Thinking About Windows 10, Chromebook, and the Education Market (Premium)

As I noted back in May, Microsoft cannot afford to lose the education market: This is where future generations of potential customers get their formal introductions to computers and software, in particular productivity software. And that experience will shape their expectations later in life, both in higher education and in the workforce.

But Microsoft is losing the education market, at least in the U.S.: This year, more than half U.S. primary- and secondary-school students---or over 30 million students---use Chromebooks and Google's cloud-based productivity services. Meaning that the rest of the market is split between Windows, Mac, and iPad.

Despite the well-understood money troubles in education, this is a lucrative business, with Google earning $30 per Chromebook per year for its management services. But this isn't really about direct revenues, per se: As noted, the battle for education is a battle for the future. And students entering the workforce will expect to use what they're familiar with: Chromebooks and Google services.

These forces are very real. IT may want to lock down their environments, but they've succumbed to trends in the past 10 years that are driven exclusively by employee expectations. BYOD (bring your own device) and the proliferation of consumer-oriented devices like the iPhone are just two obvious examples. The days of super-gluing USB ports shut so that employees cannot connect their iPods is a thing of the past.

The success of Chromebook and Google services isn't limited to the United States, either: While I still routinely hear from readers who are incredulous about this success because they never see these devices out in the wild, a revolution is happening all around them nonetheless. And with the PC market overall still sliding downward, or in the best-case scenarios remaining basically flat, Chromebook sales are exploding. It's the only part of the PC market that has consistently delivered double digit growth in 2017. And Europe, Australia, and New Zealand are next on the list.

Naturally, Microsoft is fighting back.

Throughout this year, the software giant has touted various initiatives aimed at winning the hearts and minds of education customers. Most recently, it announced some successes, too: It says that it is seeing "strong growth" of Windows PCs in education, in the United States and elsewhere.

So what does that mean?

Well. It means cherry-picking data, of course, and ignoring long-term trends.

"In K-12 schools in the US in the last year, Windows device share grew 4.3 percent on devices under $300 and 8.2 percent on devices over $300, as more and more schools are choosing Windows over competitive offerings," Microsoft's Yusuf Mehdi explained this week."

This data comes from a Futuresource quarterly report that examines the sale of mobile PCs in U.S. K-12 education. This report doesn't appear to be sponsored by Microsoft in way, which is good. But it also doesn't necessaril...

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