Microsoft is taking on Chromebooks in the classroom with Windows 11 SE and the new Surface Laptop
Microsoft has struggled for years to replicate the success of its Chrome OPERATING system on low-end devices. Windows RT, the company's first failed attempt at an ARM device, was released nearly a decade ago. Windows 10S mode, meanwhile, tries to solve security problems by limiting application installations, while Windows 10X tries to simplify the entire operating system. Never one to back down from a challenge, Microsoft is back with another Chromebook competitor: Windows 11 SE.
Today's Windows 11 SE, along with some new Surface hardware, was designed for education from the start. There is no need to worry about whether users who buy the platform will get confused and avoid the post-launch woes of RT and S modes. Windows 11 SE is designed for K-8 students and is ideal for running on low-end hardware. If this sounds familiar, that's because Microsoft's move would put Google by the throat.
As an education-focused product, Windows 11 SE has a limited range of applications. The app starts in full-screen mode by default, designed to limit distractions in class. Cloud storage is built-in, so you don't have to rely on local content to complete jobs and projects. Not surprisingly, application installation was also limited -- the only software on these computers was approved by administrators. Third-party software does run on the operating system -- Zoom and Chrome are specifically specified by default -- but Microsoft wants users to live within its ecosystem. To that end, Microsoft 365 and Office apps are out of the box.
To ensure educators have a choice of hardware, a new Surface laptop will ship with Windows 11 SE. The Surface Laptop SE looks a lot like other low-end Chromebooks you see in schools these days, with a relatively low-resolution 720p 11.6-inch display and a curved and bulky case. Microsoft promises up to 16 hours of battery life, which should be perfect for use during school days. It's powered by an Intel Celeron N4020 or N4120, has up to 8GB of memory, and starts at just $250.
No one reading this is likely to run to a retail store to buy it - it is designed for students and can only be purchased through corporate channels. Still, it's an interesting competitor to Chrome OS, and basically where Google has had the most success in the laptop space. With so many schools already using Chromebooks, it will be interesting to see if it's too late for Microsoft to find a foothold in the market. But compared with operating systems such as Windows RT and S Mode, the outlook looks much better.