Some days ago, I already wrote about Microsoft’s Cloud PC which was, basically, a PC-as-a-Service powered by Azure. Now, Microsoft unleashed the beast and opens a door to a new level of computing that may break boundaries between platforms.
Giving the newborn child the name of Windows 365, the intention is clear: While we already have adopted Microsoft 365 as the digital platform, Windows 365 shall close the gap of having your Windows-system available everywhere you are, from whatever system you are working on, always online and synchronized: Following Microsoft’s announcement on this year’s Ignite, the future of the PC is still the PC — but it is located in the Cloud.
No more disruption, please!
The last, well, 18 months have shown that the availability of services and working platforms are a must: While many of us left the office workplace to work from home for quite a long time, the obstacle of publishing the services into the home offices was one duty customers and users had to master. Second, while more and more workforces were distributed throughout the country (or countries!), the grade of security was often an underestimated factor as everything had to happen instantly — but without proper security, there could be no safe access to corporate data and information. The digital transformation we strived for so long has been pushed by COVID-19 and so the demand on flexible working scenarios has drastically increased.
While Office/Microsoft 365 has evolved over the years and is such a great and fitting platform for many users, it dealt with just one side of the medal. Especially with Microsoft Teams taking the world of video- and audio conferencing by storm, work has gotten more and more hybrid: Assuming you possess a decent internet connection, there were no boundaries from where you do your work — the office, from the top of a mountain or your holiday hotel. To make the circle go around, Microsoft now has yet another tool that makes your even more independent from the platform you are working on, despite the services you want to address: Just imagine you may use any client, any (of the well-known) operating system(s) and either a Remote Desktop connection or a web browser to access your always-on Windows-system?
Enter, Windows 365!
Windows 365 finally enables the Cloud PC and continues the way Microsoft already offered with Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) by streamlining a tailored-to-suit-your-needs Windows 10-client (followed by Windows 11 by the end of the year when it’s generally available) to your working machine. Microsoft assures that the Cloud PC, built upon Azure Virtual Desktop can be easily configured and deployed to put your data, applications and personal settings in the focus of this experience — always on, not connected with computing time and scalable by many configurations. Listening to Microsoft, we are experiencing a completely new experience of personal computing, putting it in its own and new shelf in the categories of today’s computers and computing devices.
The scenario itself isn’t that new as it follows the footsteps of Citrix or VMware Horizon — additional and well-positioned solutions in their genre to streamline applications. Windows 365 is told to provide an instant-on boot experience that enables users to stream all their personalized applications, tools, data, and settings from the cloud across any device including your Mac, iPad, Linux- and Android-device. The Windows experience will, according to Microsoft, be consistent, no matter of the device used. Users may pick up right where they left off because the state of the Cloud PC remains the same even when you switch devices — just like with a Remote Desktop-connection which is terminated without signing off.
The solution in detail
Microsoft promises that users may get the same work done on a laptop in a hotel room, a tablet from their car between appointments or a desktop while people are in the office. Seasonal workers also can ramp on and off according to the needs of the business, allowing the organization to scale for busy periods without the complicated logistical and security challenges of issuing new hardware. Further on, companies can be more targeted in how they outfit specialized workers in creative, analytics, engineering, or scientific roles who need greater compute power and access to critical applications — the most-powerful PC or workstation won’t be an on-premises criteria anymore!
With Windows 365, Microsoft also promises to stand by its promise of an so-called app compatibility by using App Assure, a service that helps customers with 150 or more users fix any app issues they might run into at no additional cost. Although this shouldn’t target the smaller user scope, Microsoft’s promise could be a real bargain here as we know that especially apps, tools and their specific combinations with Windows can be tricky sometimes.
Users are told to can scale processing power and monitor the performance of the Cloud PC to make sure they are getting the best experience. Additionally, the folks at Microsoft have also built analytics into their service to look at connection health across networks to make sure the Cloud PC-users can reach everything they need on their network to be productive. From the Endpoint Analytics dashboard, we may easily identify the Cloud PC-environments that are not delivering the performance needs of a given user. Not only can you get specific recommendations there but you can also upgrade them at the touch of a button, which is immediately applied without missing a beat. Microsoft’s new Watchdog Service also continually runs diagnostics to help to keep connections up-and-running at all times. If a diagnostic check fails, users will be alarmed and suggestions for how to correct the specific issue will be given.
No Trust without Zero Trust!
While I mentioned that, with distributing your workforce and services, security is still a Number One-criteria, Microsoft also addresses this important issue directly from the scratch: With a focus on a Zero Trust architecture, Windows 365 also helps solve for today’s critical security challenges by design, storing and securing information in the cloud, not on the single device. The well-known Multi-Factor authentication (MFA) works to explicitly verify any login or access attempt to a Cloud PC through integration with Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD).
Within Microsoft Endpoint Manager, customers can pair MFA with dedicated Windows 365 conditional access-policies to assess login risk instantly for each session. Microsoft also states to have designed the user and admin experiences around the principle of least privileged access. For example, users can delegate specific permissions like licensing, device management and Cloud PC management using specific roles, so users needing to deal with these settings don’t need to be a global administrator.
Customers can use the security baselines for Windows 10, Microsoft Defender for Endpoint and Microsoft Edge (just like they would for physical devices now) and Microsoft is quite proud to have built a cloud PC-specific security baseline to help customers and users to get started quickly.
Verdict — Time to embrace the Cloud PC!
Believe it or not, but even with being stuck between the worlds of macOS (home), Windows (work) and Linux I like the idea behind Windows 365 — and would like a macOS-derivate, too. I already adopted Microsoft 365 and some services as parts of my daily digital life on both major platforms and having the chance to connect to a Windows 10-instance whenever I need it is quite fine! As for now, I fire up a virtual machine or switch over to my Windows-PC to pursue some Windows-related tasks while Linux is always backing my various Open Source-environments but I like the idea of using a Windows-instance whenever (and wherever) I need it.
As for now, Microsoft hasn’t announced any kind of pricing. The plans are told to be announced on August 2nd where Windows 365 is going to be generally available. So far it is either not known if the service may be bundled with an existing Microsoft 365-subscription and which sizing are specifically available for rent, but plans are separated for Business- and Enterprise-use and may, according to some rumors, start with $31 a month, offering 2 vCPU, 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB disk space.
Whatever these plans will offer, one thing is for sure: This step Microsoft has now made is a definite commitment to deliver a hybrid Windows for a world with hybrid needs! It won’t be a solution for everyone and especially the tech-savvy users or people who just need fast and scalable Windows-PC will embrace this solution with open arms. An on-premises-PC will be cheaper but, in combination with connecting to a centralized rollout and dashboard administration from within Microsoft / Windows 365, show yet another side of the pay-per-use-medal: Scale up quickly where and when you want it, despite of the basic devices used on the endpoints.
Microsoft, you’ve paved the path — now make it available for everyone!