This week I was delighted to be re-awarded as a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for the 5th year running, but what does it mean and why am so thrilled to be rewarded?
What are MVPs?
Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals, or MVPs, are “technology experts who passionately share their knowledge with the community”. They are always on the “bleeding edge” and have an unstoppable urge to get their hands on new, exciting technologies. MVPs have deep knowledge of Microsoft products and services, while also being able to bring together diverse platforms, products and solutions, to solve real world problems. MVPs make up a global community of over 4,000 technical experts and community leaders across 90 countries/regions and are driven by their passion, community spirit, and quest for knowledge. Above all and in addition to this, part of the “role” of the MVPs is our passion and desire to help others. For Microsoft, this is what sets MVPs apart, through formal product feedback, community events, forums, blogs, reviews etc and of course through social channels our mission is to drive awareness, adoption, constructive feedback, ideas and suggestions to help continually improve Microsoft products and services.
What is the MVP Award?
For more than two decades, the Microsoft MVP Award has been Microsofts’ way of saying thank you to community leaders within in their MVP catagory. The contributions MVPs make to the community, ranging from speaking engagements, to social media posts, to writing books, to helping others in online communities, have incredible impact.
As MVPs, we receive a number of technical benefits from Microsoft to help be the best at supporting our passion for technology and innovation. Key benefits to MVPs include early access to Microsoft products, direct communication channels with our product teams and an invitation to the Global MVP Summit, an exclusive annual event hosted in our global HQ in Redmond. They also have a very close relationship with the local Microsoft teams in their area, who are there to support and empower MVPs to address needs and opportunities in the local ecosystem. Other benefits include an executive recognition letter, a Visual Studio technical subscription, and an Office 365 subscription.
The Windows Insider Most Valuable Professional
The Windows Insider Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award recognises people who are passionate about Windows and are positive Windows advocates within their communities. Like other MVPs, we can be found across the globe and are driven by a passion for flighting Insider Preview builds and filing feedback to help improve the current and future generations of Windows, contributing to the technical community through forums, chats with the Windows product team and creating how-to content with the goal of helping others achieve more and making Windows the OS of choice for every person and every organisation.
I have been a Windows Insider for 11 years and seen the development and evolution of Windows 10 and Windows 11 and Windows Insiders are now looking at what comes next after the current release (Windows 11 22H2) release. As new devices and new form factors are being tested, I’m excited by what 2023 and beyond will bring to Windows.
Windows 365 now supports (Dec 2022) the creating of Azure AD Cloud PCs that use single sign-on. Previously this required a dual-sign in step.
This is a big improvement, and now means users only have to logon once to the Windows 365 Cloud PC app – from here on in, their CloudPC desktops will seamlessly sign-in (subject to any specific conditional access polices you may have applied of course.) It even works with passwordless sign-on . You can see the user experience below.
Enabling the SSO setting
To enable SSO, administrators can update their existing Cloud PC provisioning profiles or create new Cloud PC policy with the “single sign on” setting enabled.
Note: Existing Cloud PCs will not automatically support SSO – these will need to be re-provisioned, which can be done from the device pane in endpoint manager as show below.
Surface Laptop 5 is available in several colours including platinum, black, sage and sandstone, this latest iteration of hasn’t changed much from last years’ Surface Laptop 4. It features the same dimensions and form factor as previous generations (which has barely changed since the original version) but has received the annual welcomed tech update and now includes the latest 12th generation Intel chipsets, built on the Intel® Evo™ platform, offering up to 50% power than previous generation. Find out more about Intel Evo?
Thanks to Microsoft, I was able to get my hands on a Surface Laptop 5 on launch day and have been using it as my daily machine to allow me to put it through the paces and write this hands-on review.
If you have never looked at the Surface line of laptops before, then you should! – Microsoft make the most gorgeous looking, premium devices on the market – all of which feature an anodized aluminum metal process, resulting in a luxury and smooth finish, which closely resembles the look and class of a MacBook. If you’ve ever used a cheaper, plastic built Laptop before, you will instantly notice the premium feel of Surface difference.
There are a range of colours available, but the 15-inch model only offers Black or Platinum, while the 13.5″ version also provides the option of Sage and Sandstone. I like the black personally on Surface Laptop range though I do think next time I might try a colour!
Microsoft also offer Alcantara options for the keyboard area, although it is limited to the 13.5″ Platinum model only. This gives a slightly soft and more premium finish to the keyboard deck, which provides a nice alternative to the aluminium metal. See below.
Overall feel and use
This is a quick laptop. I have been using a Surface Book 2 and Surface Pro X for a few years now as my two main devices, yet after just a few hours with the Surface Laptop 5, I could feel that this was a great bit of kit. Everything from the speed to power on (instant on), Windows Hello sign-in, launching apps, multitasking, and switching apps was effortless and fast. Video was smooth and audio was sharp and felt like it surrounded me.
The Surface Laptop 5 itself is thin and light – the 13.5 ” I am testing weighs just under three pounds, which is perfect for on-the-go and taking between home and office.
Both the 13.5″ and 15″ models look similar their predecessor, the Surface Laptop 4 (and those before it – a design that still looks modern and fresh. The device feels every bit premium design as you’d expect from a Surface. It is built from high quality refined aluminium in the popular minimalist design, with full size keyboard, large and responsive track pad, 120Hz, 3:2 ratio, 201 PPI pixel sense display, protected by Gorilla Glass 5.
Sensors, camera and speakers are hidden out of sight, the lid has an elegant and subtle Surface Logo on the lid, and around the sides of the device are the standard range of ports, which consist of the Surface Connector (I know many don’t like this but I like it from a consistency perspective), USB-A, USB-C (Thunderbolt 4) and a 3.5mm headphone jack (which interestingly has been removed from the latest Surface Pro 9 line up).
Microsoft have also further perfected the balance and feel of the device, with one-handed opening and nicely cut-away base that gives the impression that the device is floating above your workspace.
Available in 13.5- or 15-inch variants, the screen is super clear and bright and features 120Hz refresh, 3:2 aspect ratio 201 PPI pixel-sense display. The 3:2 aspect ratio is standard across all Surface devices and gives additional vertical space when working on docs or browsing the Web, but it does mean you’ll get the black pillar box lines top and bottom if watching a movie in 16:9. The screen aspect ratio works really well for work and school.
The screen features the 10-point multi-touch as is super responsive, giving it a natural advantage over other premium products like the Apple Mac Book Pro (which still doesn’t have a touch screen). The screen is super precise and supports all Surface Pen generations. The screen also supports Dolby Vision IQ which works by adjusting the colours on the screen based on the levels of ambient light to boost your viewing experience. Watching movies appeared better than my home TV (I need to upgrade) with ultra-vivid colours which are powered by Dolby Vision®3.
I personally find use any device without a touch screen cumbersome to use as touch now feels so natural across almost every other type of device we use.
The screen is protected with Gorilla Glass 5 (GG3 on the Alcantara version), which not only protects the screen but also provides great resistance to scratching.
Camera / Webcam
The front-facing camera is set in the bezel of the display. This is an HD 720p quality optic that supports Windows Hello. To be honest, 720p seems a bit poor for a premium level laptop, but the camera is high quality and provides good images even in poor light.
Camera quality is ok – more than enough for video calls, but you wouldn’t use it for high-quality photos – a little grainy.
