Microsoft has finally unveiled Windows 365, its new PC-as-a-service offering that allows users to stream a Windows desktop to any of their devices and from any location.
Billed as “a new way to experience Windows 10 or Windows 11”, the virtualization service could open up a host of new opportunities for businesses, from a cost, administration and productivity perspective.
Instead of hosting the operating system and applications locally, using up both storage and computing resources, Windows 365 lets users stream their apps, data and settings to any of their devices – including those that run on macOS, Linux or Android.
From the perspective of IT managers, Windows 365 makes provisioning and patch management simple, while cutting hardware performance requirements.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? A virtualization service for Windows 10 and Windows 11
- When is it available? August 2 2021
- How much does it cost? Charged on a per user per month basis, but pricing is TBC
- Who is the target audience? Businesses of all sizes
What is it?
Whispers of a new Windows virtualization service first emerged last summer, when Microsoft accidentally put out a public job description that contained details about the project. A number of leaks added to speculation over the course of the year, until Microsoft officially unveiled Windows 365 at its annual Inspire conference in July.
Codenamed Deschutes, Windows 365 is built on top of Azure Virtual Desktop, but is said to simplify the virtualization experience by handling all the nitty gritty.
Underneath the umbrella of Windows 365 sits Cloud PC, a business-focused service that lets employees use their devices as thin clients, with Windows 10 or 11 streamed in via the cloud. The quantity of storage and computing resources are assigned to each user by the IT department, on a case-by-case basis.
The implications for businesses could be significant, allowing companies to cut down on both hardware costs and IT administration, while still providing employees with the tools they need.
Pricing and availability
Microsoft Windows 365 will be available from August 2 for businesses of all sizes, not just large enterprises.
The service is split into two configurations – Windows 365 Business and Windows 365 Enterprise – and billed on a per user per month basis. Both subscription packages offer access to the same range of features, but differ when it comes to the performance options.
Specific pricing is yet to be confirmed, but Microsoft has revealed that businesses will be able to tune each Cloud PC deployment up and down, depending on the resources needed by specific employees. Further, it will be easy to add and remove employees as need fluctuates throughout the season, with a corresponding effect on cost.
Windows 365 Cloud PC features
According to Microsoft, there will be a number of benefits to using Cloud PCs versus traditional Windows devices, flexibility chief among them.
Built with hybrid working in mind, Windows 365 makes device switching simple, maintaining a consistent state across all computers, laptops and tablets to let workers pick up precisely where they left off.
“The ability to work whenever, however, and wherever it’s needed has become the new normal. All employees want technology that is familiar, easy to use, and available across devices,” said Wangui McKelvey, GM Microsoft 365, when the service was first announced.
“In the most complex cybersecurity environment we’ve ever seen, businesses need a solution that helps their employees collaborate, share and create while also keeping their data secure. We have an opportunity to design the tools that will empower this new world of hybrid work with a new perspective – and the power and security of the cloud.”
From a security perspective, Microsoft says Windows 365 will help businesses navigate a number of the issues that have presented themselves both during the pandemic and before.
Integrations with the company’s various security and identity management services (such as Azure Active Directory and Microsoft Defender for Endpoint) make setting up multi-factor authentication and conditional access simple. And encryption is applied across the board, from data at rest to network traffic running to and from Cloud PCs.
Microsoft has also been careful to keep the needs of IT managers top of mind when developing the service. Not only will ramping storage and computing resources up or down for individual users be made much easier, but Cloud PCs will also appear alongside physical devices in Microsoft Endpoint Manager, making provisioning and patch management a breeze.
Windows 365 vs. Cloud PC: What’s the difference?
Understandably, Microsoft’s announcement has left some people wondering about the difference between Windows 365 and Cloud PC.
From what we can glean, Cloud PC is currently the one and only use case for Windows 365, but Microsoft has left the door open for further use cases to be unveiled in future – potentially even for consumers.
Here’s what a Microsoft spokesperson told us when we asked for clarification:
“Windows 365 creates a new hybrid personal computing category called Cloud PC, which uses both the power of the cloud and the capabilities of the device to provide a full, personalized Windows experience.”
“A Cloud PC is Windows 10 or Windows 11 streamed from the cloud. For example, IT can provision a Cloud PC powered by Windows 365 using familiar management tools like Microsoft Endpoint Manger and manage them just like they manage their traditional physical PCs today.”
TechRadar Pro will update this hub as more details emerge.