There was a time Microsoft’s Windows OS was everywhere. However, Chrome OS from Google came along and started stealing market share in the education sector. The latest effort by Microsoft to stop the bleed is the Windows 11 SE, a flavor of the new Windows 11 OS. The fight for the classroom between Microsoft and Google is largely confined to the US, but Microsoft is taking no chances.
This new Windows 11 SE is meant exclusively for schools and students. For this reason, the new OS will ship on low-cost laptops that are commonly used in K-8 classes.
Microsoft’s previous efforts included adding an S mode to Windows, but that did not pan out as the lack of traditional desktop apps rendered it a glorified paperweight. Users spent only a few minutes removing the limitation to the Microsoft app store, which lacked useful apps and turned the laptops into the usual workhorse.
Telemetry must have informed Microsoft that the S mode wasn’t working, so it is trying a new method.
With a change intact, the Windows 11 SE is not limited only to apps from the store. In actual fact, the differences between this new Windows and the standard version are minimal, although Microsoft claimed it spent about 18 months getting feedback from teachers and students. For example, apps launch in full-screen mode in Windows 11 SE, and you can only place apps side-by-side instead of with snap mode.
To reduce distractions during classes, Windows 11 SE does not have the Widgets section found on the regular Windows 11. The new OS also accepts Chrome extensions by default, unlike the regular version, where it has to be turned on. There is no doubt that this aims to make life easier for schools that already depend on extensions on their Chromebooks.
Windows 11 SE uploads documents to OneDrive automatically for backup, but there is offline support so that the laptops can function outside of the classroom.
Other changes are a different bright day-one wallpaper. This version of Windows has only one version of both OneNote and Teams installed, unlike the double offerings with the standard version.
Any manufacturer that wants to make low-budget laptops to be sold to schools can use Windows 11 SE. These manufacturers include the usual suspects like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc. Other lesser-known makers are Fujitsu, JK-IP, Dynabook, and Positivo. They will start selling them in the coming months.
Microsoft has borrowed some features from its rival to make the Windows 11 SE as attractive as Chrome OS. Previous efforts have not taken into consideration the ease with which Chromebooks are set up, a big draw in a sector not known for boasting top IT talents. In Windows 11 SE, however, the pain of setting up has been addressed as the laptop can talk to Microsoft Intune straight away for a seamless experience. Any setup configuration already done by the IT admin in the backend will apply, and the laptop will be up and running in no time.
While many Windows laptops still come with bloatware, Microsoft has pre-installed Teams, Office, OneNote, Minecraft for Education, and Flipgrid in Windows 11 SE. These are apps useful in the education sector and that admins would have installed anyway. All the student has to do is log in with their account, and all necessary documents will be pulled from the cloud.
The first Windows 11 SE should appear later this year, but expanded availability will come next year.
Microsoft is leading the way in this hardware effort with the release of its Surface Laptop SE. At a price of only $249, the software giant is clearly going after the Chromebook market. It will be sold exclusively to schools and students. The entry model ships with an Intel Celeron processor paired with 4 GB of RAM. Storage is 64 GB eMMC. The laptop has an 11.6-inch display with 1366 x 768 resolution. In a departure from what has become a custom for Microsoft, the Surface Laptop SE has a 16:9 screen ratio. For video conferencing, there is a 1-megapixel camera.
According to Microsoft, the Surface Laptop SE has been optimized to run Windows 11 SE on rather lowly specs. Hopefully, other manufacturers will pay the same amount of attention to the hardware to not give the OS a terrible reputation.