Audio and Sound
Audio quality on Surface Laptop is really good, especially compared to cheaper devices on the market. You get dual studio mics located each side of the web cam and the speakers, leverage Dolby Atmos®.4 to provide virtual surround sound. It’s great for Teams calls or watching movies etc.
As always with super thin devices, connectivity is minimal but practical. All the ports are located on the left-hand side of the laptop with just the Surface connect port located on the right side which can be used for charging and connectivity to a Surface Dock which then gives you almost endless connectivity options as well as multiple screen support at 4k.
You get a single USB-A 3.1 and a USB-C port which supports Thunderbolt 4.0. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone socket and the Surface charging connector.
For connecting more than that you’ll need to use a Surface dock or use Bluetooth of course.
For a device you can carry around and use all day – it needs to be light and have great battery life, or you are forced to carry a charger around “just in case”. Good battery life of course needs to balance three things – performance, battery life and power consumption.
Microsoft say that Surface Laptop 5 can last up to 18 hours of battery life, but the test conditions used by manufacturers is rarely the environment most workers use daily.
I averaged 9 hours and 32 minutes of battery life on a single charge.
I have been using Surface Laptop 5 for just over a month now and have not had a day (yet) where I needed to plug the device in to charge to get me through the day. In my environment I didn’t do anything special – and had settings within Windows as follows:
Screen Brightness: Auto Keyboard Backlight: Off (this is going to use power) Screen Brightness: 60% (with auto-adjust off) Power Saving Mode: Auto Power mode: Recommended (default)
With these in place, and using a typical mix of Teams calls, Office apps and Web Apps, I averaged 9 hours and 32 minutes for the laptop to go from 100% to it shutting off when i ignored the “plug me in” notifications. By best day was 11 hours 12 minutes and my worst day (which was all day on video calls), the the laptop still powered through for 8hrs 4 mins.
Microsoft is committed to sustainability and carbon reduction, and this applies to the Surface device family also. Microsoft Surface laptops and tablets are EPEAT gold-registered, and Microsoft are committed to carbon neutrality across the supply chain by 2030.
From a repairability perspective (which also reduced waste and prolongs device life), Surface Laptop 5 devices have a replaceable SSD, display, battery, and motherboard, amongst other swappable components. This is a huge win for consumers and business since it means they can not only stretch out the lifespan of the Surface Laptop 5 by replacing failed components, but it also goes a long way to help corporate ESG goals. This is not unique to Surface Laptop 5 either, the slide below from Microsoft showcases just how repairable Surface now is.
Surface is also committed to:
Ensuring packaging is from recycled, renewable or responsibly sourced content by 2025
Eliminating all virgin, single use Pretoleum-based plastics by 2025
Being fully recyclable by 2030
Uses 100% recyclable packaging by 2030
In the race for king of premium, this is also another winning factor over devices like the Apple MacBook.
Microsoft even have a YouTube video showing some of this repairability. ⬇️
Verdict – Why Choose Surface?
Surface Laptop 5 may not be a radical new or wow design, but Surface Laptop just works. I’m a big fan of Surface, so you may consider me biased (but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong)!
To me there’s four main reason I choose Surface over other brands.
Look: High-quality, thin, lightweight, premium design and workmanship
Performance: Vast range of technical configuration (and therefore price)
Support: Built to run Windows by the company that makes Windows
Sustainability: Repairable, strong commitments to re-use and recycle as well as low-power and excellent battery life (easily lasts a full day of use).
Microsoft Surface celebrated 10 years of Surface yesterday, with the 2022 line up, which saw Surface Pro 9 with 5G, Surface Laptop 5 and Surface Studio 2 + being launched.
With what was a modest event, compared to previous years, Microsoft unveiled a handful of new and updated Surface devices including:
Surface Pro 9
Surface Pro 9 with 5G
Surface Laptop 5
Surface Studio 2+
Audio Dock and Microsoft Presenter +
The keynoted by Panos Panay, EVP and Chief Product Officer at Microsoft, kicked off the event taking viewers through the history of Microsoft’s journey with Surface.
Surface Pro 9
Always my favour form factor that makes Surface a Surface is the Pro range. Microsoft Surface Pro 9 tablet was annouced with a new Liberty floral print design in blue colour, which has been created in collaboration with design house Liberty London.
Like the Laptop 5, The Surface Pro 9 comes equipped with Thunderbolt connectors and has a 120Hz, 13-inch PixelSense display which makes it perfect for use both as a hand-held tablet and as a laptop when attached to a type cover keyboard.
Microsoft displayed how the Windows 11 adapts with larger spacing between apps when the keyboard is detached from the tablet. Microsoft showcased just how quickly Windows 11 adapts to the change in use, with larger spacing between apps when the keyboard is detached from the device.
Surface Pro 9 is the first in the series with 5G capabilities. This variant is built on the ARM-based Microsoft SQ3 processor powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon and has a battery life of up to 19 hours.
Other variants of the tablet are powered by Intel’s 12th-generation EVO processor.
The front facing camera is centred and field of view has been widened. The (optional) Surface Slim Pen 2 The tablet has a microactuator inside, which, according to Microsoft means “its ink-focussed view makes writing on the screen feel like writing on paper with digital ink that appears to flow”.
Exlusive also to the Surface Pro 9 5G model, is a new NPU (neural processing unit) which Microsoft said is the most powerful ever in a laptop. The NPU gives the Pro 9 the ability to dynamically focus on the subject at all times, even if the subject is moving. It can automatically creates blur effects and smooth auto framing.
Also provided by the NPU, is a new Voice Focus, which drastically cuts out all kinds of background noise. This was showcased with a leaf blower and hair dryer and seemed extremely impressive (almost magical).
Surface Laptop 5
Laptop 5 was first new product revealed at the event and follows last years Surface Laptop 4, released in 2021.
Following the same popular design size, Laptop 5 was shown being opened with just one hand revealing a new, quieter keyboard which has been further optimised for responsiveness. As you’d expect, the design is sleek and light and available in four colours, including the newest colour, sage green.
Surface Laption 5 is built on the latest Intel EVO platform and now has Thunderbolt 4 ports.
Microsoft says that the laptop is up to 50 percent more powerful than its predecessor. It has up to 18 hours of battery life and features a fast charge feature, which powers up the laptop in 30 minutes to provide 9 hours of battery life.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop 5 has the usual 3:2 PixelSense display for both their 13.5-inch and 15-inch models and feature Dolby Vision IQ to deliver richer details and sharper contrast that are tuned to automatically adjust colour accuracy. The screen is also 120hz.
From an audio perspective, we get Dolby Atmos 3D spatial processing speakers, placed right behind the corners of the keys on the keyboard.
Surface Studio 2+
A superb device that many thought had been forgotten was also brought back to life. Oddly called Studio 2+, rather than 3, this could suggest a design change might come in the future, but for now it keeps the futuristic design of Studio 2 and is beautiful.
Surface Studio 2+ is powered by Intel i7 quad-core processor and NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3060, which Microsoft say is “five times more powerful than the original Surface Studio.”
It comes with three Thunderbolt ports in keeping with rest of the line up and has a 4K display with a colour depth of DCI P3. This also naturally features both Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos audio.
