LONDON — On Tuesday, Microsoft announced two big new products: Windows 10 S, and the Surface Laptop.
The former is a slimmed-down version of the Windows operating system (OS), while the latter is a light, portable computer that runs it.
In other words, it sounds a lot like a Chromebook — the popular laptops from Google that that run Chrome OS and have proved a smash hit in schools. Chromebooks make up 58% of all sales in US primary and secondary schools, according to one estimate.
But Google says it’s not too fussed with the competition — arguing that the Surface Laptop just proves it’s onto something big.
On Wednesday, Business Insider sat down with Prabhakar Raghavan, the Google vice-president responsible for G Suite — Google’s range of productivity apps like Docs and Pages — at the Google Cloud Next conference in London. When he saw the announcement, what was his reaction to Microsoft muscling in on Google’s turf in the education sphere?
“I’m happy to see a validation of the approach we’ve taken,” the exec said mildly. “What educational institutions have demanded is simplicity. It’s a real test tube for all of us, whether it’s Microsoft or any of us, right.”
He went on: “Because kids do things in amazing ways where you or I would never expect. So here’s one of the things we’ve learned in a study of kids as we were developing all our tools for classrooms, right. We would put a Chromebook in front of a kid, they would whip out their phone and write their essay. We said ‘no no no, there’s a keyboard there, you can use it,’ and they still write the essay there. They said ‘we’ll use the keyboard to touch up the formatting, but it’ll be much faster here,’ right. This is something we consistently learned when we looked at pre-teens … these kids are really forerunners, the vanguards of human evolution, in some sense, and so it’s great to see that some of the approaches we’ve taken, but I think the world is going to keep evolving and it’s a scramble for us to keep up with what people are going to do.”
In short: Google says it’s not worried about Microsoft’s entry into the market, and they’re focusing on looking at the changing ways people use products.
Laptops from Microsoft hardware partners running Windows 10 S, which only allows apps on the Windows app store, start at $189. Meanwhile, Chromebooks can sell for as little as $149, in roughly the same budget price range.
The Surface Laptop, meanwhile, is quite a bit more pricey. It goes for $999 and up, acting as a kind of flagship for the possibilities of Windows 10 S devices.
“The success of the Chromebook has awakened sleeping giants,” Tyler Bosmeny, CEO of education tech company Clever, told Reuters. “There’s so much investment into the space — it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.”
So even if Google claims not to be worried, Microsoft clearly thinks it’s in with a shot.