Microsoft Windows 365 moves your PC to the cloud

Bob O'Donnell

Posts: 22   +1
Staff member

The idea of computing via the cloud has become so commonplace through the pandemic that virtually no one gives it much of a thought anymore. Application suites like Office 365, Microsoft 365, and Google Workspace, communication tools like Zoom, Teams, and Webex, and even file storage services like OneDrive, DropBox, or Google Drive are all just part of how we get things done these days.

For most of us, however, the operating system through which we use these applications and access our files typically comes through the client device: Windows 10 or MacOS on PCs, iOS or Android on smartphones and tablets, etc.

With the launch of Microsoft’s latest cloud service—dubbed Windows 365—however, Microsoft is now streaming the Windows OS and full PC experience from Microsoft’s Azure cloud infrastructure to any type of connected computing device, from smartphone to PC, running any major OS. Hence, the Cloud PC.

Truth be told, the concept isn’t exactly new—in fact, far from it. There have been numerous variations on delivering a “desktop” experience from powerful remote computing resources for several decades, dating back to mainframes and terminals, through thin clients and associated servers, to virtual desktops delivered over the cloud via tools like Citrix Workspace.

In fact, Windows 365 is essentially a simplified version of Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop offering (which will continue). Win365 is designed for what the company described as the 80% of organizations that are interested in desktop virtualization-type services but lack personnel with the very specific skills necessary to run sophisticated VDI environments.

One other important point of clarification is that Microsoft’s current concept of a Cloud PC is not a physical device—though those are likely to come in the future—but rather a cloud-delivered PC experience. The concept of a “cloud PC” has been bandied about by numerous PC and chip makers for many years. We may finally see future hardware designs that are optimized for the cloud-delivered desktop experience offered by Windows 365, but not with the initial launch.

Windows 365 serves a full Microsoft Windows experience – including personal apps, data and settings – from the cloud to any device with an internet connection. Image courtesy of Microsoft.

What Windows 365 does offer is an easily configurable, flexible way to let people working for businesses, schools, and other organizations to run a consistent Windows experience across whatever devices they have access to—even a regular Windows PC.

The basic concept is that these organizations can create standardized Windows 10 desktop environments (or Windows 11 once it becomes available later this year), complete with the necessary applications, settings, security protocols, and file access needed, and then make these standardized environments available to whatever groups of workers desired for whatever time frame desired.

Unlike previous virtual desktop-based solutions, however, Windows 365 keeps the process of configuring these cloud PC desktops simple, by limiting options to a few key choices. People who need to access these resources can then launch a simple application on whatever devices they have available and get access to their cloud-delivered Windows desktop. If they switch to another device or start working from another location, the experience—down to the backgrounds, open windows, etc.—remains consistent.

For organizations with seasonal workers, project-based temps, etc., this is obviously an ideal solution, because it lets these organizations turn on and turn off access to applications, shared files, etc. on an as-needed basis.

Even businesses that don’t have these kinds of part-time employees can benefit by virtue of things like letting employees use personal devices to access their work resources in a secure, separated way. In addition, there are options to essentially provide “super-powered” PCs remotely to workers who need them for demanding applications like 3D modelling, graphic design, coding, etc.

By essentially providing access to more cloud-based computing resources (through the simple Endpoint Manager console that Microsoft provides admin access to as part of the Win365 offering), some users can get access to more computing power than they could get from even the most well-configured local PC. In fact, Microsoft has added what they call a new Watchdog Service that’s constantly monitoring the performance of all Windows 365-connected systems and can provide tools and suggestions on how to fix any issues that may arise.

Despite these assurances, veterans of previous VDI technologies may raise performance-related concerns, because there have certainly been many employees who suffered slowly and painfully through poorly configured virtual desktop solutions in the past. In order to address that, Microsoft said that one other key change it is making with Windows 365 is essentially “widening the pipe” between the client device and cloud-based computing resources.

Obviously, the speed, quality, and consistency of any broadband connection between a given device and the internet is going to have a potentially even more profound impact on performance, but Microsoft claimed that it has optimized the client-to-cloud connection for Windows 365 to ensure a high-quality experience.

The company has also made several important security enhancements, including a number of simplified baseline settings that leverage tools like Microsoft Defender. In addition, the company claims its security policies are built around zero trust and least privileged access principles, while also offering support for multi-factor authentication through Azure Active Directory (AD). From a device management perspective, the revised Endpoint Manager console lets Cloud PCs and physical PCs be managed side-by-side in an intuitive manner, making it approachable even for small businesses with limited IT resources.

Given the growing use of other cloud-based computing services—such as Microsoft’s own OneDrive—it’s certainly easier now for workers to navigate the potential complexities of hybrid working environments than it has been in the past. Still, for many organizations, those types of capabilities simply aren’t enough, and the need for an even more flexible and far-reaching service like Windows 365 makes a great deal of sense.

