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Does Microsoft need a Google Chromebook rival?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 02-05-2017 Vishal Mathur

Microsoft is hosting an Education Event later on Tuesday in New York, and the company is expected to make some announcements regarding the roadmap of the software and the hardware line-up.

At the New York event, Microsoft is expected to unveil the Windows 10 Cloud, which could be potentially pitched against Google’s Chromebook platform. But, does the cloud-based operating system make sense?

According to documents leaked online, first accessed by the Windows Central website, there are some Chromebook-esque devices in the works. Leaked data suggests that these devices would run a quad-core (Celeron or better) processor, with 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage (64GB for 64-bit software) which would be a fast eMMC or SSD type, optional pen and touch support and target for 10-plus hours of battery life. These are expected to be low-cost computing devices, and will be targeted at students and educational institutions.

It will be critical for Microsoft, given its education focus on the potential new line-up of products, to have the perfect balance of price and performance, to become a natural competitor for the Chromebooks—they will have to be considerably less expensive than the current Surface line-up of Windows 10 convertibles.

It will be interesting to see what sort of form factor and design Microsoft goes with for the cloud machines—would they be convertibles, or have a more conventional clamshell design to keep costs down.

Also read: Windows 10 Creators Update: Microsoft’s bid to make your PC even smarter

This also links in with the new power throttling feature that is expected to be rolled out with a Windows 10 update set to come out later this year—it will reduce battery consumption of background apps and services, and could improve battery life by more than 10% in some usage scenarios. It was believed that Microsoft tested this feature in certain builds of the Creators Update which is now rolling out for Windows 10 machines, but did not release it this time around.

But what will be the operating system to run on these low power and low cost laptops? It will be Windows 10, but not like the one you probably use. It will be Windows 10 Cloud (Windows 10 S, as some unconfirmed reports seem to suggest), and will be more streamlined and frugal than the standard Windows 10. Some of the more power-hungry features will be stripped away, the installation size of the operating system will be reduced and users will essentially require internet access as most of the data will be stored on the cloud—expect this to be linked tightly with the OneDrive cloud storage service. This will also help Microsoft drive Office365 subscriptions, which will include the office productivity suite and OneDrive storage space.

Also read: 8 Chromebook questions answered

The reasons why Chromebooks became popular among students and in schools was not because of the specs or the cloud, but because of the price and ease of use. If Microsoft indeed makes an impression with the new cloud-based computing devices, it will not only dent Google’s Chromebook juggernaut, but also perhaps have some sort of an impact on the sales of Apple iPads, which are now being pushed more as content creation and productivity devices.

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