You might be familiar with Windows 11 at this point and the difference between the OS and what’s found on Chromebooks and even MacBooks. It’s the latest and greatest from Microsoft with cool features like widgets, support for Android apps in the Microsoft Store, and multitasking capabilities like Snap Layouts.
But what about Windows 11 in Education and the new special edition of Windows 11 known as Windows 11 SE? Microsoft made a lot of noise when announcing the Surface Laptop SE for Education, as the device sports a special version of Windows 11 with unique features just for teachers, students, and IT administrators.
You might be interested to know how it compares to Chromebooks. In this guide, we’ll explain the differences.
When comparing Windows 11 SE to a Chromebook, there are a few key differences to keep in mind. First of all, Windows 11 SE is a special version of Windows designed for K-8 education users. It also comes as an option alongside Windows 11 Pro Education and Windows 11 Education. Second, it’s a web-based OS (compatible with Chrome and Edge) that only works with pre-approved essential education apps. Third, you will only find certain devices that run Windows 11 SE.
Unlike Chromebooks, these Windows 11 SE devices cannot be purchased by consumers and are intended for IT administrators to purchase through Microsoft’s education retail partners.
So, if you’re a mainstream member, you should opt for a Chromebook or consider buying a Windows 11 device like the Surface Go 3 and managing it with Microsoft Family Safety features.
It is also important to note that Windows 11 SE cannot run on every PC. You must purchase a system that comes preinstalled with it. Microsoft has the Surface Laptop SE as its flagship device with the operating system pre-installed, but other devices are available from its partners.
On the IT administration side, Windows 11 SE does not replace other educational products from Microsoft. IT admins can still provision regular Windows 11 Pro Education or Windows 11 Education devices for school use if they choose (just like an admin can provision any Chromebook). software you won’t get in other editions of Windows. A feature comparison chart is shown below.
Now, coming back to Chromebooks, as long as the IT admin provisions and configures a Chromebook as an education device with the Chrome Admin console, it can be used in the classroom. You don’t have to buy a specific Chromebook model to get started. Unlike Windows 11 SE, which is only available on certain laptops. IT admins just need the Google for Education tools to get started, although a Windows IT admin can also provision regular Windows 11 Pro Education or Windows 11 Education devices.
On Chromebooks, these provisions may prevent access to features such as Google Play Store, Android apps, and other items on Chromebooks that are not approved for students. Provisions can also be used to modify the system shelf with pre-pinned apps and services. Google also sells education-specific Chromebooks for Education, if institutions want education-focused devices.
The Hardware: Physical Chromebooks vs. Special Windows 11 SE Devices
Hardware-wise, Windows 11 SE devices are physically on par with what you’d expect from Chromebooks. Windows 11 SE devices are very affordable and cost around $200-$400. They have low-end specs with Intel Celeron or Pentium processors and four or eight gigabytes of RAM. Some devices support inking and touch, and some are just regular clamshell laptops.
Again, however, Windows 11 SE devices cannot be purchased by end users like you and me. It’s not a consumer product like a Chromebook, but rather something IT admins can buy and configure to make life easier for K-8 users.
Some of our favorite Windows 11 SE devices include the Surface Laptop SE, which is easily serviced by IT admins thanks to its all-plastic construction. There are also other devices like the ASUS BR1100F which are sturdy and feature 360 degree hinges and a world-facing camera. A complete list of Windows 11 SE devices is available from Microsoft.
On the Chromebook side, our favorites include the Asus Chromebook Flip C434 and the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook. Even the high-end Google Pixelbook Go is on our list. Google has its own suggestions for educational devices that mimic Windows 11 SE.
The software: Special flavor of Windows 11 versus web-based ChromeOS
Windows 11 SE is special because it has some features that appeal to students of all ages; It’s a bit different from Chromebooks. Education Chromebooks have access to the Chrome web browser, web apps, and Android apps. There are no real physical differences in the user interface compared to regular Chromebooks bought by someone else.
Among the user interface changes in Windows 11 SE compared to standard Windows 11, there are adjustments with Snap layouts, Win32 and Microsoft Store apps, Start menu, preinstalled apps, File Explorer and widgets.
With Snap Layouts, instead of 6 snapping options for apps, there are only two for opening windows side-by-side – so kids can focus better. The Start menu can also be customized with specific pre-pinned apps requested by teachers. As for the file explorer, it opens in full screen by default. Finally, with widgets, functionality has been removed to minimize distractions.
Like Chromebooks and G-suite for Education, Windows 11 SE is also web-based. So a student can save files offline and then sync them to their school’s account when they’re back online. This is powered by OneDrive.
As for these Win32 and Microsoft Store apps, average PC users cannot install them in Windows 11 SE. Apps such as Zoom and Google Chrome must be installed by an IT administrator on a Windows 11 SE device through Microsoft Intune. This is comparable to Chromebook’s provisions on app installs which can be configured in the Chrome Admin console.
It’s all about student security and protection with Windows 11 SE. A list of pre-approved apps is available from Microsoft, and IT administrators can ask Microsoft to add an app, provided it meets the requirements. It’s similar to how a Chromebook’s layouts can block certain websites, apps, and even the Play Store.
All of this means that Windows 11 SE devices are heavily web-based, just like Chromebooks. Although an IT admin can provision Win32 and Microsoft Store apps, many students may spend more time in the web browser. It’s just like how a Chromebook works. It’s just that Windows 11 SE feels different from Windows 11 and has some additional limitations compared to standard Windows 11 specialized for education users.