Microsoft returns to the long game in education

Microsoft announced yesterday their release of Windows 10 S for education and the free availability of Office 365 for teachers and students. Rather than digging into those I’d like to challenge part of the common wisdom as to why they are doing this.

Google has been making huge inroads into the education space on the back of Chromebooks and their Google Suite of applications. Both falling within price points that until this time (and possibly continuing) Microsoft and Apple couldn’t touch. The announcements from Microsoft signal to me a recognition of the importance of the education market not only as a revenue stream, but as a long term investment.

As students traverse high school and graduate from college and other schools, the familiarity they have with specific applications guides their decision making processes and comfort levels in the working world. To phrase it this way, how many businesses are running on Google Apps and how many are running on Microsoft Office? If you have a generation of people coming into the workforce more comfortable with Google’s offerings, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that massive market share Microsoft has spent decades cultivating.

Will the new devices and offerings flip the education market back to Microsoft’s favor? I don’t think we’ll see a massive shift in influence and implementations but it does mean that Microsoft is back in the game and is serious about competing. Will Windows 10 S devices beat Chromebooks?  My gut says no unless they can get to a ridiculously low price point and offer capabilities Google hasn’t even thought of yet. Will Office 365 supplant Google in the classroom? Again I have to say no, but I do see it taking a much larger bite of the pie.

When playing the long game strategically it becomes important to consider not only immediate investment and market share but also long term influencers and loyalty. Decision makers who grew up Apple helped Apple take a big bite of the education market for a long time but that is changing now.  Who will be next? Microsoft wants to be sure their name is in the running and remembers that the classroom is an excellent place to begin.

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