Microsoft today took the fight to Apple today by launching the Surface Laptop, its new MacBook challenger.
The $999 Surface Laptop will be start shipping from June 15th and is aimed at schools and students, with Microsoft hoping to see off any shift from Windows PCs to its competitors in the education market.
The laptop uses Windows 10 S, a locked-down version of the OS that will only run apps installed from the Windows Store. The move to lock down Windows appears to be a strategy to make the OS easier to use and less prone to performance and security problems caused by downloading software from the internet. Teacher and admins will be able to switch the version of the OS to Windows 10 Pro to install non-store apps.
Every app also runs in container, which Terry Myerson, Microsoft's executive VP of the Windows and Devices Group, said should ensure apps don't impact the performance of the system over time.
"It's easy to setup and manage and will have the same performance on the first day of school, as the last," Myerson said at a launch event in New York.
The reduction in system bloat helped cut the initial log-in time for Windows 10 S on a demo PC to about 15 seconds, said Myerson, about half the time it takes to log into Windows 10 Pro on the same machine. Every log in after the first to Windows 10 S will be under five seconds. The device should also wake and sleep instantly upon the lid being opened or closed.
One potential drawback to the Windows Store lock, however, is that the store is still missing many Windows' desktop releases.
The Surface Laptop itself includes a 13.5-inch PixelSense touchscreen display that has 3.4 million pixels and a 3:2 aspect ratio. Microsoft's corporate VP of devices Panos Panay says it's the thinnest touchscreen display on any laptop.
The machine is relatively slight, weighing 2.76lbs and 9.9mm thick at the front and 14.47mm thick at the back.
Panay said Microsoft was aiming to offer the experience of using a 14-inch laptop on a device that felt no bigger than 13-inches.
The big focus for the Surface Laptop is the ability to use it all day on a single charge, with Panay claiming the laptop can manage up to 14.5 hours of video playback, more he said than "any MacBook on the market today".
The Surface Laptop will be available with an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, and upto 512GB PCIe SSD for storage.
Once again, Panay compared the Surface Laptop to Apple's products, saying the device is 50 percent faster than the MacBook Air and that the Core i7 in the Surface Laptop is faster than the i7 in the MacBook Pro.
The laptop is available to pre-order from today, starting at $999 for the Intel Core i5 version.
The design borrows from Microsoft's other Surface products, with the keyboard coated in Alcantara, the soft covering normally found in car interiors. The anodized metal case is available in four colors, platinum, burgundy, cobalt blue and graphite gold.
There's some evidence of compromise in the available ports however, the Surface Book only includes one full sized USB-A port, DisplayPort, headphone jack and Microsoft's proprietary charging port, found on the Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. Microsoft has also shown the laptop being used with its Surface Dial controller, to scroll through pages in an Office document and to change the volume in Spotify, with the dial changing its function based on the app being used.
$189 Windows 10 PCs
While the Microsoft-made Surface Laptop will be a flagship device, designed to compete with MacBooks in the education market, Microsoft also announced a range of low-price Windows PCs running Windows 10 S, which are designed to challenge Google Chromebooks.
In the "coming months", Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, Samsung and Toshiba offer range of new Windows 10 PCs for Education starting at $189, alongside a range of premium devices.
There wasn't much information on these devices, but leaked information before today's announcement has suggested these machines will target 10-plus hours of battery life and a 20-second boot time. The leaks stated the minimum spec for is quad-core Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage and a fast drive—either eMMC or an SSD. Interestingly, the leaked slides suggested these would be both slower to boot and to log into than Chromebooks.
New Windows S PCs will come with a free one year subscription to Minecraft Education Edition.
Schools will be able to install Windows 10 S on PCs using Windows 10's Set up my PC wizard, which will allow teachers to create custom images for Windows 10 S with the apps they want pre-installed and then to quickly install that image on PCs via USB.
Windows 10 S will be free for all schools on current Windows Pro PCs, and teachers and students worldwide will be eligible to use Office 365 for Education with Microsoft Teams for free.
Microsoft also announced that Intune for Education, a service which make it easier for students' and teachers' PCs to be centrally managed, is available worldwide today.
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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.