Microsoft's upcoming Windows 10 updates for the education space are aimed squarely at winning back schools that have had their heads turned by Google's Chromebooks, according to Forrester.
Last week, Microsoft announced that in the summer, its Windows 10 Anniversary Update, due in the summer, will include "new innovations for the modern classroom" including an education-specific Windows Store and "faster, simpler" set-up.
Forrester's vice president JP Gownder said the changes have been made with Google in mind, since "Chromebooks have taken the education market by storm".
"Chromebooks now constitute more than half of shipments of new devices sold to US schools," he said. "Some schools are even reimaging old Windows PCs into Chromebooks. As a result, both Apple and Microsoft have seen their positions in the educational market slide south over the past four years."
He added that this could have a long-term impact for Microsoft, which is what prompted it to release the updates.
"Why does this matter? Well, for the obvious device sales implications, of course," he said. "But it's part of a longer-term customer relationship issue, too – if young people grow up not knowing Windows, will they ever care about the platform?
"Tomorrow's Windows customers could be shaped in today's classroom. Or tomorrow's Chromebook customers could be."
One of the updates announced by Microsoft last week is an "updated Windows imaging and configuration designer tool", which it claims helps schools to set up shared devices in bulk in just a few minutes.
"One of the key benefits Chromebooks offer is simplified management," Gownder said.
"When Forrester interviewed schools, we found that their infrastructure and operations professionals spent large chunks of their summers imaging Windows PCs. Windows Anniversary Update will include tools to help make this easier, thereby lowering the staff costs."
Google for Education Premier partner Getech's sales director Guy Watts said his firm has seen a significant increase in interest in Chromebook devices.
"In the past few years, the interest has been because it is new and exciting, but now it is different," he said. "This year, there has definitely been a higher level of actual specific deployments and projects.
"The Google solution end to end solves a lot of the inherent Microsoft issues regarding patch updates and storage issues. Because, obviously, everything is in the cloud, it makes it much more manageable and secure. And it has a price point which meets primary and secondary schools' needs. We've suddenly started to see significant interest."
He agreed with Gownder's theory that kids will prefer to use operating systems they are most familiar with when they are older and enter the workplace.
"If they're familiar with the specific platform – be it Google or Microsoft – when they move into the workplace, the route they will take tends to be what they're familiar with," he said. "Having said that, today's youngsters can familiarise themselves with things very quickly."
Forrester's Gownder said his initial take, without having seen the full tool set, is that the education updates are "a promising start to climbing up a steep hill" for Microsoft.
But he added that Microsoft's foray into the devices market might pay off eventually, describing it as a "key selling point".
"If Microsoft can execute on this vision, the company will still have a key selling point: a far wider range of device form factors and user interfaces for students," he said.
"It's [about] desktops, laptops, and tablets, hybrids, and convertibles, of course, but also more choices for kids who have different learning styles – such as pen, touch, voice, keyboard, assistive technologies. Microsoft and its OEM partners must get the message out about the value of these features."
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