Windows 365: What You Should Know

When Windows 365 was unveiled by Redmond at its Microsoft Inspire 2021 event in July, there was expectedly a lot of buzz around it. And as always happens with such announcements, there were a lot of questions mixed in with the excitement. Questions to which there have been more speculation than clear answers. Until now.

With the launch of Windows 365, clients can start to look into what exactly Microsoft is offering and why their businesses may need it. You can now take Windows 10 or eventually Windows 11 with you on your travels, wherever those may lead.

As the workplace environment continues to evolve, this capability offers businesses a better solution to some of the challenges they have been facing. So, with that said, let’s take a deeper look into Windows 365.

Getting set up

Windows 365 Business: You’ll have to start by accessing the virtual operating system and acquiring Windows 365 licenses. To do that, you would need to go to the admin center in the Microsoft 365 account, navigate to the ‘Billing’ section, and select ‘Purchase services’. Once there, proceed to select the configuration that is most ideal for your needs. You can then complete the ordering process as you would when purchasing other Microsoft services.

With that done, head back to the Microsoft 365 admin center console and begin assigning licenses to users. Go to the ‘Users’ section, and select ‘Active users’. From here, you can assign users in your organization a Windows 365 deployment.

For each user, select ‘Licenses and apps’ on their profile, assign a Windows 365 license and then save the changes. After this, users can start using Windows 365 by going to the Windows 365 web portal and logging in with their details.

Windows 365 Enterprise: For the most part, the process for setting up the Enterprise version is not a lot different. But, because this version has extra features and tools that the Business version does not have, the process does have some variations.

To start, once you have purchased and assigned licenses, you’ll need an on-prem network connection to create Cloud PCs, join them to your specific domain, and allow you to manage them via MEM.

After that, you need to create a group policy in the Microsoft 365 admin center. Then, choose an image, select the Windows 10 Enterprise version, and assign the Azure AD group to apply to the provisioning policy. After this, you can save these settings and create the policy.

It’s at this point that the Azure AD group members that you’ve assigned to the policy will directly receive the Cloud PC licenses that you add. The Cloud PCs will need about 30 minutes before they are ready to use. And then, just like the process for the Business edition, users can start using Windows 365 by going to the Windows 365 web portal and logging in with their details.

Plans and pricing

Over the last few weeks, this has been one of the areas of great interest. Despite all the information about Windows 365 that Microsoft had made public, this key area had not been addressed. But now, with the product having been launched, that confusion has been cleared up.

There are two subscription options on offer, Windows 365 Business and Windows 365 Enterprise. The former is targeted at companies with no more than 300 employees while the latter is meant for larger organizations. However, they both share the same range of features with a total of twelve Windows 365 cloud PC configurations to choose from.

At the lower end, is a subscription aimed at frontline and call center workers that costs $20 per user per month. On offer is 1vCPU, 2GB RAM, and 64GB storage. This should be adequate for the lightweight computing tasks that this group performs.

And at the other end of the pricing spectrum you get support for 8vCPU, 32GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and 70GB of outbound data as an option. This will cost $158 per user per month and is for users that need to perform compute-heavy tasks.

The pricing and configuration options are consistent across both Windows 365 Business and Enterprise.

The launch has gone well

If the first few days after the launch are any indication, then Microsoft may potentially have a winner on their hands. As expected, there were doubts as to whether clients would be interested in Windows 365 when they already had Azure Virtual Desktop. But, the demand for free trials has already been so overwhelming that Microsoft has had to press pause. After only a single day of sign-ups, the service had reached maximum capacity. 

Thus, Microsoft has had to come out and address the situation. “Following significant demand, we have reached capacity for Windows 365 trials,” reads a statement from the Microsoft 365 Twitter account. “We have seen an unbelievable response to Windows 365 and need to pause our free trial program while we provision additional capacity,” explains Scott Manchester, director of Windows 365 program management. It obviously would be far too premature to call Windows 365 a success, but if it delivers what it has promised then we can expect interest in the service to grow even more.

Business or Enterprise?

As already mentioned, Windows 365 has two versions on offer, Business and Enterprise. But, is the difference as simple as one is targeted at smaller businesses and the other at larger organizations? Truth is, it’s a little more than that.

Windows 365 Business is the simpler version of the two and is aimed at businesses with no more than 300 users. Because everything works with Azure AD natively, and all the components run inside the Microsoft cloud, prerequisites are kept simple. There are no technological prerequisites and no need for an Azure subscription or a domain controller.

Windows 365 Enterprise, meanwhile, is meant for larger organizations and offers a wider range of tools and features for maintenance and security. As a result, it’s more complex and requires greater technical expertise to deploy and manage. Features that come with the Enterprise version include the following:

  • self-serve upgrades,
  • universal print integration,
  • partner and programmatic enablement,
  • custom images and image management.

