Tomorrow, Microsoft will be hosting an event in New York City, where it said that attendees will "learn what's next" about its product plans. It will focus specifically on the company's efforts in the education market, with new software and hardware offerings primarily targeting those users.
The event will take place eight days before Microsoft's Build 2017 developer conference, where the company will discuss its wider plans for Windows 10, Office, the Universal Windows Platform, mixed reality, and other platforms, products and tools in its range. Later this week, it will also be hosting an online 'Ask Microsoft Anything' session related to Windows as a service.
For now, though, here's what to expect from Tuesday's event.
Windows 10 Cloud (or 'Windows 10 S')
We've known for a while that Microsoft has been developing a new edition, or SKU, of Windows 10. So far, it's been referred to as Windows 10 Cloud, but according to The Verge, the new SKU may be known as 'Windows 10 S', for 'schools'. (For the purpose of this article, we'll refer to it as 'Windows 10 Cloud' - just remember that that's not necessarily its final name.)
Windows 10 Cloud will be restricted to running apps installed from the Windows Store, potentially offering much greater security on devices, and limiting the impact of malware and viruses. It should also deliver better battery performance, thanks to restrictions on background tasks and services for apps installed from the Store.
However, unlike Windows RT, the new SKU will be fully capable of running Win32 applications, as long as they're 'converted' for distribution through the Store, using Microsoft's Desktop App Bridge (also know by its development codename, Project Centennial).
Also unlike Windows RT, there will be an upgrade path to more fully-featured Windows 10 SKUs, if required. Windows 10 Cloud is expected to target lower-end notebooks and tablets primarily, but manufacturers will be able to install it on other types of device too, such as desktop PCs.
In addition to a new Windows 10 SKU, Microsoft is also expected to reveal new low-cost hardware targeting the price-sensitive education market. While its Surface Pro 4, Book and Studio offer plenty of appealing features, even the most affordable models are priced far higher than many schools and universities can justify spending on devices. With many Google Chromebooks available for less than $300, and Apple recently reducing the cost of its iPads to as little as $329, Microsoft needs to be able to compete more effectively on price if it's to win over educational institutions.
Last month, details emerged of Microsoft's recommended minimum specs for devices running Windows 10 Cloud, providing hints of what to expect from its new hardware. Notably, staple Surface features, such as Pen support and touchscreens, will be optional on devices running the new SKU. The company has internally benchmarked Windows 10 Cloud against Chromebooks, particularly in terms of the time it takes to boot the OS and log in, as well as battery life.
Some of those leaked benchmarks suggest that the initial Cloud release won't quite match Chrome OS on either of those performance measurements - but battery life should improve on those devices with the Redstone 3 update in September, when Microsoft delivers its new 'power throttling' feature for portable devices.
While Microsoft should unveil its own device running the new version of the OS - likely with a 'conventional' laptop form factor - it could potentially showcase other devices from some of its hardware partners too. Other companies, such as Acer, have previously launched ultra-low-cost Windows notebooks with similar entry-level specs.
Office 2016 on the Windows Store
With the Windows Store as the only way to get apps onto Windows 10 Cloud, schools and universities - and any other organizations that might use the new version of its OS - will need to be able to install Office onto their devices. Tuesday's event therefore seems like the perfect opportunity to announce availability of its full Office 2016 suite on the Windows Store.
Until now, only the 'Office Mobile' apps have been available from the Windows Store, offering a finger-friendly interface for use on touchscreens, but with far fewer features than the full Office 2016 applications provide. Microsoft has been working to bring Office 2016 to the Store for some time.
Microsoft launched Minecraft: Education Edition last year, helping teachers to use the hugely popular world-building game as a classroom tool for a range of subjects. By late January 2017, it had reached more than 75,000 users in over 100 countries.
The Minecraft Education team is in New York City for the event, promising to share more on what's next for teachers and students.
What not to expect
While it's more or less certain that we'll see at least one device running the new education-focused Windows 10 SKU, it's unlikely that we'll see the next generation of its Surface hardware at Tuesday's event. The new Surface Pro 5 is rumored to be a modest evolution of its predecessor, but it's not expected to make an appearance this week.
With the 'refreshed' Surface Book with Performance Base launching in 13 major markets less than two weeks ago, it would make little sense for Microsoft to unveil a new model so soon afterwards. And no, don't expect the 'Surface phone' to make its debut there either.
Neowin will be at the #MicrosoftEDU event, and at Build 2017 next week, so stay tuned to find out what Microsoft has in store.