Microsoft introduced two new products today for the classroom, the new Surface Laptop SE, and a new version of Windows 11 called Windows 11 SE. These new products target the education segment and are designed for fast and easy deployment in K-8 classrooms for teachers and IT administrators. It's pretty clear that Microsoft's goal is to win back some of the districts that have switched to Google's Chromebooks.
With more and more students relying on computers for education, Microsoft's goal with its SE products is to give children the best learning experience possible, by making its laptops cheap, and its new operating system as distraction-free as possible. The Surface Laptop SE will start at $249.99, making it Microsoft's cheapest device to date. It's a no-frills purpose-built laptop for education that's easy for schools to adopt with its very low price.
The laptop is about as low-spec as you can get for something released in 2021, with the choice of either an Intel Celeron N4020 dual-core or N4120 quad-core processor, 4GB or 8GB of DDR4 memory, and 64GB or 128GB of eMMC flash storage. Those processors are part of Intel's Gemini Lake SoC refresh from 2019, featuring Goldmont Plus CPU core architecture and a 14nm manufacturing process — decidedly not current gen.
The laptop uses an 11.6 inch TFT display, with a low resolution of 1366x768. For connectivity, the Surface Laptop SE is equipped with a single USB type-C port, a single type-A port, one DC connector for charging, and one 3.5mm headphone/mic jack. The laptop includes WiFi 5 (802.11ac) support and Bluetooth 5.0 LE.
The outside of the laptop is covered in a full plastic clamshell with a white color Microsoft calls "Glacier." It weighs 2.45 pounds, and one of the biggest advantages will be its battery life. Microsoft promises up to 16 hours of battery life, which is a lot for any Windows-based laptop.
Windows 11 SE
Windows 11 SE is what Microsoft's calling a cloud-first operating system, again similar in principle to Chromebooks. It features a simplified UI and management tools designed for the educational market. Effectively, it's a very locked-down version of Windows 11 Home, with lots of settings that are managed by IT admins instead of the end-user.
The biggest changes to SE are the lack of any Windows Store and the inability to install any x86/Win32 apps by yourself. In order to install any app on Windows 11 SE, you'll need to use specialized IT administrator tools designed to control Windows 11 SE clients. If you want to use Windows 11 SE or the Surface Laptop SE like a normal PC, you're going to have a difficult time.
Even if you are an IT admin (or have admin controls) and need to install specific apps to Windows 11 SE clients, there are still limitations to what apps you can install. Only the following can be installed on Windows 11 SE:
- Content-filtering apps
- Test-taking solutions
- Accessibility apps
- Apps that facilitate classroom communication
- Essential diagnostics, management, connectivity, and supportability apps
Any app that does not fall into one of these categories — like Steam, for example — cannot be installed on Windows 11 SE at all. The only exception to app installs is web-based apps, meaning any app that runs within a web browser should run perfectly well on Windows 11 SE.
Furthermore, device settings will also be locked down to a large degree. We don't know which settings exactly are locked out from user control, but Microsoft notes that user-controlled settings are limited to get rid of distractions and prevent children from messing with settings they aren't supposed to.
Other features include full-screen app launching, cloud storage of up to 1TB, and a streamlined OS that's designed to run on low-end hardware. Windows 11 SE is a version of Windows targeted exclusively towards young students that need a laptop for homework. If you're a regular Windows user look for a typical experience at a low cost, you'll want to look elsewhere.