Windows 11 SE is Microsoft’s new Chrome OS alternative for the EDU laptop market

Laurent Giret

Microsoft has just put the wraps off Windows 11 SE during an Education event this morning, where the company also announced a new Surface device designed from the ground up for students. Windows SE is a new edition of Windows 11 designed for the K-8 classroom, and the new OS will ship on Microsoft’s new $249 Surface Laptop SE as well as other Windows SE devices from third-party manufacturers.

According to Microsoft, “Windows 11 SE was designed and built during the pandemic to address the most fundamental challenges that schools will face in the blended learning world.” Windows SE follows previous initiatives such as Windows 10 in S Mode to address the rising popularity of Chromebooks in the US EDU market, but the recent launch of Windows 11 gives Microsoft an opportunity to try something slightly different.

“Windows 11 SE has been optimized for the most-used education experiences, including Microsoft 365 applications, supporting both online and offline capabilities,” the company explained today. Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote and OneDrive can all be used offline on Windows 11 SE devices, and all offline changes sync to the Microsoft cloud once students get Internet access back.

Microsoft Edge will also play a very important role on Windows SE thanks to built-in tools like Immersive Reader. However, Windows 11 SE will also support other popular Windows apps such as Google Chrome and Zoom, and IT Admins will be able to use Intune for Education to pre-load any Windows apps to every student. All apps on Windows SE open in full screen by default, and Microsoft explained that this is for minimizing distractions and keeping the focus on education. Compared to regular Windows 11, Windows 11 SE comes with a simplified user interface with no Widgets menu in the taskbar, and only two ways to use the new Snap Groups feature.

It’s important to note that only IT Admins will be able to download and install apps on services directly on Windows 11 SE devices. This is a different approach compared to Windows 10 and Windows 11 in S Mode, which only allow users to download apps from the Microsoft Store. Windows 11 SE apparently won’t replace Windows 11 in S Mode, which will remain another option for PC manufacturers looking for a version of Windows 11 streamlined for security and performance.

One of the main reasons why Chromebooks are popular in the US EDU market is the fact that they’re easier to manage than Windows PCs for IT Admins. With Windows 11 SE, Microsoft wants to change that with Windows Autopilot and Intune for Education.

For IT admins, Windows Autopilot provides zero-touch device deployment, while Intune for Education provides a simple and secure cloud management solution allowing the IT admin the ability to deploy and manage Windows 11 SE devices from anywhere, right out of the box. When managed via the cloud, devices are always up to date. They update silently, automatically, and outside of class time via policies set in Intune for Education to minimize disruptions, while offering the latest in security and reliability updates.

With its new $249 Surface Laptop SE, Microsoft has created a “flagship” Windows SE device which is also the first Surface specifically made for K-8 students. The Surface Laptop SE comes with an 11.6” screen, front-facing 720p HD camera and stereo speakers, and you can learn more details about it in our separate post.

More Windows 11 SE devices from Acer, ASUS, Dell, Dynabook, Fujitsu, HP, JK-IP, Lenovo, and Positivo will be available for ordering through education channels later this year and into 2022, the company said today. “While we will not restrict sales of Windows 11 SE devices, they are not likely to be available at retail,” the company explained in FAQ, adding that “most customers buying personal devices would not want the app and management restrictions that these devices come with.”