Microsoft’s press event held in New York City on Tuesday covered five specific areas targeting education: A new lightweight operating system, utilizing Microsoft Teams, programming in Minecraft, using mixed reality, and a high-powered Surface-branded notebook. Overall, the theme of the entire event focused on empowering students and teachers with the tools to make the learning environment more fun and absorbing.
Windows 10 S
We expected Microsoft would announce this platform, formerly known as Windows 10 Cloud, during Tuesday’s education-themed event. It’s a lightweight version of Windows 10 optimized for low-end hardware, enabling laptop makers to sell devices with starting prices of $189. That means Microsoft is targeting Google’s Chromebook dominance in the education sector. Similar to Chrome OS, Windows 10 S will be locked down, enabling students to grab apps solely from the Windows Store. However, third-party apps can be installed only if the platform is upgraded to Windows 10 Pro.
Solutions hitting the market based on Windows 10 S include the HP Probook x360 11 G1 EE, the Dell Latitude 11 3000 Series 3189, the Asus Vivobook W202, and the Acer Travel Mate Spin B1. Fujitsu, Samsung, and Toshiba have solutions in the works as well. Current devices in the classroom packing Windows 10 Pro can convert to Windows 10 S for free.
Microsoft Teams in classrooms
Microsoft Teams isn’t just for enterprise use — it’s a great collaboration tool for teachers and students too. Combined with OneNote Class Notebooks, teachers can distribute assignments, converse directly with students in and out of the classroom, and even communicate with parents and other staff members. Teams also provides the ability to integrate external resources such as guest speakers, and empowers students to express themselves without becoming offensive to others.
In addition to all the cool Microsoft Teams goodies, Microsoft Intune for Education is available now. Even more, Microsoft is offering Office 365 for Education with Microsoft Teams for free.
Code Builder for ‘Minecraft: Education Edition’
Available as a beta now, Code Builder connects Minecraft to the third-party ScratchX and Tynker coding platforms as well as Microsoft MakeCode. Inside Minecraft, players are joined by an “Agent” character that serves as a sidekick, which carries out the coding commands. This sidekick can essentially build anything in the virtual Minecraft world, from 3D printed objects to huge, historic architectures like the Globe Theater in 16th-century London and the Parthenon.
Along with Code Builder, Microsoft said that it will offer a free Minecraft: Education Edition subscription with the purchase of a qualifying Windows 10 “education” PC.
This portion of the press event focused on bringing mixed reality capabilities into the classroom. For instance, students could create the solar system in Paint 3D, drop it into PowerPoint, and create transitions for an animated, 3D presentation. Students can also import 3D models into Microsoft Teams and integrate the scaled object into a live feed using any webcam. Pearson Education plans to integrate 3D and mixed reality into its 2018 curriculum that supports the Windows 10 mixed reality headsets.
Remember, mixed reality headsets supported by Windows 10 Creators Update will arrive this holiday season for a starting price of $299.
Finally, Microsoft waited to reveal new hardware until the end of the show. The Surface Laptop is now available for pre-order with a starting price of $999, and is powered by the new Windows 10 S platform. Shipping in Platinum, Burgundy, Cobalt Blue, and Graphite Gold, the laptop will sport a 13.5-inch PixelSense display, seventh-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, and a battery capable of up to 14.5 hours on a single charge.
Unfortunately, customization is locked down to several different CPU/memory/storage configurations (two i5 models and two i7 models). Microsoft appears to be targeting Apple’s latest MacBook Pro lineup, sporting a thin and light form factor without sacrificing performance.