By Dervish / Last update January 17, 2022

A few days ago, Microsoft launched the Windows 11 SE system. This cloud-first version of Windows is uniquely designed for education customers and only comes pre-installed on low-cost devices like the Surface Laptop SE. And the system isn't open to purchase by regular users or install itself on a device, and it does offer the functionality and reliability of Windows 11 with several key changes.

Plus, it's designed to make life easier for IT admins, so they can configure Windows 11 SE devices for schools in a few easy steps with Microsoft Intune for Education. The editor of technology media On MSFT recently purchased a SurfaceLaptop SE pre-installed with the system, and shared some of his views after a detailed hands-on experience.

Some instructions

While the target audience for Windows 11 SE is education, Microsoft isn't restricting regular users from buying Windows 11 SE devices. You can't find these devices through Microsoft's own consumer store, but you can buy Windows 11 SE devices through Microsoft's partners, and that's how the Surface Laptop SE, edited by OnMSFT, comes in.


Taking this path as a consumer means Windows 11 SE will behave differently. The operating system is designed for educational customers, not for general consumer or personal use. These customers use cloud-based tools, such as Microsoft Intune, to provision Windows 11 SE devices for students. It is through this configuration that administrators can load Microsoft-approved Win32 and Microsoft Store apps for student use.

Additionally, the Windows 11 SE experience is limited to pre-installed apps like Edge, Office, Flipgrid, and Minecraft for Education. There are also select system apps like Groove, Photos, Drawing, Calculator, News and To Do.

While Windows 11 SE supports Microsoft-approved Win32 Microsoft Store apps, you cannot install these apps yourself through Windows 11 SE itself. There are also no Microsoft Store apps. Intune is how everything is done. You can see how it compares to other Windows versions above.

However, without configuring Intune, logging into a Windows 11 SE device with just a Microsoft account will work, but the experience will be limited. Without Intune, you will face application and management issues. Microsoft even warns that if you're using a Windows 11 SE device for personal use, it could be "too restrictive." However, it's these limitations that make Windows 11 SE unique from a Microsoft fan and consumer standpoint.

No widgets

One big change in Windows 11 SE that applies to all users, with or without Intune, is the omission of Widgets. It's one of Windows 11's signature features, giving people quick access to news, weather, and more.


In Windows 11 SE, however, Microsoft removed it for educational users to create a more distraction-free environment. Pressing Windows key + W has no effect, nor does the icon appear on the taskbar. Even the gadget settings are missing from the taskbar settings.

File manager behavior

File Explorer in Windows 11 SE behaves very differently from Windows 11. Instead of opening in windowed mode, it opens in full screen by default. This allows you to see more of the screen and minimize distractions. All applications also respect this behavior and will load fullscreen by default. This makes sense for students because it can help improve concentration.

Snap layout changes

Another signature feature of Windows 11 is the Snap layout. With this feature, you can stack your windows in six different ways for increased productivity. But in Windows 11 SE, Snap Layout is limited to two side-by-side options. This reduces complexity for students, again helping them focus.


Note that even on larger monitors, "Snap Layouts" are limited to two layouts. The size of the resolution doesn't affect the "Snap Layout" limit, and it looks like it's baked into Windows 11 SE itself.

Other system limitations

Focused on education, Windows 11 SE locks end users out of some Windows 11 features. We've already mentioned the lack of the Microsoft Store, and installing Win32 apps, but there's more. For example, you can't enter Command Prompt (although the app is installed). Also, you can't even get into the traditional control panel. It is listed, but clicking on it results in an error message.

Unlike S Mode in Windows 10/11, Windows 11 SE also cannot be "upgraded" to standard Windows 11 Pro or Home. In a FAQ, Microsoft says there is no way to switch from Windows 11 SE to a different version of Windows.

However, it also says that if you want to use a Windows 11 SE device for personal use, you can purchase a license for your preferred version of Windows, which will delete all data, with the caveat that there is no way to go back to Windows 11 SE.

There are also restrictions on those apps. While IT admins can load Win32, UWP, and Microsoft Store apps onto Windows 11 SE devices through Intune, there are some limitations. Windows 11 SE has only 6 approved application types.

  • Content filtering application
  • test solution
  • assistive technology
  • Classroom Communication App
  • Basic diagnosis and management
  • Supporting Applications

Any applications that are not of these types cannot be installed on Windows 11 SE. Microsoft says Windows 11 SE supports a curated set of apps, selected based on feedback from educators and IT administrators, and is willing to support new apps upon request.

So what are the advantages of Windows 11 SE compared to S Mode?

Well, as we've said so far, Windows 11 SE has a more streamlined user interface, no Microsoft Store, and no way to switch to regular Windows 11. Microsoft also says that Windows 11 SE has built-in enhancements to optimize performance on low-end hardware.

Microsoft says Windows 11 SE is cloud-first, so it requires less memory and uses less space than traditional Windows Pro, so it can perform faster, another key fact? Windows 11 SE is for institutions optimized for use, but S Mode is available to consumers.

Cloud-first and Edge-first

All of this to say, Windows 11 SE (the way I use it) feels like Microsoft's improvement over the original version of Chrome OS (it's basically just a web browser). So far, when onMSFT uses the Surface Laptop SE, it's a cloud-first device. Files saved locally (when offline) are synced to OneDrive once connected

Also, Edge is a must-have on the Laptop SE, since there is no way to install Chrome via Intune, it's the key to getting into the web. Oh, and speaking of the web, Edge even lets me create PWAs like Instagram, Twitter.