Microsoft Cannot Afford to Lose the Education Market

Posted on April 30, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Microsoft Surface, Mobile, Windows 10 with 121 Comments

Microsoft Cannot Afford to Lose the Education Market

On Tuesday, Microsoft will host a press conference at which it is expected to announce new products and services aimed at education. This is arguably the most important Microsoft event of the year. Assuming, that is, that you care at all about the future of this company.

Let’s examine why that is so.

My daughter attends a typical public high school here in the United States. After a disastrous experiment with iPads, the school system switched over entirely to Chromebooks, which are inexpensive to acquire, inexpensive to manage and support, and easy to use.

Chromebooks make a lot more sense in education than any Apple product, so this move is at least logical. But the question is whether using Chromebooks is better than using Windows-based PCs. And that question is a lot more nuanced because we would need to explore the surrounding ecosystem of apps and services—Google Docs and so on—as well.

But the impact of this change, which is being repeated in schools all over the United States, is clear: Microsoft is losing its grip on the education market. And in doing so, it is ceding something that is much bigger and more important than that audience: An entire generation of kids is growing up with no exposure to PCs, or to Windows, Office, or other Microsoft products and services.

And that, folks, is a disaster.

Those kids will leave the education system expecting to use Google products and services, not PCs, Windows, and Office. They will have no notion of whether Microsoft’s offerings are better, worse, or indifferent, and will in fact never consider Microsoft at all. They will start new jobs, and they will expect to use the technologies with which they are familiar. And that, in turn, will shift usage in businesses, Microsoft’s biggest customer base.

If that still sounds like science fiction to you, consider the following: It’s already happening. In the first quarter of 2017, growth in business PC sales in the United States was “mostly backed by growth of Chromebooks,” IDC reported recently. That’s right. Chromebook usage is strong enough in business that it’s having a material impact on the broader market.

Are you going to argue that Chromebooks are still a US-only phenomenon? There, you have a point. But like so many other things in the tech industry, what happens first in the United States often spreads to the rest of the world too. And if Chromebooks can make headway in both education and business in the United States, come on. These things can be successful anywhere.

Reversing this trend is the task that Microsoft will address at Tuesday’s EDU event in New York. The firm is expected to formally announce Windows 10 Cloud (not the final name) and Microsoft- and third-party PCs based on this new system. And it will almost certainly talk up all the education-related products and services you can think of—Intune for Education, Office (especially OneNote), and so on—plus maybe a few new ones.

I’ll cover the details of this plan when they are revealed. For now, know this: Microsoft cannot afford to be defeated in education. And this event is thus much more important than your standard Windows 10 or Surface press conference as a result.

See you in New York.

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