Cloud-delivered virtual desktops have proven to be a very effective tool for many more advanced IT organizations throughout the pandemic. They also appear to be a powerful starting point as we enter the new world of hybrid work. Previous complications have certainly limited the use of virtualized desktop systems up until now, so it’s good to see Microsoft bring these Cloud PC-based computing models to a wider audience with Windows 365.

Bob O’Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter .

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Dimitriid

Posts: 944   +1,740
I wasn't entirely incorrect: Microsoft will push all of windows as a service. The only surprising part is that they aren't taking more bold choices with Windows 11 to change it even more radically to be interchangeable with the 365 version.

And yes this also could be bad news for the PC market: you really won't see explosive growth for x86 again as people can just use tablets, phones, smart tvs or Apple computers to connect to work and school Windows365 instances, so Windows 11 not doing extremely well as a consumer platform probably doesn't matter as much to Nadella.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 8,167   +6,924
I made the move to Linux several months ago. Frankly, it's been 30 years since I had to really dive into code so I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy it has been and there is a TON of support out here. While it's not entirely fool proof, Microsoft could never make that claim and from their latest activities it looks like there is NO real motivator within the company that has a plan to make the company user friendly. While it's a huge company, I would not be too surprised to see it fail within my lifetime. Pity, considering the early days ......
 

NicktheWVAHick

Posts: 303   +451
If this is true, then all of us should be running on a Core I-109xx with two RTX 3090s in SLI mode. My home computer should be nothing more than a dumb terminal displaying 4K video feeds like a smart TV. Then everyone will be running MSFS2020 on the same specs and any in-game anomalies will be apparent to and affected by the ENTIRE gaming community simultaneously. No more drops in frame-rate or stuttering that happens to only a subset of users and never gets fixed. The only limitation should be bandwidth. When will this happen?
 

NeoMorpheus

Posts: 887   +1,670
I wasn't entirely incorrect: Microsoft will push all of windows as a service. The only surprising part is that they aren't taking more bold choices with Windows 11 to change it even more radically to be interchangeable with the 365 version.

And yes this also could be bad news for the PC market: you really won't see explosive growth for x86 again as people can just use tablets, phones, smart tvs or Apple computers to connect to work and school Windows365 instances, so Windows 11 not doing extremely well as a consumer platform probably doesn't matter as much to Nadella.
At work, we have a bunch of Amazon Workspaces running W10.

they are ok, but for some of us, the local firewall rules are a huge obstacle to fully use them.

But I can see this as the upcoming future for the industry.

X86 desktop and laptops will sales will suffer depending on adoption.
 

Norsiiii

Posts: 80   +105
Ok, look, in certain use-cases this is actually pretty great - if this will basically function like a centralized 'cloud' equivalent of a remote desktop service, then it would allow small businesses to set up similar kinds of IT system functionality to what their medium and large sized competitors had already been using on their dedicated servers for the past 10-15 years. That could be especially valuable in the age of increasingly remote working scenarios.

My concern, however, is that Microsoft has bigger plans for this kind of service, with the intention of ultimately getting everybody onto subscription/streaming type services for even the most fundamental things like your friken OS....
 
So, a Windows 10/11 virtual machine in the cloud, accessed via RDP?

I actually have several of those at work already...through VMWare accessed via VPN.

For business, absolutely, yes. Wrap 2-factor authentication around that (already in-play today) and that's now how many without office access works (a lot of those now, thanks to COVID). It's a super easy way to "wipe/disable a device" in the event that someone leaves.

For consumer, forget about it....unless you've somehow got a fiber connection directly into your workstation.
 

Geralt

Posts: 559   +785
If this is true, then all of us should be running on a Core I-109xx with two RTX 3090s in SLI mode. My home computer should be nothing more than a dumb terminal displaying 4K video feeds like a smart TV. Then everyone will be running MSFS2020 on the same specs and any in-game anomalies will be apparent to and affected by the ENTIRE gaming community simultaneously. No more drops in frame-rate or stuttering that happens to only a subset of users and never gets fixed. The only limitation should be bandwidth. When will this happen?
Within many years. Internet is very slow yet. I have 1 Gbs, but it's not enough. We need at least 5 Gbs, I guess, but the telephonic companies are lazy.
 

Geralt

Posts: 559   +785
Ok, look, in certain use-cases this is actually pretty great - if this will basically function like a centralized 'cloud' equivalent of a remote desktop service, then it would allow small businesses to set up similar kinds of IT system functionality to what their medium and large sized competitors had already been using on their dedicated servers for the past 10-15 years. That could be especially valuable in the age of increasingly remote working scenarios.

My concern, however, is that Microsoft has bigger plans for this kind of service, with the intention of ultimately getting everybody onto subscription/streaming type services for even the most fundamental things like your friken OS....
The problem is this hateful/greedy company in the middle.
 

arrowflash

Posts: 460   +498
Whenever someone talks about running an OS in the "cloud", I feel like the industry wants us to go backwards. Go back to the era of dumb terminals and mainframes, which is pretty much what the concept of "cloud" OS and "cloud-based" apps is all about. Exactly the same thing on a different, more marketable dressing.

