Microsoft is ramping up its efforts to capture a bigger piece of the education market from rivals such as Google, with an array of new educational software tools as well as classroom-focused Windows 10 devices from partners.
"I think this investment is critical to their long-term success," said Ric Opal, vice president at Oak Brook, Ill.-based SWC Technology Partners, because of the importance of engaging students at a young age.
While touting affordably priced Windows 10 laptops from partners such as Lenovo, Microsoft this week also took a jab at Google in a blog post by saying the new devices are "providing more options for schools who don't want to compromise on Chromebooks."
Microsoft rolled out new tools for students aimed at aiding reading and writing skills, such as the addition of dictation capabilities to Office 365 and Office apps.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company also is expanding the availability of its Immersive Reader feature, which reads text out loud while simultaneously highlighting it. Immersive Reader will be available soon on Word for Mac, iPhone and Android; on Outlook Desktop; and on OneNote for iPhone, iPad and Mac, according to Microsoft.
In terms of tools for teachers, Microsoft is delivering a handful of capabilities including a much-requested feature for the OneNote Class Notebook. The new feature will allow teachers to convert pages to a read-only format after providing feedback to students.
In addition, Microsoft said Minecraft: Education Edition will add chemistry-learning capabilities in the spring, while new curriculum offerings on HoloLens and Windows Mixed Reality headsets will be available in coming months via partners such as educational products company Pearson.
The latest moves follow Microsoft's launch last year of the education-focused Windows 10 S operating system, which has been aimed at helping Microsoft to compete with Google's popular Chrome OS and Chromebook devices in K-12 education.
"I think that Google has done a great job in working with that market, and adjusting their technology early," Opal said. "A concern that I have had and I have voiced for quite some time is that for a young adult or child, if their first experience is not a Microsoft experience, and investment doesn't occur there, the risk becomes that you lose a generation of business buyers or business users or developers for a platform. So I'm excited that Microsoft is investing here."
The moves to continue developing technologies such as Minecraft and HoloLens for education are especially smart for Microsoft, Opal said.
"They've got to win early and they've got to build that platform, so that as children are learning and evolving, they're doing so on that stack," he said. "Because it's catastrophic, in my opinion, long term if they don’t own that."
New Windows 10 devices touted by Microsoft this week include the Lenovo 100e, a clamshell laptop that will have a starting price of $189, and the Lenovo 300e, a 2-in-1 laptop that will have a starting price of $279. Both laptops are expected to be available in January.