Microsoft has unveiled two new products aimed at students — Windows 11 SE and a low-cost Surface Laptop SE. The company positions the software and new Surface hardware as a great option for students and educational institutions, which sounds a lot like a way to take on Google’s Chromebooks.
Starting with Windows 11 SE, Microsoft says it built the new OS with feedback from teachers and school IT admins to make the software simple, distraction-free, secure and easy to deploy. Further, Microsoft says it optimized Windows 11 SE for “the most-used education experiences,” which, naturally, includes Microsoft 365.
Interestingly, Microsoft touted that Windows 11 SE devices don’t need persistent internet access, noting that up to 16 million K-12 public school students in the U.S. don’t have persistent internet access outside of school. As such, Microsoft says Office apps, like Word and PowerPoint, work offline on Windows 11 SE. OneDrive also stores files locally and can back files up when students can reconnect to the internet.
Although this all sounds like a no-brainer, it seems like a shot at Google’s Chromebooks, which tend to rely more heavily on web-based platforms and can lose functionality without an internet connection. Still, Google has also done a lot to make Chromebooks less dependent on internet connections in recent years.
Another benefit to Windows 11 SE is that it supports third-party apps. I was particularly surprised by that announcement (especially because Microsoft mentioned Zoom and Chrome as examples, both of which directly compete with Microsoft services like Teams and Edge).
That should allow schools that opt to use Windows 11 SE to work with whatever tools they want, even if that means they won’t use Microsoft’s services. That said, the choice is left up to schools, since Microsoft says only IT admins can download and install apps and services.
Surface Laptop SE and other low-cost Windows 11 SE devices
To showcase the new education-oriented operating system, Microsoft announced its most affordable Surface device — the Laptop SE. Coming in at $319.99 in Canada, Microsoft says the tiny laptop is made specifically for K-8 students.
The Laptop SE offers an 11.6-inch screen, 720p HD front-facing camera, stereo speakers and “the same high-quality typing experience as the rest of the product portfolio.” Moreover, Microsoft says the Laptop SE offers “new levels of repairability,” allowing IT admins to easily repair the laptops on-site.
While the Surface Laptop SE will lead the charge for Microsoft’s new education push, the company also announced that other partners would launch education devices. That includes Acer, Asus, Dell, Dynabook, Fujitsu, HP, Lenovo and more will soon offer Windows 11 SE laptops running on Intel or AMD platforms.
Ultimately, it sounds like Microsoft will soon have an extensive fleet of education options tailored for schools. It remains to be seen if Windows 11 SE and the new education-oriented laptops from Microsoft and partners will sway schools away from Google and ChromeOS. Either way, the education space just got a lot more interesting.
Those interested can learn more about Windows 11 SE and the Surface Laptop SE here.
Update 11/09/2021 at 12:42pm ET: Added Canadian pricing to the article.