Windows 365, a new service announced today at the Microsoft Inspire conference, is basically an unintentional riff on the Yo Dawg meme: Microsoft put Windows in the cloud so you can run a Windows computer while running the computer. You can just call it a cloud PC, as Microsoft does. It’s basically a user – friendly virtual machine that lets you jump into your own Windows 10 (and eventually Windows 11) installation on any device, be it a Mac, iPad, Linux device or Android tablet. Xzibit would be proud.
While Windows 365 is not coming out of nowhere – rumors of a sort of Microsoft cloud PC effort have been swirling for months – its full scope is still surprising. It builds on Microsoft’s Azure Virtual Desktop service, which also allows technically savvy people to spin up their own virtual machines, but makes the whole process of managing a Windows installation on a remote server much easier. All you have to do is go to Windows365.com when it starts on August 2, select a virtual machine configuration and you’re up and running. (Unfortunately, we do not yet know how much the service will cost, but Microsoft says it will reveal final pricing on August 1.)
Windows 365 probably won’t mean much to most consumers, but it can be life-changing for IT departments and small businesses. Now, instead of managing local Windows installations on expensive laptops, IT people can manage with simpler hardware that is tapped into a scalable cloud. Windows 365 installations can be configured with up to eight virtual CPUs, 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage at launch. Microsoft is also exploring ways to bring in dedicated GPU power for more demanding users, says Scott Manchester, Director of Application Management for Windows 365.
In the meantime, smaller businesses can set up Windows 365 instances that their handful of employees can use on shared devices. And instead of dragging a workstation home, every Windows 365 user can safely jump back to their virtual desktops from their home PCs or tablets via the web or Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app. During a short demonstration of Windows 365, running apps and surfing the web seemed no different than a local PC. It is also fast enough to stream video without noticeable objects, says Manchester. (Microsoft also uses technology that can render video streaming on a local machine, as it is eventually transferred to your Cloud PC.) You will also be able to roll back your Cloud PC to previous states, which can be useful if you ever accidentally delete important files.
While the idea for Windows 365 came long before the pandemic, Microsoft workers spent the past year learning first-hand how useful a cloud PC could be. They used a tool meant for hybrid work – where you can easily switch between working in an office or remotely – while sitting at home during the pandemic.
But why develop Windows 365 when Azure Virtual Desktop already exists? Manchester tells us that Microsoft noticed that as many as 80 percent of AVD customers relied on third-party vendors to manage their installations. “Ultimately, they were looking for Microsoft to be a one-stop-shop for them to get all the services they need,” he said.
These statistics are not very surprising. Operating system virtualization has been a useful local tool for developers in recent decades, but it has usually been a little too difficult for regular users to manage on their own. And even if a tool like Azure Virtual Desktop brought it to the cloud (Manchester assures us that there will be no way either), it’s even harder to manage.
One thing Windows 365 does not mean, at least at this point, is the end of traditional computers. “I think we still want great client-PC experiences,” said Melissa Grant, director of product marketing for Windows 365, in an interview. “You know we have a relationship with our laptops. It’s our kind of home and hub for our computing experience. What we want to offer with Windows 365 is the ability to have the same familiar and consistent Windows experience across other devices. . “
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