The gorgeous 28inch screen can be adjusted with just a one-finger push which allows it to intelligently glide and stay in what ever position works for the mode of work. Leveraging Windows 11’s snap layout feature, the screen is large enough to have four separate 14-inch display windows open at the same time, something designers love.
Audio Dock and Microsoft Presenter+
Two other hardware products were revealed at the event. These were Microsoft Presenter+, which is a Teams remote with a mute button, and Audio Dock with multiple ports and spacial speaker and mic
Windows and Surface Together
Whilst the focus was of course about the new Surface line up, most of which were inline with the predictions, the importance and development of Windows was also front of stage. As such, Microsoft used this event to showcase new features for Windows 11, many designed specifically around Surface and other multi form factor devices like Surface Studio Laptop, a Surface Pro and Studio 2+.
Following up from the Windows 11 22H2 update that is now rolling out, Microsoft highlighted so of the new accessibility features that are built in to Windows 11. This incudes a system-wide live captions from audio content, which automatically appears on the screen when any audio from any source is playing.
Among other accessibility features showcased was system wide voice access for voice control and navigation which include new natural voices.
Pricing and Availability
No official announcement of the price of any new Microsoft Surface product was made during the event.
Microsoft will still detect for known issues or incompatibilities in your system, either hardware or application based as as such may still implement a blocking safeguardnto prevent your device getting the update until the known issue is resolved.
For less eager users, who do not manually check for updates, the update will arrive in time as part of the traditional update release schedule, giving the Microsoft more time to to continue monitoring the quality and success of the rollout across the huge number of devices running Windows 11.
For more experienced users, Microsoft has also made official ISOs for #Windows11 available from their website or by using the Windows 11 Installation Assistant. Please ensure you don’t use third party, non Microsoft sites as these are likely to be scams and full of nasties!
Known issues with 22H2
Microsoft is constantly monitoring the efficiency and quality of the update and have issues a few advisories around certain incompatibilities with the update which include amongst other things some printer drivers issues as well as an issue when copying large files to Windows 11 2022 systems locally and via network. Patches for the latter are already being rolled out.
Microsoft has confirm what many were expecting. They are holding a Surface event next month (October 12th).
Being held and streamed online also, the event, which is officially dubbed “Microsoft Fall 2022 Event,” is being hosted the day before its global Ignite Event. October also marks the 10 year anniversary of Surface! Wow.
What to expect
As is usual this time of year, the rumour mill and noise around the event is on fire.
It is “expected” that Microsoft will be annoucing the Surface Pro 9 which will have the option of Arm or Intel processors, update to Surface Laptop and a new (but different) Surface Studio.
There is also rumour of new Surface accessories coming too, and knowing Microsoft there will also be a couple of suprises..
To find out first hand what is new and what to get excited about, you can register and watch live by registering here.
Windows 11 version 22H2 is the next major update coming to Windows 11 was released yesterday (20th Sept 2022).
Can you believe that Windows 11 has been with us for almost a year? Since then, Microsoft has been continually working with Windows Insiders to add more polish and refinement that is now making their way into this latest update, as well as continuous enhancements and improvements based on feedback and media.
The initial release last year, was the major new release of Windows which built on the success of Windows 10, but with a major new Start menu, modern UI, enhancements to security, a brand-new, modern sounds and animations, and a bunch of new features all centred around enhancing the hybrid work and play experience.
As a Windows Insider, I’ve been using and testing the Windows 11 22H2 update for some time, and this blog aims to summarise the key changes and experience from my point of view.
There’s lots of polish, improvements and changes coming in this update, the key ones worthy of mention are listed below and discussed in more detail within this blog… Enjoy!
Start menu now has App Folders
Taskbar finally support Drag and Drop
Focus Assist integrates to Notification Center
Snap Assist gets snappier and smarter.
File Explorer gets Tabs
OneDrive gets more integrated with the OS
Touch enhancements and new gestures
New Task Manager app
New Video Editing / Authoring App
Enhanced Accessibility Features
Numerous UI improvements
Version 22H2 will be offered as a free update for all Windows 11 users and is part of the life cycle updates that we are used to with Windows.
Note: Windows 10 (which is supported and serviced until 2025), will also soon be getting its 22H2 update.
Start Menu Updates
With the first version of Windows 11, Microsoft introduced an innovative new design for the Start menu that had been rebuilt from the ground up with simplicity in mind. This was led with some criticism but has been generally well received and is a nice modern touch on what was an aging look and feel.
The biggest news with this update is that users can now create app folders. Creating app folders is simply and intuitive. By simply dragging one app icon over the other, then letting go, Windows will create the app folder, which can then be named re organised and moved around move the folder around in the pinned area of the Start menu. This helps a lot with making the Start menu feel less cluttered and is similar to what we are used too on android and iOS.
Taskbar and Action Centre
Unfortunately, no…. You still cannot move the taskbar from the bottom of the screen to the sides or the top. There has been lots of feedback around this as it’s been possible to move it in all previous versions of Windows. It looks like it’s staying at the bottom (at least for now). Remember you can move the alignment of the start button to the left though!
The biggest criticism filed in feedback hub around Windows11 has been about the Taskbar and the inability to be able to drag and drop files between apps using the Taskbar. This has been resolved and is back in Windows 11 22H2 which makes multitasking with the Taskbar far easier and restores functionality that was previously part of the Taskbar in previous versions of Windows…. Shame it’s taken a year to put it back!
The Action Center has also received a bunch of updates too, including the “focus assist” button, which has moved from Quick Settings into the Notification panel where it makes more sense. As part of the move, it’s also been renamed to “do not disturb.” which also makes more sense. Microsoft has also added a new “focus” timer under the calendar flyout.
The focus timer is now also paired with the Windows 11 Clock app, which can also synchronise with your Microsoft To-Do lists and to Spotify. In this latest update users can now start a do not disturb session (with music) straight from the notification center, whereas previously this had to be launched from the Clock app.
Finally, the Bluetooth action in the Quick Settings panel has been updated with the ability to view and manage Bluetooth devices without having to launch the Settings app first. This brings it in line with other Quick Setting actions like the Wi-Fi and accessibility toggles.
Snap Assist Updates
One the best new features that hit Windows 11 was Snap Assist, which provides a simple and intuitive way of aligning Windows across your display(s).
This update brings and additional way of initiating snap assist. With this update, and in addition to the drop-down snapping menu that appears when you hover a window at the top of the screen, and the ability to drag app windows to the far left or right of your screen, the 22H2 update adds a new “snap bar” menu that drops down from the top middle of your display when you grab an app window to move it.
The snap bar “peeks” out at the top of your screen when you begin to move an app window (rather than having to take it all the way to the top) and allows you to drag your app window into any of the snapping layouts available.
As before, the number of snap grid options is based on the size and resolution of your display.
File Explorer has received a fair amount of attention in this 22H2 update.
First up, Tabs…. Yes, Microsoft is adding tabs to the File Explorer app, something that have been requested in feedback hub for ages. Just like a Web Browser, you can now open new tabs and switch between them directly from File Explorer without having to open multiple windows.
Next, there is a new “Home” page that is now shown by default when you open the File Explorer. The layout is still familiar but has some subtle differences such as a new “favourites” and “recent” area that appears below your quick-access folders.
