Windows 365 – what having a PC in the cloud means for you
Microsoft recently unveiled Windows 365 Cloud PC, a new software as a service product that will deliver the Windows operating system via a simple web browser.
It promises faster provisioning of Windows devices, easier access to desktop applications for hybrid workers and elastic computing power in the cloud, reducing your hardware needs as a result.
Windows 365 comes hard on the heels of the launch of Windows 11, the newest version of the operating system that powers billions of devices around the world and which will be widely available later this year.
The difference with Windows 365 is that Windows is now offered as a monthly subscription service delivered from Microsoft’s Azure Cloud. Through a management console, you choose your processor (CPU), memory (RAM) and storage needs (hard drive capacity) and upload your desktop applications and files to the cloud. Everything is then streamed via a HTML5-compliant web browser on any device – an existing Windows computer, a Mac or Linux machine, an iOS or Android device.
Microsoft said this week that if you can stream a high-definition video via your broadband connection, you will get full functionality from Windows 365 via a web browser. For existing users of virtualisation servers such as Citrix, this is nothing new. Indeed, Microsoft already offers Azure Virtual Desktop, which allows enterprise users to configure Windows to be delivered from a central server to users.
The game-changer here is how Microsoft is streamlining cloud delivery of Windows in a way that will appeal to Windows users who simply want to log in from anywhere and access their work tools, for a per-user monthly fee.
Apps and data in one place
Windows 365 maintains your desktop configuration and applications settings in one place, so if you log out of your workstation at the office and boot up Windows on your Surface tablet at home, you’ll pick up exactly where you left off. This concept has already changed the face of Microsoft’s Office suite of applications with Microsoft 365.
As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said this week at inspire 2021, the company’s annual partner event, taking Windows to the cloud is the next logical step.
For businesses already running Windows 10 and looking to upgrade to Windows 11, there will be lots of questions. Chief among them will be how much it will cost. Microsoft will reveal the pricing on August 2.
There will be discounts for existing business users running Windows, to reflect the fact they already have a copy of the operating system. Two versions of Windows 365 will be on offer – an Enterprise edition for organisations with more than 300 employees and a Business edition for under 300 employees.
There won’t be a version of Windows 365 available for home users from launch, but one person organisations will be able to sign up. You will just need to have an Azure identity set up to do so.
Early indications from the US suggest a subscription could cost in the region of US$31 per month – $372 on an annual basis. Microsoft will confirm subscription pricing options on August 2. IT teams will need to weigh up the costs of continuing with their device management strategy or switching to Windows 365, at least for some of their workers’ requirements.
The use cases identified by Microsoft include provisioning Windows environments for remote workers who can get going on their own devices rather than waiting for a work device to be sent to them, and organisations working with contractors.
Security is paramount
Security is a big consideration. Windows 365 will support multi-factor authentication and is completely integrated with Microsoft Endpoint manager and services like Microsoft Defender. In theory then it is as secure as using its other cloud-based services, such as Microsoft 365. Having all Windows updates immediately applied in the cloud reduces the risks of machines missing out on important patches and remaining vulnerable as a result.
Data will obviously be fully backed up in the cloud automatically. But some will ponder the wisdom of having all of their applications and data on Microsoft’s server rather than their own computer.
In reality, this model of delivering Windows is safer than having files located on lots of devices which could be stolen or hacked into. With Microsoft soon to have a data centre presence in Auckland to run its Azure platform, Windows 365 could be delivered locally meaning data at least stays on shore, which would help with the performance of the service as well.
This is Microsoft capitalising on the disruption caused by the pandemic to cement its position in the cloud and expand its lucrative subscription-based business model. It will entrench its relationship with businesses all over the world.
And if the price is right, and Windows from the cloud works as advertised, it could fundamentally change how computer operating systems are delivered forever.
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