Microsoft is holding an education-focused event in New York City next month, and word on the street is that this will be where Microsoft officially launches Windows Cloud. While early builds of the operating system have already been leaked, Microsoft has yet to officially confirm its existence.
But the company may also have new hardware to compliment the new software. And it looks like that may be a new Microsoft Surface Cloudbook… or something like that.
MSPowerUser puts together a few different leaks and rumors to come to that conclusion. It’s still not entirely clear if the new device will have the Surface name. And there have been some rumors that it’ll feature an ARM-based processor, but it’s also possible that the Cloudbook could have an Intel chip.
What’s in a name?
The name’s a bit… confusing. First of all, this wouldn’t be the first Cloudbook. Acer launched a cheap Windows laptop called the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook in 2015. And way back in 2008, a company called Everex had a line of netbooks sold under the Cloudbook name.
But the name sort of makes sense when you think of the Surface Cloudbook as a device designed to run Windows 10 Cloud… and when you think of Windows 10 Cloud as a stripped-down, cheap version of Windows designed, at least in part, to compete with Chromebooks.
Windows Cloud is expected to be locked down in a way that only allows you to run apps downloaded from the Windows Store. But unlike Microsoft’s ill-fated Windows RT, the new Windows Cloud operating system will support both Universal Windows Platform apps and Win32 programs (assuming they’ve been packaged for the Windows Store).
Anyway, what we do know is that there’s something called Windows Cloud. We’re also pretty sure there’s something called Cloudbook. And there’s a set of education-oriented apps in the Windows Store that are bundled under the cloudbook ID.
I’m going to go out on a limb and speculate that Cloudbook may not refer to a single device, but a new category of low-cost, low-specced computers designed to run Windows Cloud software. The “cloud” in the name could refer to an emphasis on running web-based software, which means we could perhaps see devices with small amounts of storage… much as we do with Chromebooks (they typically have just 16GB or 32GB of storage, although some models have as much as 64GB).
But even if Cloudbook is the name of a new category and not just a single device, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Surface Cloudbook launch at Microsoft’s May 2nd event. Surface is sort of like Microsoft’s Pixel or Nexus brand: the company produces hardware that showcases some of the best of its software not only to sell hardware, but also to encourage other device makers to launch their own related products.
Since the first Surface tablets launched in 2012 we’ve seen a number of PC makers launch Surface-style -2in-1 tablets. Maybe the Surface Cloudbook will be the first of a new class of Windows-powered notebooks.
What remains to be seen is whether there’s actually a market for notebooks running a crippled version of Windows at a time when it’s not exactly hard to find a full-fledged Windows laptop for under $200.
There’s one more important piece to the puzzle to consider: the May 2nd event is focused on education. As PC World points out, Chromebooks have become popular choices for classroom use, and that’s not only because they’re cheap.
Chrome OS is also a relatively secure operating system since apps run in a sandboxed environment and updates are downloaded and installed automatically, helping IT administrators ensure that security vulnerabilities are patched quickly. Google also offers educators tools for managing Chromebooks in the classroom.
When considered in this light, a locked-down version of Windows actually looks like an advantage. Microsoft may position Windows Cloud as an operating system first and foremost for use in classrooms (and maybe business settings), where educators (and managers) may not want to give laptop users total control over the software running on their devices.
So while I’m skeptical that Windows Cloud will be a success if Microsoft’s goal is to compete on price in the consumer space, there’s a chance the company could make some inroads in the education space by focusing on the areas that make Chromebooks attractive: price and classroom management features.
The move could also open a new revenue stream for Microsoft if the company launches additional hardware and software services for educators to rival those offered by Google.