The Home page give you the ability to pin files to the favorites area, which will keep them front and center for ease of access. Additionally, the recents area works similarly to the recommended feed in the Start menu and shows. A history of the most recent opened files. This can be turned off if you don’t want to use it.
Microsoft has also moved personal folders out from the “This PC” section – this now only shows storage and network drives. This means if you want to access your user folders, you need to go to the Home page or the sidebar. Whilst this was tested with Windows Insiders, I suspect some users will find this an odd change, but I guess it does make sense.
The sidebar interface in File Explorer has also been updated slightly. Microsoft have repositioned the Home page and OneDrive folders at the top of the side bar, followed by pinned and most used folders, “This PC” and “Network drives” are at the bottom of the side bar.
OneDrive has become even more integrated into File Explorer with 22H2. It is now possible to set your OneDrive directory as the default home page for File Explorer. This is useful as more people are using OneDrive over personal local storage. File Explorer also now includes a new sync activity indicator in the top right which shows available cloud storage as well as what files are syncing or have recently been synced.
Finally, there is an updated “open with” dialog design too which is more in line with the rest of the Windows 11 design. It works in the same way as the old one, just like looks like it was built for Windows 11.
The Touch Experience has also been improved for users with touch-first devices like Surface Pro. Windows 11 removed the dedicated “tablet mode” interface that touch users were used to on Windows 10 last year and replaced it with enhancements to the desktop interface to make it easier to use with touch. With the 22H2 updat3, there are new gestures that enable access to common system areas such as the Start menu and Control Center with the swipe of a finger as well as new gestures for things like switching, closing, and snapping apps.
Start menu: Swipe up from the bottom middle of the screen.
All Apps: Swipe right in the Start menu.
Control Centre: Swipe up from the bottom right of the screen.
Switch between open apps: Three finger swipe left or right in the middle of the screen.
Task View: Three finger swipe up in the middle of the screen.
Minimise all apps: Three finger swipe down in the middle of the screen
New Native Apps
A number of the stock apps have also been updated and a major new one added.
Task Manager has been updated for the first time since Windows 8 and brings with it a brand-new design that brings it in line with the rest of the Windows 11 design language.
The updated Task Manager introduces a new sidebar along the left which is home to all the different tabs that Task Manager has always featured. From here you can access system processes, performance, app history, start-up apps, users, details, and services tabs right from the hamburger menu.
Common actions such as “end task” and “run new task” have been moved to the top right corner, just below the window controls and Microsoft has also updates the graphs in the performance tab match your system accent colour.
Microsoft has also added two brand new apps with the also the 22H2 update.
Clipchamp is a new video editing tool that Microsoft acquired last year that is now a Stock Windows 11 app. The app is good IMO and provides good video editing tools. It is simple and intuitive to use to create videos, tutorials etc., for corporate, home, or social media. There’s is a paid tier and free tier, with the paid option offering many more stock video, music and animated effects as well as free cloud storage.
Secondly, the Family Safety (also available on iOS and Android) is now available as an app on Windows 11. This is a web app, which simply points to the online Microsoft Family Safety services where you can add family members, track their location, approve purchase requests, share Office subscriptions, and monitor usage and activity across all apps and services including Xbox games.
Enhanced Accessibility Features
Microsoft is now stranger to accessibility features across their products and services.
22H2 update brings live captions, which can be enabled on any content. The live captions work across all Windows and with any app and even works without an Internet connection.
Microsoft has added a new voice access feature that enables full control your Windows PC using just your voice and is powerful, simple to use and accurate (in my testing anyway).
When voice access is enabled, a narration bar appears along the top of the screen, which then let’s you use your voice to navigate all of Windows. Key commands such as “open Start” or “scroll Edge”, “Open Word”. You can also use your voice to move the cursor to specific points on the screen, type sentences into text boxes and much more.
In all a solid bunch of updates to mark the One Year Anniversary of Windows 11. For me there is still (as there was in Windows 10) many UI inconsistencies to work on, but Microsoft are getting there and the enhancements to Start Menu and Taskbar are very much welcomed.
If you have feedback on anything in Windows 11, then I encourage you to file your feedback in the Feedback Hub. The engineers and programme managers take the feedback seriously and it is reviewed and listened to. You can get to Feedback Hub, from Windows 11 by pressing 🪟and F.
If you like what you read, please subscribe to my blog to be notified each time I update or release a new one- NO SPAM EVER!
Windows 365 has just celebrated its first birthday – but what is it and why is Microsoft betting big on Windows 365 to help improve the employee experience, tighten security, and provide better agility for employees?
Businesses globally are once again being hit head on with challenges unrivalled in recent business history. Employee churn-rates are at record levels presenting unique business challenges, whilst the continuing shift in the workforce from centralised offices to home working has increased the number of “work locations” exponentially. Combined with the on-going global supply chain shortages, and logistical difficulties in procuring, preparing, and shipping new devices to employees makes onboarding new employees more challenging than ever. The continuing need to provide employees with a secure, professional, corporate desktop environment is pressuring IT to make decisions that can impact process, security, governance and above all employee satisfaction.
Microsoft are betting big with Windows 365, since it can help organisations significantly reduce the time it takes to provide new employees with access to their corporate desktop environment from days or weeks to minutes without compromising security. What’s more, unlike traditional on-premises Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) environments, Windows 365 (which is a new category of cloud computing, known as Cloud PC, simplifies the entire provisioning process and user experience.
In conjunction with the Enterprise Security Group, Microsoft recently carried out a TEI study which found that by leveraging Windows 365 Cloud PC, organisations can significantly lower the cost of providing access to an organisation’s end user computing environment whilst improving security and employee satisfaction. The ESG report also revealed that Windows 365 can provide a “typical organisation” with an overall annual benefit of up $7,271 per user for small businesses and up to $6,765 per user for companies with over 1,000 employees.
What is Windows 365?
In short, Windows 365 unlocks a new category of hybrid personal computing, called “Cloud PC” that delivers Windows from the cloud. It aims to provide a hybrid approach to providing client computing by utilising a cloud service that is not tied to any specific hardware.
Windows 365 combines the power and security of Windows 10 or Windows 11 with the scalability and versatility of cloud to provide a personal, reliable, and familiar work/desktop environment on any supported physical device. If want to see it in action, you can head over to Microsoft’s YouTube video here.
Similar in concept, but different to VDI technology, Cloud PCs are one of the newest Microsoft cloud solutions to come to market. Cloud PCs are optimised for business and user agility, are highly secure, persistent to the user and are billed on a per-user, per-month model that simplifies the cost and infrastructure complexity of client computing environments and on-premises VDI solutions.
The report by ESG validated that Windows 365 provides capabilities that address nine of the ten business challenges identified by IT leaders.
SIMPLE, COST EFFECTIVE, POWERFUL, SECURE – Windows 365 works by giving each user a dedicated Cloud PC (of a chosen specification) that runs their own individual Windows 10 or Windows 11 desktop environment while providing an extremely simple-to-manage ecosystem all managed via Microsoft’s Endpoint Manager toolset which is used to manage the rest of the physical desktop or laptop estate. For users, this means they can bring their existing device and instantly be presented with a familiar and powerful end-user computing experience either while they “wait” for their replacement or physical device or instead of waiting for IT to procure, provision, and image a new corporate device. In turn the ESG report finds that Cloud PC technology provides an effective solution for organisations of any size and sector, which are working to meet the complex needs of a hybrid or remote workforce.
