Amid increased competition from Google and Apple in the education market, Microsoft on Tuesday announced the Surface Laptop SE and a new version of Windows 11 designed especially for schools. The tech giant said the Surface Laptop SE, its most affordable Surface computer, starts at $249 and will be available to buy in early 2022. The new Windows 11 edition, meanwhile, is a simplified version of the company’s newest Windows 11 desktop operating system, customized for the K-12 education market. The announcements were made at its virtual Reimagine: What’s Next for Education event.
The arrival of the new Surface Laptop SE is a clear indication that Microsoft is feeling the heat in the education market lately with the rise of Chromebooks, a new breed of notebooks that run on Google’s Chrome OS operating system. They are not only faster but also cheaper than Windows laptops. Chromebooks are easy to use and are designed to run Web-based apps such as Google Classroom, a programme that allows teachers and students to organize their work in a much-simplified way. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the popularity of Chromebooks shoot up, giving students a cheaper alternative to attending online classes.
The Surface Laptop SE is Microsoft’s first computer designed for the K-8 education market running Windows 11 SE. It’s a simple, looking computer with plastic chassis, unlike the company’s fancy-looking computers in Microsoft’s Surface lineup. The notebook has an 11.6-inch screen, has the same keyboard and trackpad as Surface Laptop Go, a 720p front-facing camera for video calls, a USB-A and USB-C port, a barrel-type power connector, and an Intel Celeron processor (N4020 or 4120), 4GB or 8GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of eMMC storage. Microsoft is claiming 16 hours of “typical” usage battery life, and unlike most other Surface devices that have a 3:2 aspect ratio, the Surface Laptop SE has a 16:9 aspect ratio display. Also, Microsoft is making the Laptop SE easy to repair, thanks to accessible screws on the bottom. It will be available in the US, UK, Canada, and Japan.
While the Laptop SE is a first-party device from Microsoft, several OEMs including Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo and other PC makers will be launching their own Windows 11 SE PCs. Most of these devices are expected to be available later this year and into 2022.
Over the past few years, Microsoft has been trying to increase its footprint in the crucial education market. In fact, in 2018, it launched the Surface Go, a hybrid computer designed in the education market. While it started at $399, a low cost for a 2-in-1 device, the price wasn’t low enough to convince both schools and students to switch to the Surface Go which does not come bundled with a keyboard or pen. At the same time, both Google and even Apple in recent years continued to push devices tailored at schools. Apple, for instance, has been hyper-aggressive in the education market. It sells an entry-level iPad for $329 or $299 on education discount.
Microsoft is also launching a version of Windows that’s designed to offer a simplified environment, making it easy for students and school administration. Windows 11 SE won’t include a built-in Store for apps, but it will allow students/ school administration to run curated third-party apps, including Chrome and Zoom. Broadly speaking, Windows 11 SE will push web-based learning apps. One of the highlights of Windows 11 SE is that PCs running this version of OS with Microsoft 365 productivity-software licenses will be able to save files locally, meaning students can open them while they are offline. Once students have access to the internet, they will be able to sync the changes.
The Windows 11 SE will only be available preloaded on new devices for the education market. Simply put, Microsoft has no plans to make Windows 11 SE available on current devices via a software update or sell the new operating system separately in the market. PCs running Windows 11 SE will be available via education purchasing channels. The new OS won’t be sold to business consumers or consumers, according to Microsoft.