Windows 11 SE marries the fresh UI of Windows 11 with a cloud-first approach and offline Office app support to gain an edge over Chromebooks.
Microsoft has introduced Windows 11 SE, a cloud-first take on its operating system that aims to challenge Chromebooks. But, unfortunately, the company’s efforts to make a dent in the education market where cheap computers sell like hot cakes haven’t really been successful. But that failure can be blamed on lackluster hardware as well as slow software innovation over the past few years.
The company offered Windows 10 in S Mode as some sort of a solution for students who were supposed to limit themselves to the Microsoft Store for all apps. That didn’t take off as Microsoft had planned. The company then shifted Windows 10X priorities from dual-screen devices like the non-existent Surface Neo towards creating a Chrome OS rival, which was subsequently canceled.
However, learnings from the doomed project apparently lived on and have now made their debut as Windows 11 SE. Starting with the name, Microsoft says the SE doesn’t really stand for anything, but ‘School Edition’ may have worked, given its target audience. Talking about the UI, it looks identical to what Windows 11 has to offer. But there are a few changes here and there. For example, all apps will open in full-screen mode by default. And instead of the four or six Snap Layouts available for Windows 11 machines, Windows 11 SE only supports two Snap Layouts that position two apps side by side for split-screen multitasking. Finally, Microsoft has gotten rid of the Widgets for its Chrome OS competitor in order to provide a tidy and distraction-free experience.
Windows 11 SE Looks Like A Solid Classroom Package
Being a Microsoft offering targeted at classrooms, all Windows 11 SE machines will come pre-installed with the all the Microsoft 365 apps such as World, Teams, PowerPoint, etc. Microsoft is touting it as an advantage over Chrome OS since exposure to these Office apps will carry over when users enter their professional career phase. However, there are a few limitations in place. Windows 11 SE doesn’t come with the Microsoft Store, and all app downloads are restricted until approved by the IT admin. So, there is no hope for Android apps, as is the case with vanilla Windows 11 hardware. Windows 11 SE supports apps only in the Win32 and UWP format, not the PWA (Progressive Web Apps) format. In hindsight, it is a good move as installing apps from third-party sources always poses the risk of malware infection. And even those installed from the Microsoft Store might end up slowing down these machines.
Microsoft says that most of the work on Windows 11 SE machines is supposed to happen via web apps, with Edge handling the burden for it. However, the company is not restricting students to its own browser, which has quite a divisive fan following. Instead, Windows 11 SE machines will support Chrome browser, with all its browser-based apps and extensions in tow. But things are a tad restricted on the hardware side, as Windows 11 SE will be limited to machines with less than 8GB of RAM and fewer than 128 gigs of onboard storage. All work is backed up to OneDrive, but students will be able to work offline in the pre-loaded productivity apps without any issues. This is another area where Windows 11 SE can score a victory over Chrome OS, thanks to Microsoft’s healthy selection of apps that will all work without internet connectivity. Windows 11 SE’s cloud-first approach allows it to work smoothly even on low-end hardware, with Microsoft claiming to have made some further performance optimizations as well to speed things up. It is not the only cloud-first product Microsoft has to offer, though. It also introduced Windows 365 earlier this year.
In addition to Microsoft’s own $249 Surface Laptop SE, OEM partners such as Acer and Lenovo will also be offering dirt-cheap machines in the same price bracket, but they all will be sold directly to education customers, and retail availability is extremely unlikely. The first wave of Windows 11 machines will hit the shelves in early 2022, and they are poised to give stiff competition to Chrome OS machines with all their latest enhancements in tow. Unofrtantlly, there will be no scope to upgrade the computer. Windows 11 will only come pre-loaded on low-end devices that are targeted at classrooms. Existing Windows 10 or 11 machines can’t upgrade to Windows 11 SE, and the reverse is also not possible. Instead, IT admins will have to go through the ordeal of wiping the machine clean and using the license for Windows 10 or 11 to change the OS. But once Windows 11 SE has been removed, it can not be brought back again.
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