I’ve been saying for a long time that Microsoft’s main plan for Windows is to move you to the cloud-based desktop as a service (DaaS) model. Earlier this year, I pointed out that Windows 11 was pushing us towards Windows as a Service (WaaS).
The march continues. At last week’s “Windows Powers the Future of Hybrid Work” virtual event and in its research paper, New Experiences in Windows 11 and Windows 365 Empowering New Ways to Work, Microsoft laid out the next steps in its vision for the future Windows desktop.
I’ve already told you what this vision is, so I’ll let the head of Microsoft Windows and Surface, Panos Panay, explain that this is “just the beginning of Windows and Microsoft’s cloud integration.” In fact, this is not the beginning. But it’s becoming impossible to pretend that Microsoft isn’t moving old-fashioned desktop-centric users to the cloud-based desktop.
As Wangui McKelvey, General Manager of Microsoft 365 explained: “We combine the power of the cloud with the knowledge of the PC.” How do? By introducing the following DaaS-compatible features soon, but without an exact date.
Booting Windows 365: With this, you can set up a cloud profile that you can boot directly from. You will not have to first boot into Windows on the device. This means, in theory, that you’ll be able to run WaaS on a Mac, Chromebook, or even a Linux PC. It’s for devices that are shared between employees or for companies that let you bring your own device (BYOD) to your work. So, if you work from home, this allows you to use your home computer while keeping all your work on the cloud.
I can see this for companies that have understandable concerns about letting their workers keep company secrets on the same computer that kids use to play Fortnite. As McKelvey points out, this allows you to use Windows 365 Cloud PC with its credentials on any computer.
Windows 365 app: With this, you can pin your custom Cloud Desktop to your Windows 11 taskbar and/or Start menu for easy access.
Windows 365 Switch: This new Task Switcher functionality enables you to switch between Cloud PC and local desktop.
Windows 365 Offline: Finally, and almost certainly out of the way, you’ll be able to work with their Cloud PC image even when you’re not connected to the Internet or the Windows 365 service. When you’re back online, you can automatically reconnect and re-sync without losing any work. (Google’s Chrome OS already has some of that capacity.)
I can see the advantages and disadvantages of both old school standalone desktop and DaaS. Personally, I will always prefer a PC where – not Microsoft or anyone else – I have effective control over the landscape and portrait. On the other hand, if I’m a business, especially with many people who work from home or employees who have one foot in the office and the other at home with a hybrid model, I can see the appeal of the DaaS.
There are many other DaaS alternatives, but Windows 365 is hard to bet thanks to Microsoft’s massive desktop market share.
The only problem with Microsoft, as I see it – since I know most users don’t care about security, privacy and personal control like I do – is the cost. A Windows 365 Cloud PC isn’t cheap.
For example, Microsoft never tells us the cost of the next generation of Windows 365. But we do know that Windows 365 Business Cloud PC runs from $31 per month per user to $66 per month per user, while Windows 365 Enterprise Cloud PC prices start at $33/month per user and that goes up to $66/month, per user.
My wallet hurts just thinking about it.
But, with Apple exploring a monthly subscription plan for iPhone and iPad with what’s likely to be a higher price tag, this could be the future for both desktop and mainstream devices. It’s not something I really care about, but we actually do most of our work online anyway. I mean Microsoft 365, formerly Office 365, software as a service (SaaS) is more popular than the old-fashioned Office Home & Student 2021.
Like it or not, it looks like the future of the desktop will really be in the cloud.
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