August 2nd, 2021 7:49 am

Windows 365 — Microsoft’s cloud-based OS explained

Microsoft’s new take on desktop-as-a-service is more than just a cloud-based version of Windows. It also allows the company to offer up ersatz hardware — virtual machines running on a vast cloud of Azure servers.

Microsoft last week introduced Windows 365, a new service that lets the company cut partners out of the money-making loop by providing virtual PCs to customers.

Rather than provide only the operating system or the OS and bits of other software — notably productivity applications in the form of Office — Microsoft will soon also serve up ersatz hardware, virtual machines running on its vast cloud of Azure servers.

Dubbed “desktop as a service” (DaaS, in keeping with other, similar acronyms) by some, Microsoft’s tagged its offering as “Cloud PC” as in “Windows 365 is your PC in the cloud.”

“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,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a statement.

While DaaS in general, and Windows 365 specifically, has the potential to dramatically change how computing takes place in commercial settings, there’s nothing inevitable about it. Many will object to ceding the privacy of a local box to the servers of, in this case, Microsoft, for example.

And Microsoft, already active in PC manufacturing with its Surface line — originally touted as examples for OEMs, something that’s been discarded as a talking point — puts itself into further conflict with hardware partners with Windows 365. When the desktop is streamed, what purpose does a high-powered laptop-on-the-lap serve? Will OEMs be relegated to making cheap Chromebook-like machines that need only run a browser?

Windows 365 is really a developing story, as Microsoft has promised to elaborate as the early-August launch nears. But we’ve assembled a first-pass set of questions and answers.
What is Windows 365?

At its simplest, it’s a virtualization service that provides a Windows desktop and first- and third-party applications to users with both PC and non-PC hardware.

Maybe it’s better to think of it as a streaming service. Rather than stream movies and TV shows, it streams the output of a Windows 10-, or when it’s available, a Windows 11-powered PC. The controller is the keyboard, touchscreen, mouse, even the microphone of whatever device is in front of the user.

It’s also the latest incarnation of the thin computing model, which harks to the beginnings of digital computing when the computer was massive and cost multi-millions — and endpoints were unintelligent terminals. Like that model, Windows 365 runs the virtual desktop on servers at a distance; the data is transferred over the Internet rather than an organization’s network.

When will Windows 365 launch?

Microsoft says to expect Windows 365 on Aug. 2.

That’s for business. It’s likely that Microsoft will offer the service to consumers and very small shops — sole proprietorships, say — at some point. But that’s not going to happen right out of the gate.

What are the requirements for running Windows 365?

While their number is not legion, they are many. Conveniently, they break down into two categories: Licensing and Other.

What are the licensing requirements?

Remember, you asked for this.

  • 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).

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