Four years ago Microsoft was scared of Chromebooks. Instead of simplifying Windows and launching similar devices, Microsoft went on the offensive, dismissing them with its aggressive anti-Google Scroogled campaign. That tactic didn’t really work, and Chromebooks have thrived in the US education market with some 20 million students using Google’s laptops in schools. Now, just as Chromebooks appear to be impacting PC market growth, Microsoft is hosting an event in New York City to try and counter Google’s laptops.
Microsoft is expected to unveil a new version of Windows 10 this morning that will spearhead the company’s response to Chromebooks. Leaks suggest it will be named “Windows 10 S” and will only run apps from the Windows Store. Otherwise, it should look a lot like a regular version of Windows 10. We’ve heard this story before with Windows RT, an operating system designed for ARM-based processors. Windows RT launched and looked like Windows, but it didn’t run traditional desktop apps. This new version of Windows 10 will run desktop apps, but they’ll need to be specially packaged and listed in the Windows Store.
Windows 10 S will need to do many things to compete properly with Chrome OS. The rise of Chromebooks, particularly in the education market, is primarily due to their low cost, ease of use, and lack of complexity. Simplifying Windows 10 to fit to a model that’s similar to Chrome OS is a big task, and some leaks have suggested that Microsoft might be focusing on battery life savings to at least give its answer to Chrome OS an advantage.
Microsoft will also have to answer Chrome OS with superior hardware. While the software giant will likely leave the low end of these devices to its PC partners, it looks like Microsoft will have its own special device to punctuate its plans. Images of a Surface Laptop leaked last night, and it appears Microsoft is creating its own premium laptop running this new version of Windows 10.
A relatively premium device running a version of Windows 10 that only supports Windows Store apps seems like an odd proposition. Google did a similar move with its Chromebook Pixel, positioning it as the premium hero device for its range of otherwise low-cost devices. Microsoft appears to be following that same model, but hopefully it won't discontinue its Surface Laptop after just a few iterations like Google did.
Ultimately, for Microsoft’s Surface Laptop and Windows 10 S to be a success both will need to strike a balance of performance, features, and price. Windows 10 S will need to perform well on low-end devices, and Microsoft’s own hardware will need to be priced competitively. Thankfully, we’re just hours away from finding out how well a Surface and a new version of Windows 10 can compete with Chromebooks.