An argument could be made that the need for tools that not only simplify but improve remote work has never been greater than it is today. In an increasingly connected world, leveraging cloud computing can be the answer to a lot of the challenges that businesses are currently facing.
With Windows 365, Microsoft is aiming to improve on existing technologies to make the cloud experience even better. By enabling the computing to be done remotely in a data center and then streamed to users’ devices, Microsoft can offer something that can be compared to game streaming.
As a new way of using a computer as hybrid Windows for a hybrid world, there’s plenty that we need to look into.
What are we looking at?
Just when people were thinking that Windows 10 would be the last in the line of Windows versions, Microsoft gives us another one.
A platform that in Microsoft’s own words is going to take the operating system to the Microsoft cloud and stream the full Windows experience to personal or corporate devices.
This will include settings, data, and apps. It’s what Microsoft calls the Cloud PC. Simply put, this is a service that allows business clients to access cloud PCs from anywhere.
So technically speaking, we should not look at this service as a new version of Windows. Rather, we should take it for what it truly is — a platform that is designed to stream the full experience of Windows 10 or 11 to any browser.
Regardless of which operating system your device may be running. If we are to consider how Microsoft’s Software-As-A-Service (SaaS) model has evolved over the last decade, this move was probably going to be the next step.
The announcement from Microsoft was made on the 14th of July and in that statement, it was made known that we should expect Windows 365 on the 2nd of August. This, however, will be for businesses. Chances are that at some point, Microsoft may eventually avail the service to consumers and small shops — sole proprietorships.
Giving clients virtual PCs
By providing this service, Microsoft can potentially cut partners out and provide virtual PCs directly to its clients. Rather than only offering operating systems, applications, productivity suites such as Microsoft Office, etc. Windows 365 can give Microsoft an even bigger slice of the pie. Because of the massive cloud system available with Azure servers, Microsoft won’t have a problem running virtual machines.
This can provide a great tool for the evolution of the Desktop-As-A-Service (DaaS) offering. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement, “Just like applications were brought to the cloud with SaaS, we are now bringing the operating system to the cloud, providing organizations with greater flexibility and a secure way to empower their workforce to be more productive and connected, regardless of location.”
How does it work?
According to the information that has been made available so far, we know that there will be two versions of Windows 365 — Business and Enterprise. Both of these will be powered by Azure Virtual Desktop. Users will be able to use Windows 365 on any modern web browser or through Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app.
What this means is that users can gain access to their Cloud PC from a variety of devices. In a statement by one of Microsoft 365’s general managers, Wangui McKelvey, he says, “Windows 365 provides an instant-on boot experience.”
This capability simplifies how users can easily stream their Windows sessions. And Windows 365 enables them to do that with all of their same apps, tools, data, and settings across Macs, iPads, Linux machines, and Android devices. As McKelvey goes on to explain, “You can pick up right where you left off, because the state of your Cloud PC remains the same, even when you switch devices.”
Advantages to businesses
Windows 365 can enable your businesses to create Cloud PCs within minutes and assign them to employees. And this can be done without the need for expensive, dedicated physical hardware.
Without a doubt, this could prove to be a very attractive option for plenty of businesses. Especially those that may need to hire remote workers or even temporary contract staff that need to securely access a corporate network.
Because your entire Windows PC is in the cloud, your employees can work comfortably on a very secure platform. Furthermore, they won’t need to navigate VPNs or worry about security on personal devices.
Other advantages that you can get include lower maintenance costs, better protection against cyberattacks and malware, faster provisioning, less downtime in case of cyberattacks, easier patching, and far less disruptive updates.
Expectedly, clients are going to have some concerns with regards to how this will affect their current licenses. Will you have to pay more, for potentially the same services? The way Microsoft puts it, that’s not what will happen.
For instance, if you already have a Microsoft 365 E3 license, then you have paid for that service and you won’t need to do so again. This means that you can continue to use the software you have paid for and that includes Windows 10.
When it comes to Windows 365 licenses, what you’ll need to pay for is access to the virtual PC service. The latter will be maintained by Microsoft on its vast network of servers with the aim of running the software that you already have.
In a way, you could consider it similar to purchasing a computer and then purchasing the operating system and applications that you need. As a new offering, things are still hazy but hopefully, Microsoft will further clarify the concerns and confusion that people may have.
One thing that we do know are the licensing requirements and they are as follows:
- On Windows Pro endpoints: Windows 10 Enterprise E3 + EMS E3; or Microsoft 365 F3, E3, E5 or BP (Business Premium),
- On non-Windows Pro endpoints: Windows VDA E3 + EMS E3; or Microsoft 365 F3, E3, F5, or BP (Business Premium).