Impact of Windows 365

Windows 365 is designed to be a simple, secure, and versatile solution that can transform your IT operations for the better. It utilizes the power of the Windows operating system and the strength of the cloud to offer businesses greater peace of mind in three key ways:

Powerful: Users can instantly boot on to their personal Cloud PCs to stream apps, tools, data, and settings from the cloud across any device. This will give you the full PC experience in the cloud. And because of the capabilities of the cloud, you’ll get versatility in processing power and storage and this enables IT to scale up or down, based on their needs.

Simple: Windows 365 provides an all-around simplified cloud computing experience. Users can log in and pick up right where they left off across devices. And for IT pros, deployment, updates, and management are a lot less complicated to perform. Mostly because Windows 365 doesn’t require any virtualization experience.

Since the service is optimized for the endpoint, it makes the job easier for IT to procure, deploy, and manage Cloud PCs for their organization just as they manage physical PCs through Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

Secure: By leveraging the power of the cloud as well as Zero Trust, Microsoft has made Windows 365 a highly secure platform. This enables businesses’ data to be kept secure on the cloud and not on devices.

Additional user information

Before signing up for Windows 365, there are a few things that clients need to be aware of. Things that they can and cannot do. For instance, you only get allowance for 1 user per license and so there is no support for multiple users on a single Cloud PC.

Another thing is that if you need to cancel your Windows 365 subscription, all you need to do is go to the Microsoft 365 admin center. However, you should know that when you cancel a subscription, all associated data will be deleted.

If you are an Enterprise client and you want to upgrade to another Windows 365 plan, use the Resize feature to upgrade RAM, CPU, and storage size to meet the users’ needs. This can be a great benefit for users who may need a more powerful Cloud PC to run CPU-intensive apps.

On the other hand, though, you cannot as yet perform a downgrade. Also, if you have a Windows 365 Business license, you cannot convert it to Windows 365 Enterprise. The only way around it would be to purchase the Enterprise license.

Hybrid benefit

Microsoft also offers another feature known as Windows Hybrid Benefit that is meant to make the Windows 365 experience even better. The former is a licensing benefit that helps reduce the cost of Windows 365 Business. In actual figures, what Windows Hybrid Benefit offers clients is a discount of up to 16 percent. And this will apply to your Windows 365 Business subscription for clients that are already using Windows 10 Pro on a device.

Therefore, Windows Hybrid Benefit is a feature that you have access to if you have devices with valid Windows 10 Pro licenses. A couple of things are necessary from all users that are assigned a Windows 365 Business license with a Windows Hybrid Benefit license:

  1. The user must be the primary user of a Windows 10 Pro licensed device,
  2. The device in question needs to be their primary work device.

However, you’ll need to maintain your discounted pricing during the subscription term in which you access the Windows 365 service. And to do that you must access the service from your Windows 10 Pro licensed device at least once during that term.

What about Microsoft partners?

Over the years, Microsoft partners have played a key role in the delivery of Microsoft services to clients across the globe. The broad range of products and services in Microsoft’s portfolio has meant that partners have the power to build innovative, industry-specific solutions. And Windows 365 should continue that trend.

The new Cloud PC offers Microsoft partners plenty of opportunities to deliver new Windows experiences in the cloud. Whether you’re an independent software vendor (ISV), managed service provider, or an original equipment manufacturer, there are opportunities to take advantage of.

Businesses still need systems integrators and managed service providers to get the best from their Microsoft products. ISVs can still create Windows apps that can enhance how businesses operate while OEMs have the opportunity to better integrate Windows 365 into their wide array of products and services. By doing this, Microsoft partners can facilitate the creation of innovative, new ways of doing business that can bring about digital transformation. Therefore, the decades-long partnership that has benefited clients so immensely will not be ending.

Conclusion

Microsoft is looking for ways to constantly improve the work experience by leveraging the power of the cloud. And with Windows 365, the idea is to provide employees with technology that is secure, efficient, and easy to use. All this while enabling employees to remain productive anywhere and using any device.

Also, by giving users a familiar experience and IT simple processes for managing and deploying Cloud PCs, this cloud-based service will optimize IT operations for everyone. However, as a recently launched service, only time will tell how exactly and to what extent Windows 365 will affect the way businesses operate.

Once most clients have had an opportunity to use and review it, then conclusions can be made. But, the early signs point towards a positive, modern transformation that will boost most businesses.

Microsoft Launches Windows 365

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.

Launch date

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.

Licensing concerns

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 365:

  • Windows 10 personalized desktops.
  • Management and deployment with familiar desktop tools and skills.
  • Predictable per-user pricing.

Wrap Up

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.