Windows 11 SE: What you can and can't do in Microsoft's remote learning OS

This pared-down version of Microsoft's new operating system is meant for students and educators.

Zachary McAuliffe Staff writer
Zach began writing for CNET in November, 2021 after writing for a broadcast news station in his hometown, Cincinnati, for five years. You can usually find him reading and drinking coffee or watching a TV series with his wife and their dog.
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Zachary McAuliffe
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The Surface Laptop SE is a Windows 11 SE-enabled device meant for K-8 classrooms.


Microsoft introduced Windows 11 SE, its new student-focused operating system, in early November following the rollout of Windows 11 in October. Windows 11 SE was built with students and teachers in mind and is meant to provide a simple, distraction-free environment for children, according to Microsoft. 

This isn't the first student-focused operating system Microsoft has made. Windows 10 S was the student-focused mode of Windows 10, but Microsoft said this version of Windows 10 only blocked certain apps from being downloaded, similar to parental controls. Conversely, Windows 11 SE is a separate operating system with a particular focus on remote management.

After many schools across the United States started remote learning during the pandemic, access to reliable hardware and software was crucial for many school-age children to continue their education. Microsoft made Windows 11 SE with that in mind.

What is Windows 11 SE?

Windows 11 SE is a cloud-first operating system designed for K-8 classrooms, with a simplified design and controlled app installation, according to Microsoft. Since the software is classroom-focused, you're not likely to find this in stores. Instead, Windows 11 SE comes preloaded on select Microsoft devices that Microsoft plans on selling to education organizations.

Can you install Windows 11 SE on your home laptop? 

Unfortunately, no. You can't install Windows SE on your home laptop the way you would upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11. But conversely, should you need to, you can purchase another version of Windows and install it on a Windows 11 SE-enabled device after the device has been wiped by an IT administrator. The device won't be able to revert back to Windows 11 SE, though, so be cautious before taking that step.

Which apps work on Windows 11 SE devices?

Microsoft Office, Teams, Minecraft for Education and OneNote all come preloaded on Windows 11 SE, and apps like Google Chrome and Zoom can be downloaded. However, only administrators can download and manage other apps via Microsoft Intune for Education. Microsoft gave this list of the six types of apps that can be downloaded:

  • Content-filtering apps
  • Test-taking "solutions"
  • Accessibility apps 
  • Effective classroom communication apps 
  • Essential diagnostics, management, connectivity and supportability apps 
  • Browsers

Apps like Spotify and Messenger didn't make the cut. This means fewer distractions on Windows 11 SE devices. However, Microsoft said apps that operate in a web browser will still work.

You also can't change any of the settings in the operating system. Like the apps, only administrators can change them. Administrators will also have the option to wipe the device remotely.

How does Windows 11 compare?

The main difference between Windows 11 and Windows 11 SE is that Windows 11 was designed for personal use, whereas Windows 11 SE was designed for remote management in IT or classroom settings. The different intentions affect how users can get the operating system and what apps can be run on the systems. You can upgrade to Windows 11 from Windows 10, and Windows 11 has no app limitations. On Windows 11 SE, only administrators can add apps, and even then, from a limited selection. Otherwise, the systems look and operate similarly. 

If you're interested in Windows 11, you can learn about the Windows 11's best features, or you can learn about the operating system's multitasking features that can help boost your productivity.