Benefits of Windows 365 Cloud PC
The ESG report, concludes that Windows 365 delivers a combination of lowered costs, eliminated costs, and a predictable fixed cost model which can provides significant financial benefit in several areas.
Lower costs: Shifting to Windows 365 lowers and eliminates costs in several areas, including VDI licensing, server operating systems, remote desktop licensing, storage, management, power and cooling, license management, VDI management, procurement, and end-of-life costs.
Fixed-price model: Windows 365 Cloud PC pricing is based on a simple per-user, per-month model which that allows organisations to match computing and storage needs to individual user requirements. There is value in being able to project costs in business. Most VDI pricing models are based on consumption, which, while this may initially seem like an advantage, most organisation often find that their monthly charges extend far beyond projections when usage spikes unexpectedly.
Ability to cross-charge services: Organisations that charge internal or external business groups fees for licenses, hardware, or services will find that the Windows 365 predictable cost model makes it much easier to allocate specific costs in a granular and predictable way, especially when compared to the capital-intensive purchases needed to facilitate on-premises VDI or DaaS.
Business and User Agility
With employee churn-rates are at record levels, continuing delays in supply chains and with more employees, contractors and temporary staff being permanently remote, getting new employees up and running as quickly as possible is a big challenge. Windows 365 allows companies to provide highly secure Cloud PCs running Windows 11 on their device within minutes verses hours, days, or weeks.
Time to employee enablement: The time from when a new employee, temporary worker, or contractor is hired to when they are fully onboarded with their corporate device often takes time, leads to the employee getting a second-hand device, or means it delays their onboarding time. Leveraging Cloud PC technology can, however, means that organisations can now provide new starters with a new Windows desktop is under an hour, allowing them to security access their work environment from any supported device that the new worker wishes to use, even if it is only a temporary situation.
Enablement of temporary/seasonal workers – The cost in both money and time to empower short-term workers with a company work environment is often high, and either inhibits an organisation’s willingness to employ temporary works or worse, means they are forced to compromise on security due to the time to procure and provision a device. With Windows 365, temporary workers can quickly be provisioned so they have immediate access to the corporate environment while safe in the knowledge that all intellectual property stays secured within the corporate environment, and that the Cloud PC can be immediately removed at the end of the contract period.
Efficient IT Management – When compared to the effort required in procuring, preparing, and delivering laptops to users or even configuring and deploying virtual desktops with traditional VDI platforms, deployment of Cloud PC technology like Windows 365 can result in a 46% reduction in IT effort.
Ability to use any device – Windows 365 allows IT to provide workers with a highly secure, Windows 11 desktop on any supported device even though the host device may not be capable of natively running the OS. This is also great for “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) scenarios for employees who may just be starting or have shifted to working from home or short-term workers such as interns, contractors, and consultants.
Increased ability to react quicky to seasonal demand – The ability to get a secure, corporate desktop to users quickly is one of the barriers to rapid enablement. Windows 365 Cloud PCs empower businesses to immediately create and decommission desktops to react to opportunities that might be ignored in other DaaS or VDI environments.
Equality with the employees – The mindset of the workforce has changed from “May I have a job?” to an attitude of “What are you willing to do to keep me as an employee?”. Treating all employees as equals and providing them with a premium, professional-grade work environment is two of the key criteria for ensuring employee satisfaction. With Windows 365, employees can access a highly secure, personalized Windows 11 work experience through their Cloud PC, regardless of location or available device.
Merger and acquisition (M&A) scenarios – Mergers and acquisition events take months, even years, to align the separate work environments that result in an M&A to the same access and security postures. This limits potential cooperation between the entities and delays the full realization of value for the event. The ability to rapidly assimilate the new entities to the existing EUC solution accelerates the time to value and reduces the cost and risk of running parallel environments. The time to combine these two work environments into one can be significantly reduced by using Windows 365 Cloud PC.
Improved Security Posture
Employees and contractors today are working outside conventional environments and often on hardware that was never intended to be on corporate networks. The result is an increased risk of security breaches and data loss and, in many cases, missed business opportunities. ESG has found that organizations that adopt Windows 365 can help enhance their security posture in the following areas.
Inclusive, Secure, yet Flexible remote work – Cloud PCs can enable a hybrid workforce in a highly secure manner, even if those workers sometimes or always do their work on devices that aren’t expected to have direct access to corporate networks. Windows 365 Cloud PCs offer a layer of isolation that provides strong protection for the work environment and helps prevent data leakage or loss, with configurable options for how the Cloud PC interact with available physical device.
Business continuity and governance – As we know, COVID-19 forced almost every business to suddenly rethink, re-shift and re-prioritise their approach to remote work in a matter of days – doing all they could to get devices, repurpose old kit, leverage employee’s personal devices and ramp up VDI deployments, VPN and remote access tech to enable their people to work, often at the expense of usability, security and governance. As the future of this now unfolds into the hybrid workplace we see before us, technology like Windows 365 becomes a viable BC/DR solution. In short, Windows 365 could now be a vital cornerstone of a business continuity strategy and one that minimises disruption, maintains security and governance and provides a smooth transition for users.
Immediate on-boarding and offboarding of employees/contractors – The cost of PC recovery in the event of an offboarded employee or contractor is high and can take weeks in today’s expanded work environment. Interestingly, IBM estimates that 44% of breach events are caused intentionally by disgruntled employees who have been terminated but still have access to company hardware and resources. One of the benefits of Windows 365 is that as well as near instant provisioning, it also allows for the immediate removal of access to the Cloud PC along with all company data.
Protection of company data – the FBI estimate that 1 in 10 laptop devices will be lost or stolen during their lifetime, with the risk and financial exposure per event estimated to be between £25,000 and £45,000. Since Windows 365 Cloud PC devices store no data on the host device, a lost or stolen Cloud PC can be limited to the cost of the hardware and can be instantly accessed on another device, meaning no loss of productivity and no risk or loss or theft or corporate data.
What’s your experience of Windows 365?
As always, I’d love to hear your experiences, thoughts, and feedback on this – please leave a comment in the boxes below.
Last year, I reviewed the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go. Now, after a couple of weeks of use as my “temporary” daily machines, this is my review of the updated, 2022, Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 2 which starts from just £600 in the UK (about $US 700).
So – in short, the 2022 edition of the Surface Laptop Go 2 is a fantastic device for anyone in an admin role, those who travels a lot, work in education, front-line, sales etc., that needs a “good” overall performer (for email, web, office apps, bit of Netflix or Paramount+, etc.) but isn’t a “power user”. Laptop Go 2 is sleek, fast, affordable, portable, and easily powerful enough for most productivity tasks at home or work.
INTRODUCING “LAPTOP GO 2”
Version 2 of the Surface Laptop Go 2 – is every bit similar in shape, size, look at feel than the original but improves on it in several ways (under the hood). Inside, we now get an 11th Generation Intel Core processor alongside Intel Iris Xe graphics [last year’s model had the 10th Gen processors and Intel UHD graphics).
Microsoft say that the battery life in this model has also been slightly increased, partly owing to new Operating System Efficiencies in Windows 11 along with the lower power consuming 11th Gen chipsets.
