Microsoft debuts its Cloud PC taking Windows online
Microsoft will begin offering business customers Windows as a subscription-based cloud service from August 2nd as it embraces the hybrid working trend accelerated by the pandemic.
Windows 365 Cloud PC will allow business and enterprise customers to stream Windows to their computers from Microsoft's Azure platform via a HTML5-compliant browser or the Windows Remote Desktop app.
Rather than installing Windows on a laptop or desktop users upload all of their apps and data to the cloud, selecting their CPU, memory and storage needs and effectively renting the capacity from Microsoft.
It's a type of virtualisation service that builds on Azure Virtual Desktop, a product Microsoft has had available for years but is only really adopted by large enterprise customers. The new per-user subscription service is designed to be much simpler to deploy or use.
In a briefing on Windows 365 this week prior to Microsoft's annual Inspire conference, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, told me that he had been using Windows 365 on his phone and that it "worked like a charm".
If you can stream high quality video you can run Windows 365 remotely on any device through a compliant browser.
What will it mean for businesses? Spataro says it will be most suitable for a company with a widely distributed workforce. It would make provisioning computers much easier - you'd just need long-in credentials to access Windows wherever you are. He said it would remove headaches working with contractors, who could be granted access to an organisation's Windows configuration just for the period they are employed for, without a new device needing to be prepared for them.
In effect, it replicates the functionality already available in Microsoft 365, which sees the Office productivity suite follow you around as you move between devices. Virtualisation software is not new - Citrix is the biggest player in this space. But Windows 365 could see it adopted in the world of corporate IT on a scale not seen yet.
A crucial question is how much it will cost, one Microsoft will only answer on the product's debut on August 2. With most businesses already running Windows 10 and gearing up to move to Windows 11, how will the economics of Windows 365 compare to the tried and tested method of upgrading to the next desktop version of Windows?
The other question is security. While Microsoft's Azure platform is highly trusted from a security standpoint and multifactor authentication and Microsoft Defender will still apply to Windows 365, putting all of a user's applications and data in the cloud, will give some pause for thought.
Usability will also prove a decisive factor. In theory, with Microsoft's cloud PC doing all the work, you could run Windows 365 on a cheap Chromebook. Your Windows configuration will be remembered in the cloud, so if you log out of one machine and into another, you'll pick up where you left off. But how will the experience feel for those who spend a lot of time on the desktop rather than working in web browsers?
One potential sticking point that may need addressing in future - the migration from Windows on the desktop to Windows 365. Spataro said there was no migration tool available yet. When you set up a new smartphone you can automatically transfer the apps, settings and data from your old phone. A similar way to replicate your computer set-up in Microsoft's cloud PC would really help speed adoption.
The debut of Windows 365 seems well-timed.
"We have really concluded that the future of hybrid work boils down essentially to extreme flexibility," Spataro said.
"It allows you to take the power and security of the cloud, and put that together with the simplicity and the versatility of the PC."
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