If some techie from the PC "boom" era in the late 1980s and 1990s heard about the state of the industry today, they'd think we have gone insane and retarded (and well, they're not wrong). Everyone back then was celebrating the power and freedom that PCs gave users compared to the cloud-based OSes and apps running on mainframes.
 

mgilbert

Posts: 36   +94
I suspect that Microsoft's end game is to force everyone into this, so they can start charging a monthly subscription fee for your OS. I've avoided Linux for years because it simply will not run much of the software I use, and the Linux substitutes for said software are garbage, and a decade behind the Windows versions. But, if Microsoft does what I am suspecting, I'm done with Windows.
 

eforce

Posts: 391   +494
I guess this is Plan B to get Windows on every device after the failure of Windows Phone/RT etc.
 

Geralt

Posts: 559   +785
I suspect that Microsoft's end game is to force everyone into this, so they can start charging a monthly subscription fee for your OS. I've avoided Linux for years because it simply will not run much of the software I use, and the Linux substitutes for said software are garbage, and a decade behind the Windows versions. But, if Microsoft does what I am suspecting, I'm done with Windows.
Or we'll have to use a good loader for Windows ;)
 

BadThad

Posts: 615   +656
Whenever someone talks about running an OS in the "cloud", I feel like the industry wants us to go backwards. Go back to the era of dumb terminals and mainframes, which is pretty much what the concept of "cloud" OS and "cloud-based" apps is all about. Exactly the same thing on a different, more marketable dressing.

If some techie from the PC "boom" era in the late 1980s and 1990s heard about the state of the industry today, they'd think we have gone insane and retarded (and well, they're not wrong). Everyone back then was celebrating the power and freedom that PCs gave users compared to the cloud-based OSes and apps running on mainframes.

Indeed! Microsoft's idea is great - until your internet connection dies and employees are left twiddling their thumbs.
 

Markoni35

Posts: 1,234   +505
When this happens, I'm gonna install an older version of Linux and stay away from this crap. I'll also be careful when exiting my home, in case Tesla's initiative for cloud-based self-driving car software takes traction. Which I doubt. But who knows, we're living in a world where the stupidest idea are supported by the media and smart ideas get cut in the root.
 

MaitieS

Posts: 103   +118
Oh boy. Doom of Microsoft and Windows is slowly happening. This thing will no way work. They should check their already 3rd world country Internet speed they have at home in 2021... It's just plainly stupid but I guess they always wanted to try it but it won't work for an average customer.
 

zulu53

Posts: 50   +20
I wasn't entirely incorrect: Microsoft will push all of windows as a service. The only surprising part is that they aren't taking more bold choices with Windows 11 to change it even more radically to be interchangeable with the 365 version.

And yes this also could be bad news for the PC market: you really won't see explosive growth for x86 again as people can just use tablets, phones, smart tvs or Apple computers to connect to work and school Windows365 instances, so Windows 11 not doing extremely well as a consumer platform probably doesn't matter as much to Nadella.
Bad news for PC's - I don't see it for business. Certainly for some service industries cloud OS might make sense (if they can justify being out of service when their internet high bandwidth connection fails; presumable they will have 5g backup for fiber: if we can't use Google Search for a few hours is it that big a deal??) but for all production businesses the cost of connectivity failure in consequential damages (loss of production) more than offset the small cost benefits of cloud OS (thin clients) in hardware savings. And no - production business's need "real" computers for thier business to work; not the "toy" computers in tablets and smartphones. Despite what some may think the present internet infrastructure is nowhere near reliable enough (24/7/365/30 connectivity bandwidth and security from industrial/political IP theft and industrial/political terrorism) for any business dependent on computers (most industrial companies) to be anything other than standalone in their computing environment. Maybe non critical services like Search and Conferencing; but any critical app running on PC - no way.
 

zulu53

Posts: 50   +20
When this happens, I'm gonna install an older version of Linux and stay away from this crap. I'll also be careful when exiting my home, in case Tesla's initiative for cloud-based self-driving car software takes traction. Which I doubt. But who knows, we're living in a world where the stupidest idea are supported by the media and smart ideas get cut in the root.
To give you hope. Microsoft (albeit with different leadership) tried to convince business to do this several times and several years ago. Eventually money talked and smarter heads prevailed and MS were refocused on their clients needs rather than their own, and went on with updating their standalone products OS and Office. One of the threats to MS that my company used in the day regarding the OS (and its still relevant now) - if MS did not put their customers first, we (and out competitor industries) would hire their best programmers and put them to work on getting Linux up to the quality of Windows. And MS can watch their market cap disappear into the dust like Nortel. The industrial companies of this world do not work for MS, MS work for them.
 

captaincranky

Posts: 17,196   +5,943
Oh C'mon kidz, grow some pairs and call this exactly for what it is, the "long awaited (fearfully)", transition to "Windows as a 'service'", or in more plain spoken terms, "Windows goes subscription".

Wake the f**k up!