LOOK AND FEEL
Laptop Go 2 weighs in at just 1.13kg and measures just 278.2mm x 206.2mm x 15.7mm – making it beautifully compact and lightweight and ideal for both students or anyone who travels or commutes a lot who are looking for something small, light but functional to take back and forth on the daily commute.
As you come to expect with a Surface Device, Laptop Go 2 is sleek and stylish. It comes in four colours including the standard Platinum, Ice Blue, Sage, and Sandstone. The model I tested was the Platinum model which is made of lightweight aluminium and has the familiar mirrored Microsoft logo on the lid.
When you open the clam-shell lid, you are presented with a full-size rubberised plastic keyboard, which Microsoft claims “provides 30% more key travel than the MacBook Air and a large trackpad. Being a more “budget friendly” device, there is no backlighting on the keyboard and the trackpad doesn’t have haptic feedback like the new Surface Laptop Studio debuted.
The power button (which does light up), also serves as a fingerprint sensor which you can use with Windows Hello to unlock the laptop.
Connectivity-wise, you get the same ports as on the Surface Laptop and last year’s Laptop Go 1 – a Single USB-C port (which supports 4K video), Single USB-A port, 3.5 mm headphone jack and the Surface Connect port which it uses for charging. You also get Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.
Note: the USB-C port doesn’t support charging like many new laptops, so you’ll need to keep using the Surface Connect Port charger which comes in the box.
The screen on the Surface Laptop Go 2 has a 12.4-inch PixelSense touchscreen display with a resolution of 1536 x 1024p and a 3:2 aspect ratio like that found on most of the newer Surface family. The display is bright, clear, and sharp with great colours and black blacks – event in direct sunlight. Don’t get me wrong, Surface Laptop Go 2 is not intended for professional-level graphics or artwork, but it is more than good for viewing documents, web pages or watching videos. It also doesn’t support use of the Surface Pen, which is of course another cost saving thing.
The Webcam – is tiny and located between two small spatial microphones on the top edge of the screen. Unlike the “bigger” versions of Surface, this does not support Windows Hello and is only a 720p. This is the one area I wish Microsoft hadn’t “saved money” on as webcam quality is important in the new world of hybrid and remote work. I’m also so used to the Windows Hello Camera and personally prefer it over the fingerprint reader. Microsoft say that the camera on the Laptop Go 2 is an upgrade on last year’s model and features a “new camera module providing improved brightness, contrast and colour balance“.
Low light and bright backlight quality was handled well, but the image did feel a little grainy at full screen – I think I’d still prefer at 1080p webcam though – feels like a compromise we don’t need.
SPECS, PEFORMANCE & BATTERY
SPECIFICATIONS The device I’ve had on loan, is powered by a Quadcore, 11th Gen Intel Core i5-1135G7 processor, the Intel Iris Xe graphics chipset and 16GB RAM along with a 256GB SSD.
Like all Surface’s Laptop Go 2 is available in both consumer and business editions. The business version ships with Windows 11 Professional and providing enhanced secure features including Secured-Core security features, which includes a dedicated physical TPM 2.0 chip (rather than virtual TPM in firmware which the consumer model has). Choices are otherwise limited in these more budget friendly devices, and Microsoft simply give you options over how much RAM and SSD storage you need.
The entry level unit has 128GB SSD, but only 4GB RAM and no fingerprint reader.
PERFORMANCE Spoiler – Laptop Go 2 is not designed to compete with the bigger members of the Surace family like the Surface Laptop, Surface Pro or Studio when it comes to raw power, and graphics performance, but it did do a decent job of everything I threw at it. Throughout my week of testing, I had multiple apps open, including Teams, Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook and used it a few evenings for watching a few films and even tried out Clipchamp to edit one of my son’s YouTube “clips” he’d made all without feeling like I was using an under-powered device. I even managed a bit of Minecraft on the device as well as playing TrainSimWorld 2 and Forza Horizon using Xbox Streaming – more on that later!!
BATTERY LIFE Microsoft states that Laptop Go 2 provides up to 13.5 hours of ‘typical device usage’, but my loan device lasted about 25% less than that – 9hrs 16mins in fact of constant use in my usual home working test scenario:
Connected via Wi-Fi.
Screen Brightness set to auto.
Bluetooth connected headset, keyboard, and mouse.
Mix of normal daily use – no special tests – 8-10 Teams Video Calls (camera on), Core Office desktop apps and some social media apps and web browsing.
Connected to 4K Ultrawide screen via Surface Dock v1.
This is, I would say the main area of disappointment compared to the advertised specs – as I think you’d still want to take a power adapter out with you – “just in case”.
9 hrs isn’t awful but it’s nowhere near the “up to 13.5hrs”.
One day Microsoft will get this bit right and maybe when (if) they shift to ARM based chipsets for Laptop Go and Surface Go we will see battery life closer to what Apple manage to squeeze out their “M” chip-based devices. performance out of the battery.
XBOX GAME STREAMING
So – this was never going to be the best experience, but while on holiday on the Isle of Wight (if you haven’t been – you should go by the way), I wanted to test Xbox remote play on our Xbox One X (I know I know, where’s the Series-X!). My first test was done running on NowTV broadband (70Mbps or so).
On returning home yesterday, I then recreated the scenario from my desk, streaming from the same Xbox (which is in the same house). The experience was pretty much the same.
In summary, for fast framerate games like this, I’d say “it works pretty well”. Game play was surprisingly good. It did struggle with the odd refresh glitch and jittery in places on high frame-rate games (I was testing it with Forza Horizon 4) but overall and given the spec of the Surface Laptop Go 2, was more impressed than I thought I’d be. The video below show’s how this played out.
ROUNDING IT ALL UP
Battery life aside – Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 is a great all-rounder device for students, consumers or business users that are on more of a budget or than need something new and modern, gorgeous, and premium in feel that is both ultra-portable, and good enough for everything a “typical user” needs.
If you are big into gaming, (see above) big graphics/design and art, or you are a number crunching, coding, power-user then, you’ll want to look at the high-end devices like the Surface Laptop Studio or Surface Book 3 – though you can “get buy” when travelling if you need a game-fix and want to play remote or cloud play with the Xbox App.
Microsoft Defender for Endpoint has just received top marks for the latest Advanced Threat Protection Test carried out by AV-Test in Feb 2022.
The report (which tested many of the top products including Microsoft Defender in both the home and commercial space) found that it was best-in-class in terms of its ransomware detection and blocking.
The Advanced Threat Protection tests provide vendors and users with substantial findings as to how securely a product can protect against ransomware in real-life scenarios.
… All the products have to successfully defend against ransomware in 10 real-life scenarios under Windows. The test involves threats such as files containing hidden malware in archives, PowerPoint files with scripts or HTML files with malicious content.
The tests were carried out amongst 14 of the top anti virus and endpoint protection products in the consumer and commercial space including:
Whilst Microsoft came out joint top for all the tests in the corporate space, the lowest of the scores were McAfee / Trellix who AV-TEST claim were unable to fully block ransomware attacks in multiple different attack scenarios:
You can access the full reports from AV-TEST here.
Good news for consumers and corporate
In short this should be good news for corporate customers that use Microsoft Defender (which is built into Windows 10 and Windows 11) as well as consumers.
Consumers in particular are often sold additional third party antivirus and anti ransomware products when they buy a new computer, buy software or through advertising and whilst there may be good reasons to buy additional products, these results should demonstrate just how good Microsoft are at protecting consumers and corporate clients who use their products.
