The Windows Ecosystem: An Educator’s Guide

By Scott Sterling

These days, you have many choices when you are adopting technology for the classroom. However, there are really only three categories from which everything else branches: Apple, Google, and Microsoft Windows. This is the final post of a series meant to cover the ins and outs, pros and cons of each—this time, Microsoft Windows.

The lay of the land

When you are talking about overall device usage (desktops, laptops, tablets, and phones), Microsoft’s Windows operating system still powers around 50 percent of the devices in use today. This disparity is even starker if we are just talking about desktops and laptops; Windows makes up almost 90 percent of that market.

It has been the leader in this space for decades now, although mobile operating systems like iOS and Android are taking more and more of the share as the years go by. To fight this, the most recent releases of Windows have been developed to work on both PCs and mobile devices, particularly their Surface family of tablets.

The pros

With that kind of dominance and longevity in the information technology space comes a greater familiarity with the system among not only IT administrators but also students and teachers. Although there have been a lot of changes in 20 years, the basic ideas behind using Windows are still the same. There is still a button where you can start all of your programs, for example.

Perhaps the most popular current selling point for Windows is its Office suite of productivity programs is still by far the de facto standard in those apps, to the point where collaboration can be severely stifled between people if they are not using the Office file formats.

Also, because of this history, support for Windows devices is easy to find. If there is a particular piece of software in which you are interested, it will probably be made for Windows first. If something goes wrong, it won’t take much searching to find a solution.

Administration of a Windows environment is also easier, again due to the rich history of the system. Chances are if you want to do something special in your installation, it has already been done before somewhere else. You can copy those people instead of inventing something new.

In terms of cost, Windows devices are usually less pricy than Apple products, but more expensive than Google devices. But there are also plenty of vendors for comparison-shopping.

The cons

Software for Windows can be much more expensive than for other ecosystems. This is usually because developers have been slow to abandon the old licensing model for their business. For example, putting Office on many machines in a school can be quite expensive.

Microsoft’s tablets, called Surface, might just be too powerful for classroom use. Part of their strategy with these devices is to make them more like flat computers and less like the tablets offered by Apple and Android. Not only does this make them more complicated, but also more expensive.

The bottom line

Five years ago, Windows powered almost every device that found its way into schools. Today, Windows runs a distant third to the Google Chromebook and Apple iPad. Some think recent innovations in computing, particularly in the mobile space, have passed Microsoft by. However, its dominance in desktops/laptops, as well as its considerable history of leadership, means that schools and districts cannot yet afford to completely ignore supporting Windows devices.