Microsoft made a pair of closely-related announcements: First, the $999 Surface Laptop , a MacBook rival pitched at college students, and second, the lightweight Windows 10 S operating system , which will also power the new laptop.
In both cases, it’s a big furthering of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s longtime insistence that the key to Windows 10 succeeding is just making sure people like Windows 10.
Microsoft is running right up against the limits of its Windows strategy, too. And whether these initiatives succeed or fail will say a lot about the future of the Windows operating system.
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Surface Laptop came less than a week after Microsoft’s latest earnings, which revealed that revenue in the Surface hardware division had shrunk by $285 million, or 26% , as other companies started releasing their own, price-competitive rivals to the Surface Pro tablet.
While there’s a case to be made that having more Surface competitors is a good thing for Windows (after all, Microsoft is a software company first and foremost), it’s not a great look for Microsoft, which insists it’s in the hardware business for the long haul.
Windows 10 S comes at a tipping point for the company. With Windows 10, Microsoft has challenged Apple’s position as the premiere platform for creatives and other power users. But Google’s Chrome OS is the most popular operating system in American classrooms , and Windows 10 S is answering that challenge.
See, Windows 10 S promises big boosts to performance, security, and battery life, powering low-cost laptops and tablets that can present a challenge to Google’s Chromebooks.
Those perks come at the cost of only being able to download apps from the Windows Store. On the surface (har har) that seems like a limitation, which it will be for many Windows 10 S users. It means no Google Chrome, Steam, or Dropbox syncing on Windows 10 S.
Microsoft has released tools to make it easier to bring traditional PC software to the Windows Store, too, and is converting Microsoft Office to prove it. Windows 10 S also won’t let you change your search engine away from Google , a boon to Microsoft’s Bing.
If Windows 10 S is a hit in the classroom, that’ll bring more educational apps to the platform. But that won’t encourage developers to bring their more mainstream apps and games to the Windows Store. And without those mainstream apps, it’ll be a struggle to attract mainstream users … which would further dissuade developers from bothering with the Windows Store in the first place.
Couple that with the potential market confusion between Windows 10 S and Windows 10 Pro in the first place, and Microsoft has a real challenge ahead.
Under CEO Nadella, Microsoft has made great strides in making Windows relevant again. Now, Microsoft has to step up and prove that it can keep that train rolling.