Defender is part of a much bigger family
In the corporate space at least, Microsoft Defender is a an entire multiplatform, multi vendor platform suite of. Integrated services for protecting corporate systems and data from attack, breach, ransomware and theft. Their product suite extends across Identity (Defender for Identity), Cloud, Endpoint, IoT and Office 365 to name just a few.
You can find out more about the Microsoft Defender suite of products for corporate customers here.
Microsoft also annouced last month the release of Microsoft Defender for individuals which provides enterprise grade protection for Microsoft 365 consumers and family users. Microsoft Defender is a cross-device security app that helps individuals and families protect their data and devices, and stay safer online with malware protection, real-time security notifications, and security tips. You can read more here.
After Microsoft released the Windows 11 22H2 update to the Release Preview channel back in June, they have now started to roll out a new cumulative update for Windows Insiders that are running the Windows 11 build 22621 in the Release Preview channel. As you’d expect, this update is mainly focussed on essential bug fixes as we get closer to the formal 22H2 release.
You can visit the official blog site for the full list of changes here.
The major changes / fixes in this build include
Fixing the issue which stopped OneDrive working correctly via the file explorer shell
Adding support for Transport Layer Security (TLS) 1.3 in the Windows client and server LDAP implementations.
Fixed an issue with Edge sandbox mode.
How to Join the Windows Insider programme
For instructions on how to join the Windows Insider Program and join your device to the Release Preview Channel, click here.
Microsoft has unveiled a new “software updates” dashboard in the Microsoft 365 admin center that enables IT to get a simple, unified overview of the installation status of Windows and Microsoft 365 app updates across all their devices. This is currently in preview.
“Keeping devices current with the latest security updates is an important part of an IT admin’s role. The software updates page in the health section of the Microsoft 365 admin center provides a high-level summary view that informs you of devices that may be behind on taking the latest updates released by Microsoft. “
The software updates page now has a new tab that shows Windows update status and end of service statistics. These charts provide information about all the Windows devices running unsupported versions of the Windows as well as those that reaching the end of support.
There is a separate tab which provides update status for Microsoft 365 Apps.
This new dashboard currently only provides update status for Microsoft 365 apps and the core Windows OS, but they plan to expand this in the future to cover critical on premises servers such as Exchange.
There is currently no ability to drill down into the non compliant devices. To do this you need to head the Security pane or Microsoft Endpoint Manager but I suspect this will be linked by the time it comes out of preview.
Windows Autopatch, a service to automatically keep Windows and Microsoft 365 up to date in enterprise organisations, has now reached public preview. When officially released (GA), it will be included Microsoft commercial customers with a Windows Enterprise E3 license or higher.
In short, Windows Autopatch automatically allows organisation to shift the management and deployment of Windows 10, Windows 11 and Microsoft 365 Apps including quality and feature updates, drivers, firmware to Microsoft.
What’s the purpose?
Essentially this aims to take the nightmare out of the age-old “patch Tuesday” and promises to be a great time saver for IT admins. With Autopatch, IT can continue to use their existing tools and processes for managing and deploying updates to devices OR can look to phase in or replace this in entirety and with this new “hands off” approach and let Windows Autopatch take care of security, driver and firmware updates.
“Changing the way things get done, even when that change makes things easier, gives pause to most people who run large IT organisations. By joining the public preview, you’ll be able to get comfortable with Windows Autopatch and ready your organisation to take advantage of the service at scale”.
Lior Bela | Senior Product Marketing Manager | Microsoft
The main purpose of Windows Autopatch is moving the update orchestration burden from the IT department to Microsoft. Once deployed, configured and tested, Autopatch should allow the entire effort around planning and managing the Windows Update process (sequencing and rollout) to be taken away from IT freeing up time and resources.
“Whenever issues arise with any Autopatch update, the remediation gets incorporated and applied to future deployments, affording a level of proactive service that no IT admin team could easily replicate,” Bela added.
“Whenever issues arise with any Autopatch update, the remediation gets incorporated and applied to future deployments, affording a level of proactive service that no IT admin team could easily replicate.”
Lior Bela | Senior Product Marketing Manager | Microsoft
How to enable Autopatch
Windows Autopatch devices must be managed by Microsoft Intune for this to work and Intune must be set as the Mobile Device Management (MDM) authority or co-management must be turned on and enabled on the target devices.
As you’d expect, there are a handful of steps needed to enable the preview and to enrol your Microsoft 365 tenant into the Windows Autopatch public preview:
Log on to Endpoint Manager as a Global Admin and navigate to the Windows Autopatch blade which is under the Tenant Administration menu – this will only be visible if you have the right licenses deployed.
Using an InPrivate browser window, redeem your Autopatch preview code
Run the readiness assessment, add the required admin contact, and add the devices you want to enrol in the service.
Tick the box, to allow Microsoft to manage updates on behalf of your organisation.
Microsoft also provides detailed instructions(and video) on how to add devices to your test ring and how to resolve the status of “tenant not ready,” or a status of “device not ready” or “device not registered.”
How Autopatch works
The Windows Autopatch service automatically splits your organisation’s device estate into four groups of devices described by Microsoft as “testing rings”.
Test Ring: Contains a minimum number of devices for test purposes
First Ring: Contains ~1% of all endpoints (think of this like the early adopter ring)
Fast Ring: Contains ~9% of devices
Broad Ring: Contains the rest of the devices.
The updates are deployed progressively, starting with the test ring and moving to the larger sets of devices following a validation period in which the system and IT can monitor device performance and compare it to pre-update metrics through End Point Analytics.
Autopatch also features a nifty, feature called “Halt and Rollback” that block updates from being applied to higher test rings or rolled back automatically. This is key for critical dates or projects which may be impacted by updates or where quality errors are detected in the Test Ring updates.
What about Patch Tuesday and Critical Updates?
Microsoft will continue to deliver monthly security and quality updates for supported versions of the Windows on the second Tuesday of the month (commonly referred to Patch Tuesday or Update Tuesday) as they have been to date. These will be delivered by Autopatch also.
For normal updates, Autopatch uses a regular release cadence starting with devices in the test ring and completing with general rollout to broad ring.
Any updates addressing a critical vulnerability, such as Zero Day threats, will be expedited by Windows Autopatch with a aim to patch all devices immediately.
In recent years, Microsoft has taken a leaf out of Apple Book and is know known for putting together some pretty awesome product launch and general marketing videos for their Surface Lineup and Windows 11.
Whilst we usually only see these things at annual press events and new product launches such as Laptop Studio or Surface Duo, Panos Panay has recently taken to social media and posted a really awesome mashup reveal of the latest innovations across Windows 11 and the Microsoft Surface Products.
Many of my followers will know that I am a huge fan of Surface and also an MVP for #Windows11, but I must admit, this short video even gave me goosebumps since it really does capture the best of what makes Surface devices truly remarkable and innovative (setting the standard for other OEMs). The video also shows some of the latest enhancements within Windows 11 that were annouced formerly in their Future of Work event on the 5th April, where Panos showed off enhancements to things like Fluent icons, the Start Menu, and Windows Hello.
