Microsoft kicks off back-to-school wave with new Windows 10, Office 365 Education apps, services

Microsoft plans to bundle new education-focused apps into Windows 10 Anniversary update, and is readying new Office 365 and MineCraft updates aimed specifically at the academic market.

Microsoft is previewing today, April 14, what's coming on the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Office 365 and Minecraft fronts for educators and students as its way of kicking off its back-to-school 2016/2017 wave.

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A number of the already disclosed features in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update -- a k a "Redstone 1," due out around July this year -- including Windows Ink, Cortana enhancements and core updates to make PCs boot and resume faster -- will all have benefits in the classroom, Microsoft officials said.

The company also is adding a new "Set Up School PCs" app to help teachers set of a "Shared Cart of Devices" for classrooms which make use of shared devices. For schools with dedicated IT support, the updated Windows Imaging and Configuration Designer tool will aid with setting up shared devices in bulk. And a new "Take a Test" app will create a browser-based, locked-down environment for quickly taking standardized tests. The "Set Up School PCs" and "Take a Test" apps will be preloaded with the Windows 10 Education Edition.

There's no dedicated Windows Store for Education, but school administrators will receive an education-focused experience, with education apps on their landing page when they log in. Educators also can make use of the Windows Store for Business.

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"Free and paid apps acquired through the Windows Store for Business can be assigned to students, included in a school's private store, distributed via management such as MDM (mobile device management), or if enabled by the developer, may be downloaded for offline provisioning. Custom LOB (line of business) apps from developers can be uploaded to the schools private store for distribution through the same methods," said a spokesperson when I asked for particulars.

There's also a new, free add-on for Office 365 Education that is available in pilot called "Microsoft Classroom." This add-in, which includes both service and software components, is deployable by school administrators and can be integrated with Windows 10. The Classroom service has both teacher and student views, and is focused on streamlining and digitizing the school class-workflow process.

Microsoft Classroom is built around the OneNote Class Notebook add-in, which Microsoft announced last month.

Microsoft also is readying a new complement to Microsoft Classroom called School Data Sync which will automatically populate Microsoft Classroom information to a central School Information System. There's also a new Microsoft Forms app for the education market that will provide a quick way to create surveys and quizzes. It's available in public preview for Office 365 Education users starting today.

Microsoft's promised Minecraft Education Edition for Windows 10, which company officials announced in January, will be available as part of an early access program starting in June. At that time, any educator will be able to download and try it for free on Windows 10. The Minecraft Education Edition also will be available for Mac OS X El Capitan, Microsoft execs said today.

Microsoft (at least so far) isn't announcing any new Windows hardware of its own as part of this year's back-to-school wave. But it is pointing those in the market for a new Windows machine to existing Windows 10-capable devices at a variety of price points, including the Acer Travel Mate B117, Asus Transformer Book Flip TP 200, Dell Latitude 11 Education Series, Dell Inspiron 3000, HP Stream 11 PRO Notebook PC, Lenovo N22 and Microsoft's own Surface Pro 4.

"Microsoft is seeking to redefine the modern classroom," said Tony Prophet, who, as of last summer, became the new Corporate Vice President for Education Marketing at the company.

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