Microsoft announces a Surface laptop that won’t run Call of Duty

Only approved apps will run and only from the Windows Store. Is that the right way to do this?

windows 10 s
Microsoft

Locked-down laptops rule the classroom.

It’s already possible to control what apps can be accessed if you hand a middle schooler a Chromebook. What can you run on that thing? Not anything fun. Industrious hackers could run a first-person shooter through a browser window, but let’s be honest -- it’s not going to run the latest Call of Duty game.

Now, Microsoft wants to essentially do the same thing.

The Microsoft Surface laptop -- available in four trendy colors like cobalt blue -- weighs 2.76 pounds, opens with a finger, and runs the new Windows 10 S operating system, which only supports approved apps you can download from the Windows Store.

What does that really mean? For the students I’ve met and worked with, it means that personal copy of Call of Duty you bought at Walmart likely won’t run. And, neither will your illegal copy of Photoshop. Or that one weird video editing app you downloaded from Asia. You can buy COD on the Windows Store, but schools will simply lock down which apps are available to a student.

Hello Chromebook clone, goodbye flexibility.

Other features are designed for the education market. The Surface turns on extremely quickly and has 14.5 hours of battery life. Students can “express themselves” by choosing a laptop color and using the pen, which is perfect for taking notes using the OneNote app. In every other way, it's really a Surface Book.

One problem I see is that the classroom does not always need to be locked down. As a father of kids who are now in college, I want them to have the freedom to explore a wide range of apps -- safely and securely. I don’t really want a high school or college to dictate what they can use for a 3D printing app, even if that will be a reality most likely in the workplace, where IT approves the apps you can load.

To me, it’s not about preventing kids from installing games and illegal wares, even though I see the value in that...to the school. I’d like to give older students the opportunity to try some random Photoshop clone or install an app for modeling that might be a little weird and clunky but also free and has some unique features.

In many ways, the issue is more about trust. I work with students at times who know all about the dangers of illegal wares and are mature enough to know the difference between an open source app for music recording that is far from ever being in the Windows Store but is still legit and a site that lets you download the entire Beyonce back-catalog and "edit the clips" in Windows (yeah, sure). They’re smarter than some adults I know when it comes to spotting weird malware-distribution sites on the fringe of the internet versus sites that were linked off of a Berkeley computer lab with a clearly identified download link.

The answer to all of this is to change operating systems, of course. You can choose to upgrade to the normal version of Windows 10 Pro and then install any app, although that’s potentially expensive for the student or school and complicated for a younger student. More importantly, it's a pain for an older student and teachers.

The Surface laptop will cost $999 and will come out June 15. Hardware companies like Acer will also make low-end laptops that run Windows 10. But will it all work out?

My view is that students already accept the limitations of a Chromebook and that it’s “for school” and runs browser-based apps (and Android apps, if you go down that road). It's also really low-end. With a Surface laptop that could easily run higher-end open source apps, I wonder if students will be disappointed. We shall see.

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