Microsoft is known for setting the standard and innovating the laptop market with Surface and with Surface Laptop SE they have done it again – this time at the lowest end of the market with the extremely cheap but well built Surface that starts from just £229.
What is Surface Laptop SE?
Microsoft target market for Surface Laptop SE is schools that buy laptops in bulk to give to students in classrooms and/or to take home. This is laptop for children from primary age up to mid-secondary school age, which explains why this has been built with lower end specifications and the more lightweight and plastic design.
Surface Laptop SE is not sold commercially or direct to consumers and runs Windows 11 SE, which relies on remote provisioning, deploying, and admin for installing and maintaining applications.
Note: Windows 11 SE is not like Windows 10 in S Mode. Windows 11 SE run apps from both in and from outside the Microsoft Store. The main difference is that the OS is trimmed down and has been specifically optimised for lower specification devices. Windows SE is Microsoft's solution to help empower teachers and learners with productive, sturdy and reliable laptops at scale.
For a device that costs between £229 and £300 you might think “really!!!!”, but I’d say that Microsoft has done it again and created an awesome piece of budget hardware which should set a new standard for low-end devices built specifically for Pre-School, Primary and lower Secondary School students.
The Microsoft Surface Laptop SE is available to education through Surafce resellers and also via Microsoft directly and pricing starts from just £229 for the 4GB RAM/64GB model, which comes with a dual-core Intel Celeron N4020 processor. The model I tested, was the slightly higher specification model which retails at around £299 and has 8GB of RAM, 128GB storage and a quad-core Intel Celeron N4120 CPU.
First Impressions: Look and Feel
This looks like a Surface! From a design perspective, the Surface Laptop SE has some similarities from its sibling, the Surface Laptop Go, but has a much more attractive price for the education market. To get to a price of just £229, Microsoft have had to compromise in a number of areas such as swapping the sleek “Surface” metal for a more child-friendly plastic for the overall chassis design. Do not let that put you off though – it is still a sleek and elegant design that looks modern, clean and far more premium than it should for a device at this price.
The top lid features a simple but bold Surface logo, while the underside of the device is clean with just seven screws that hold it together allowing for easy accessibility for repairs – yes – this is a repairable device! Alongside this, there are four rubber feet with the two rear ones being slightly taller than the front to allow a natural and angled keyboard typing experience.
Port and connectivity wise, the Laptop SE has a USB Type-A, USB Type-C (which supports power, data and video display), a headphone jack, a separate barrel type charger in favour for a the standard Surafce Connector – which I found a little odd, but presumably is much cheaper to replace.
Laptop SE is extremely light – weighing just over a kilo at 1.11kg (about 2.4 pounds) which is the weight of a bag of sugar! You can see my “unboxing experience” below.
First Impressions: Useability
So first things and weird to get my head round is that the Surafce Laptop SE does not have a touch screen, nor does it support pen and ink! This is not surprising given the price point but had to put that out there – it is a Surface after all!
It’s normally easy to tell a cheap/budget laptop from the quality of the casing, keyboard and trackpad but not on Surface Laptop SE. The experience on Laptop SE is every bit premium and features exceptional quality and usability. Unlike many other budget laptops, Microsoft have reinforced the keyboard, which provides a sturdy and premium typing experience which is IMO the same as the experience on any Surafce Laptop Go .
As a budget device, Microsoft have replaced the usual LCD multi-touch screen found it other Surface devices with a 16:9 aspect ratio, 11.6-inch non-touch TFT screen with a resolution of 1366×768 and an aspect ration of 135 pixels per inch.
When using the Surface Laptop SE, the display is bright, colours look good and the matt screen works well (especially given that in a school environment it’s usually bright and light). Viewing angles are good too and it’s easy to see the screen even if you are looking square on. Finally, screen bezels are a bit thick, but given this is designs for school use, it means you dont grab the screen when closing the lid or changing the angle.
Surface Laptop SE is equipped with just a 1-megapixel 720p (30 FPS) front-facing camera, which is of course a lower budget option compared to the flagship devices. Despite the lower resolution, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the camera worked (even in low and bright light), and in a Teams test call with myself, the image quality was very good and sharp. The onboard microphone is also really good (well it was in limited test environment) and did a great job of picking up all the relevant voice tones.
Given this is a device for schools, it needs to last the school day at least right and even more if the schools are providing these on a 1:1 basis for students which is happening more and more.
Battery life is good, Microsoft claims 16 hours, which they never seem to get right in real life, but I used my test device for a whole day from 8:30am until the battery died at around 4:30pm – a solid 8.5hrs of constant use with it plugged into a second screen, running on wireless and with all my common apps open including Teams which I used for around 6 Teams Meetings.
Performance and Workload
Surface Laptop SE is totally silent in operation. It doesn’t get hot, it does not have a fan, so it produces no ambient noise – at all.
My Test Scenario 1. Battery fully charged (no plugged int mains) 2. Wireless On 3. External Monitor Connected via USB-C in Extended Mode 4. Brightness and Power all set to “auto” 5. Workloads tested: 6 x Teams Calls (with video), PowerPoint, Outlook, Word, Excel, Edge
As you’d imagine by the insanely low price point, Surface Laptop SE is no power horse, though it performed surprisingly well given what I threw at it.
For the main all my core apps like Office Apps and Teams ran well. The device comes with Minecraft Education Edition installed too, so took this for a spin over lunch and it too ran without an issue or lag (I just need to learn how to play it). Surface Laptop SE seemed quite happy chugging along with the majority of my day-to-day productivity apps together. Apps running via the browser were naturally more responsive which is one of the great things with modern apps like Office 365 in the browser.
The only place where it seems to “struggle” a bit, was initial device boot up, resume from sleep (which takes a second or two) and general “first time” app launching where you really notice the performance lag of the “out-dated” chipsets in this device – the N4120 Celeron processor is some 3 years old. This isn’t Microsoft’s fault as it’s the best they can do (and they have done well) with what Intel offers at this low price point.
That said – performance it is not awful, and after a few hours of use, it feels normal to be honest – this is due in part to the way in which Microsoft optimised Windows 11 SE to take the best advantage of the low-power Celeron N4120 processor, including streamlining the Windows 11 OS to use less system resources.
I cover Windows 11 SE in a separate post.
Conclusion and Closing Comments
Given the age range and sector this device is aimed at – it is more than adequate and a great bit of “value” Surface tech.
Surface Laptop SE highlights what makes Surface, a Surface and it sets the standard for low cost, good quality laptops for primary and secondary education. Microsoft’s attention to detail, focus on core features, and quality design where it matters are all what Surface does best and Surface Laptop SE is no exception.
You won’t be buying one of these for the office, but even though this is designed for school children. It feels good to use and doesn’t feel like a budget friendly device at all. Most students (even teachers to be honest), don’t “need” a high-end Surface Laptop or Pro and if this means schools can equip students and teachers with technology to facilitate digital curriculum then Surface Laptop SE can go a long way to help school achieve this.
This of course, brings us to the obvious question about why Microsoft doesn’t sell this directly to consumers as well (with Windows 11 Pro)? I think they should – I’d certainly buy one for my 7 y/o. I think with a slightly better CPU, it would make a great home laptop at a crazy cheap price.
To end this review, if you work at a Primary or Secondary School, are looking at ways to increase your device to student ratio or provide a laptop for every child, Surface Laptop SE should be looked at.