Microsoft’s Surface laptop is not reassuringly expensive

Surface Laptop
Surface Laptop

A premium laptop is not a great way to launch a campaign targeting the low-end of the PC market

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8 May 2017 | 0

Niall Kitson portraitLast week Microsoft revealed Windows 10 S, an operating system designed for low-cost PCs. It’s secure, light and perfect for the education sector, where it will square off against Chromebooks. It’s also making its debut on the Surface Laptop, a $999 ultraportable alternative to the Macbook Air. Makes sense.

We have been here before with Microsoft. You might remember the short-lived Windows RT and Surface RT tablet – an iPad and Android alternative that sought to act as a more of scaled down PC than a scaled-up smartphone. Windows RT even had OEM support from Dell and Asus, Lenovo and Samsung.

As for the Surface RT itself, a combination of iffy performance, and an operating system that wouldn’t run desktop applications meant it didn’t connect with consumers. The inability to upscale from Windows RT to Windows 8.1 frustrated users that liked the hardware but not the OS.

OEM interest was short-lived. The Surface RT and Surface 2 were outshone by the Surface Pro – a fine device that has developed a dedicated following. Redmond lost $990 million on the Surface RT and became a contributing factor in the departure of then-CEO Steve Ballmer.

What makes Windows 10 S so different from Windows RT? Both are designed to run on low-cost, low-power devices with superior battery capability and rely on a walled garden approach to applications, making the Windows Store your only download resource.  Both OSs arrived with a Microsoft hardware release and commitments from OEMs to bring devices to market running them. It’s even arguable that RT and 10 S share the same flaw: a walled garden approach forbidding the downloading of apps not approved through the Windows Store.

The answer, if you were to sum it up on a tagline, is this: It’s for the kids. Windows RT suffered by going for mass appeal against more popular mobile operating systems, Windows 10 S is going for the low-end PC market where Chromebooks are gaining ground over PCs.

A direct faceoff between Android and Windows will be fun to watch. My bet is that Chromebooks’ flexibility will do for Windows 10 S’ better security. The Surface Laptop might is an attractive piece of kit – let’s hope it can update to regular Windows 10 if it has to.

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