Microsoft touts Windows 11 SE: A locked-down OS to give Chromebooks a run for their money in schools

Oh OK, so the kids get a repairable Surface laptop but not us, huh?

Microsoft has prepared a version of Windows 11, dubbed Windows 11 SE, primarily for schools and their students, and has crafted a $250 Surface SE laptop to go along with it.

To us, it seems the OS is Windows S but with a twist. While Windows 10 and 11 in S mode only allow users to install applications from Microsoft's official online store, Windows 11 SE doesn't even come with an app store, and instead lets school IT admins deploy software just from a Microsoft-controlled list that right now isn't fully public.

Chrome and Zoom made the cut, so those can be installed. Microsoft Education veep Paige Johnson said on Tuesday the Windows giant will try to "expand third-party app support to include the most common test taking, accessibility, content filtering and classroom orchestration apps."

Other than that, you get Microsoft Edge for web-based tools and extensions, and you can stick Microsoft 365 applications on it, which will work if the device is offline, we're told. A suitable license is needed, natch. Once the PC goes online, it should sync any offline changes with its OneDrive cloud storage.

Administrators can use Windows Autopilot and Intune for Education to remotely provision and manage the boxes, select their applications from the approved list, and define when updates can be installed so that classes aren't interrupted by downloads and reboots. Only admins can configure the machines and select which software runs on them.

This minimal approach, with just a few approved apps running as needed, is supposed to lengthen the time between battery charges and not tax the hardware – and Windows 11 SE is primarily aimed at low-end portable PCs destined for classrooms and bedrooms. In the case of the Surface SE, Microsoft claims 16 hours of operation between charges.

The Surface Laptop SE, priced at $250 for the base spec, sports an Intel N4020 or N4120 Celeron processor, 4 or 8GB of RAM, and 64 or 128GB of storage. The 11.6-inch screen should be OK for kids. There are USB ports, stereo speakers, a front-facing 720p camera, and a venerable 3.5mm headphone jack.

Microsoft said it optimized the OS – which is essentially Windows 11 Home with a simplified user interface – to work down to 4GB of RAM and an Atom-class processor. It's supposed to be a godsend for teachers, parents, and school IT admins, and will be hell for anyone trying to use it as a traditional desktop environment.

And so it appears with this software and hardware spec that Microsoft has Google's Chromebooks in its cross-hairs. Chrome OS-powered laptops have done a roaring trade in the US education market, at least, which Redmond can't be too happy about.

Microsoft reckons its Surface SE has an edge over rival equipment that will make school IT admins happy: its repairability. Since children aren't the best at protecting their kit, the Surface Laptop SE is designed to be taken apart using standard tools, and the display, battery, keyboard, and motherboard can all be swapped out easily, with parts made available via authorized service providers. We wish the rest of the Surface range had that, let alone Google and Apple gear.

The Surface SE is due to land later this year or early 2022. See the promo video below for more details.

Youtube Video

In addition, Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, and Acer will be bringing out laptops with Windows 11 SE bundled, and the budget theme continues. None cost more than $350, and Dell and ASUS have laptops that match Microsoft's Surface price point.

The education market is an interesting battleground for operating system vendors. As the philosopher Aristotle, or St Ignatius Loyola depending on who you believe, said: “Give me a child until he is seven and I’ll show you the man.”

There's the argument that people tend to stick with the operating system they grew up with, or least spent their school years with. Another argument is that schools pick the operating system students will need to know when they go off to work or college. Then there's the wheeling and dealing by vendors to ensure their wares are the ones that line the classrooms.

Whichever way it works, Windows 11 SE is clearly designed not just to compete against Chrome OS in education but also to get kids hooked on Microsoft 365 for life. ®

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