In addition, you also need to know the non-licensing requirements:
- Azure subscription,
- Virtual Network (vNET) in Azure subscription,
- Hybrid Azure Active Directory (AAD) join-enabled.
Cost of service
With the licensing issues out of the way, clients need to know just how much they will need to pay to use Windows 365. Unfortunately, despite the service launching so soon, Microsoft has yet to officially provide a guideline with regards to how much clients will pay. But, during a session at its Inspire partner conference, Microsoft did inadvertently mention how much Business plans would cost. And that came down to $31 per user, per month.
For this, you will get support for 2 CPUs as well as 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. However, it is worth noting that we can expect at least one other plan that will cost less. Clients can look forward to having an option for 1 PC, 2GB of RAM, and 64GB storage, aimed at small businesses.
Furthermore, there will also be Enterprise plans that can offer support for 4 or 8 different PCs, in addition to 8/16/32 GB of RAM and 128/256/512GB of storage. For now, however, clients can only guess how much they will have to fork out to access these plans.
Enhancing the capabilities of hybrid work
The global pandemic has changed the way that enterprises look at some of their business practices. With people having had to spend long periods of time at home, businesses had to increase their dependence on virtual processes and remote collaboration. It was necessary to keep businesses running and retain employees.
Although the situation is getting under control in several regions across the globe, the way businesses operate may potentially change. With Windows 365, businesses can tackle head-on the challenges that cloud computing and remote work has often presented.
Organizations will be able to provide employees with greater flexibility and more options to work from different locations. All of this while still ensuring the security of the organization’s data. This is because by taking advantage of the Cloud PC, you get hybrid personal computing that can turn all of your devices into a personalized, productive, and secure digital workspace.
Having this capability will simplify the process of managing seasonal workers without the challenges of issuing new hardware or securing personal devices. As said by Microsoft itself, Windows 365 offers you a better, more modern way to deliver a great productivity experience with increased versatility, simplicity, and security.
Are we getting two Windows versions?
As mentioned above, most people were of the belief that Windows 10 would be the last version we would get. And then in June, Microsoft announced Windows 11. Barely a few weeks after that announcement, along came Windows 365. So not one, but two new versions? But, it’s not quite as simple as that.
Windows 11 is the actual successor to Windows 10. It’s a new operating system packed with new features such as a brand new Start menu that no longer uses Live Tiles. It also comes with new system requirements such as CPUs based on the x64 architecture since there is no 32-bit version of Windows 11. That’s in addition to the 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage you’ll need to install Windows 11.
So basically, Microsoft has only actually provided one new product, Windows 11 to succeed Windows 10. Windows 365, on the other hand, is something of a hybrid between a virtual machine and Microsoft Remote Desktop.
It’s the subscription service that allows you to create Cloud PCs that run Windows 10 or eventually Windows 11. So the platform is not tied to a particular operating system version therefore you pay a monthly fee based on the hardware configuration you want your PC to have.
What about Azure Virtual Desktop?
Another point that requires clarification is with regards to Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD). Why does Microsoft feel the need to have another VDI? For starters, Windows 365 appears to be more user-friendly than AVD.
Navigation has been made easier and the process of setting up an Azure Virtual Desktop system in the Azure cloud is also significantly less complicated. This is because Windows 365 focuses more on simplicity as compared to Azure whose goal is flexibility.
With Windows 365, you can let Microsoft handle the core infrastructure and platform piece. This is because the platform comes in the form of Software-As-A-Service. On the other hand, with AVD, clients need to manage a supporting Azure subscription, configure and implement the platform services required to allow a thin-client or Remote Desktop client to connect in.
So basically Windows 365 is an automated version of AVD that is aimed at companies of all sizes, including small businesses. Unlike AVD which targets the enterprise market. Below are some guidelines that Microsoft provides for you to choose the product that best suits you.
Azure Virtual Desktop:
- Windows 10 personalized and multi-session desktops and remote app streaming.
- Full control over management and deployment plus options for Citrix and VMware integration.
- Flexible consumption-based pricing.
- Windows 10 personalized desktops.
- Management and deployment with familiar desktop tools and skills.
- Predictable per-user pricing.
Windows 365 is introducing a whole different concept to both the Software-As-A-Service and Desktop-As-A-Service environments. This new platform seeks to set the tone for a more modern computing experience that can benefit businesses as well as individuals.
It’s still early stages and there is still a lot that we don’t know.
However, what is certain is that this is more than just a cloud-based version of Windows and can offer ersatz hardware as well. All of this is definitely going to make the future of cloud computing a lot more interesting.