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(Pocket-lint) - Microsoft hasn't given up on schools just yet.

While at an education-focused event in late 2021, Microsoft introduced a super-cheap Surface Laptop SE running a new student edition of Windows 11. Called Windows 11 SE, it's designed to run exclusively on laptops made for K-8 classrooms in the US. It's different from the S Mode version of Windows that Microsoft previously pushed. Since S Mode essentially limited users to Microsoft Store apps, it was more of a nuisance for schools and never really took off.

It's worth noting, Chromebooks own the K-12 market. If you went to elementary, middle, or even high school in the US, you've used a Chrome OS laptop in class and for homework. Microsoft has been trying to regain this segment for years, and its latest effort could be its truest Chrome OS rival yet.

What is Windows 11 SE?

Windows 11 SE is a new edition of Windows 11 built specifically for students and schools. It's available on new low-cost devices sold to education customers.

What's different about Windows 11 SE?

Most of the differences between Windows 11 and Windows 11 SE are fairly minor.

New features and changes

Microsoft said it talked to teachers and students to get feedback, and this led to a handful of new features and changes in Windows 11 SE.

  1. Windows 11 SE comes with all the key Microsoft 365 apps preinstalled
  2. Apps always launch in fullscreen mode on Windows 11 SE
  3. Windows 11 SE has a simplified version of Snap Layouts
    • Instead of multiple, it uses a single-mode that lets you place apps side by side
  4. The Widgets section of Windows 11 has also been removed
    • Microsoft said it's too distracting in classrooms
  5. Microsoft Edge will also be configured to accept Chrome extensions
    • This is something turned off by default on Windows 11
  6. Windows 11 SE backs up documents to OneDrive by default
    • It has offline support, too!
  7. Windows 11 SE has a new colorful Bloom wallpaper by default

Works with third-party apps

Windows 11 SE is, of course, optimised to run Microsoft's services - from Edge browser to Office - but it’s not restricted to Microsoft Store apps. That means, unlike Microsoft's ill-fated S Mode, Windows 11 SE supports third-party apps, including Zoom and Chrome, giving schools the choice to use what they want.

IT admin privileges

Windows 11 SE devices are managed and updated by a school's IT admins - even outside of the classroom. They are also in charge of what apps can be installed. Microsoft said it spent over a year discussing with IT admins their chief concerns. Interestingly, they all mentioned repairability. So, Microsoft is allowing schools to replace components inside its Windows 11 SE-powered Surface Laptop SE and will even sell them parts through service providers.

IT admins are also receiving a more simplified backend management console for education. Microsoft is bundling apps, too, like Teams, Office, OneNote, Minecraft for Education, and Flipgrid, so IT admins won’t have to separately install them. Students can simply open up a Windows 11 SE laptop, enter their login information, and instantly get access to their approved apps and cloud-saved documents. Simple - just like Chrome OS.

Which devices run Windows 11 SE?

One of the first devices is Microsoft's $249 Surface Laptop SE, but it's available exclusively to schools and students. The base model ships with an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of eMMC storage, and an 11.6-inch (1366 x 768 resolution ) display. You can learn more about Surface Laptop SE here.

Other low-cost Windows 11 SE laptops are coming from Acer, Asus, Dell, Dynabook, Fujitsu, HP, JK-IP, Lenovo, and Positivo. These will be sold to schools.

When will Windows 11 SE be available?

Windows 11 SE laptops are expected to arrive in education channels later this year and in early 2022. The Surface Laptop SE is launching in early 2022.

What's the point of Windows 11 SE?

Windows 11 SE is clearly Microsoft's latest effort to compete with Chrome OS. Chrome OS is easy for kids to use and a breeze for IT admins and schools to manage, and Microsoft set up Windows 11 SE so that it has the potential to be just as user-friendly for education customers.

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Writing by Maggie Tillman. Originally published on 9 November 2021.