Microsoft looks like it’ll be going after the eduction sector with the next Windows 10 and Surface releases. The software maker announced a hardware and software event for May 2nd yesterday, with the hashtag #MicrosoftEDU. That’s no coincidence. In a carefully orchestrated return to the public eye, Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore started tweeting again and spoke to Mashable about his new role after taking a year out from Microsoft. Belfiore’s year-long break involved heading out to sea with his family on a worldwide trip, and he returned to work late last year.
Belfiore’s silence since his return has puzzled Windows Phone fans, as he has often been considered the face of Microsoft’s mobile efforts. He has a new role inside Microsoft now, but the software maker won’t reveal exactly what it is. In an interview with Mashable, Belfiore is referred to as “education sponsor and advocate in the Windows team” without an official title. He’s reportedly tasked with helping Microsoft focus a response to the education audience.
ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley claims Belfiore’s new job is actually the head of a new Windows Engagement Team, reporting directly to Windows chief Terry Myerson. That sounds a lot more believable than a mysterious job without a title. Either way, it’s clear Belfiore is now partly focused on education at Microsoft. Belfiore’s Mashable interview appeared just a day before Microsoft announced its education event, and it includes a lot of references to Chrome and Chromebooks.
Belfiore is asked whether Microsoft will make a thin-client Windows to compete with Chrome OS. “If you mean an OS that doesn’t run rich Windows apps, then no,” he responds. Mashable makes no mention of Windows 10 Cloud, a variant of Microsoft’s operating system that started leaking recently. Windows 10 Cloud is designed to take on alternatives like Chrome OS, and Microsoft will be able to position it as a low-cost or free-to-use alternative for PC makers willing to build machines with the operating system.
Windows 10 Cloud hasn’t been officially announced yet, but Windows Cloud and education are expected to be the main focal points of Microsoft’s May 2nd event. Both overlap with the same areas that Google targets with Chrome OS and Chromebooks. Google’s laptops have been particularly successful in education markets, thanks to their simplicity and lower costs. Microsoft is expected to announce at least one Surface-branded device during the event, and it’s clear that hardware will be targeted directly at the education market. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the company won’t be announcing a Surface Phone or a new Surface Pro device at the event.
During a time when Chromebooks appear to be responsible for PC market growth, Microsoft’s response to Chrome OS will be interesting. Microsoft was spooked by Google’s low-cost laptops three years ago, but it has left it up to PC makers to counter them with their own alternatives. Rumors have suggested Microsoft might be working on a clamshell design for a laptop that’s priced lower than the typical Surface devices. That would be an unusual move for Microsoft to make standard hardware, as the Surface brand has traditionally attempted to redefine industrial design. If Microsoft is targeting the education market with its next Surface then a more traditional laptop could appeal more.
It’s also been two years since Microsoft announced its Surface 3 tablet. The $499 tablet ran Intel’s Atom processor and Microsoft aimed it at students that didn’t need the power of the Surface Pro 3. Most people assumed Microsoft simply killed this line of Surface tablets, but it’s possible a Surface 4 could be the answer to the company’s education focus. Microsoft could even opt to unveil a new ARM-powered Surface, if Windows 10 is ready to support its app emulation plans.
Whatever Microsoft reveals next month, it’s another example of the company’s decision to focus Windows on particular areas. We’ve seen it with the Surface Studio and the Windows 10 Creators Update, and we’re about to witness it for education. While the event is unlikely to involve the canceled Surface Mini, inking has been a continued focus for Microsoft’s efforts for Windows 10 and students. Any new hardware will have to demonstrate the best parts of that inking experience and Windows in general, alongside additional software that makes sense in the classroom. We’ll find out exactly what Microsoft has planned for schools on May 2nd.