell’s XPS 13 9360.
In fact, we can’t wait to get my hands on the Surface Laptop, and the first we’ll do is upgrade it to Windows 10 Pro.
The real Chromebook alternative is Windows 10 S, a solution that addresses some of the same features, benefits, and pain points as ChromeOS and runs on just about any hardware.
Microsoft didn’t tout any specific hardware for Windows 10 S but Mobile Geeks was just in New York for the launch of the Acer Swift 1. This budget all metal notebook isn’t looking to lead the pack, it’s well built with a Chromebook competitive price tag of $219. At 3.7 pounds, the Swift 1 offers good enough specifications with a Celeron or Pentium processor, 4GB of RAM, and 32GB or 64 GB of eMMC storage. It’s not a powerhouse, but it will get the job done and it is running full Windows 10.
There is nothing wrong with the specs on the Swift 1 it will be able to start up quickly and resume almost instantly. It’ll handle average productivity workloads though you’ll have to watch having too many programs open at once and wouldn’t want to use it for video editing.
The question then becomes: Can a system running Windows 10 S overcome the traditional problems of cheap PCs?
One of the biggest problems with the cheap PC is that manufacturers have to load them up with crapware/bloatware to try to increase their margins and this compromises the user experience slowing down the PC.
Now let’s add in the random software the user installs that’s bundled with malware and in six months you’ll need to wipe the whole thing and start over. This is actually why the average joe will opt for an Apple laptop because these types of slowdowns just don’t happen.
And then there’s the update problem, which Windows 10 S solves fairly neatly. Packaging apps and delivering them through the Windows Store means they can be updated automatically. No more third-party updaters running as background tasks on their own schedule. Massive victory!
If that all sounds too good to be true, but if we take a look a the lessons that Microsoft learned from Windows RT things start to make a lot more sense.
Microsoft unveiled Windows RT which was a variant of Windows 8 in 2012 on Surface RT and it sought to solve the same problems that Windows 10 S tackles.
Windows RT failed because the selection of apps was awful and having Office just wasn’t enough.
When the first Windows 10 S machines ship in June, there will be a bunch of “Wait, it can’t run that app?” reactions from the first wave of consumers.
It can’t run iTunes. It can’t run Quicken. No GIMP for photoedting (sorry tech journalists who haven’t embraced Adobe). And, most crucially, it can’t run Google Chrome.
Systems running Windows 10 S will be locked down so that the default browser is Microsoft Edge, and Microsoft tells us that the default can’t be changed.
If you haven’t looked at Edge recently, it’s improved dramatically over the past two years, and it’s done an impressive job of trying to be Chrome. But it’s not Chrome.
This could be the deal-breaker for some buyers of Windows 10 S laptops, if you want Chrome you’ll have to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. This means giving up the security/manageability advantages that come with Windows 10 S.
The dream scenario would be if Google decided to put chrome into the Windows Store. This is not a small ask, but if any company has the developers that could make it happen, it’s Google.
Google isn’t against working with Microsoft they made a significant effort with Windows 8, but gave up on it around the same time Microsoft did. Will Google come on board to support Microsoft’s ecosystem, it would be cool if that was announced at Build next week.
The Surface Laptop will be released mid-June along with Windows 10 S when we’ll see just how bad the backlash against this Chromeless operating system.