Disclosure: Microsoft Client to the author.
This week Microsoft held an analysis event on Windows 11 and a variety of productivity, management, and security features the company has planned. Over the past couple of years, Microsoft has aggressively improved both Windows and Office 365, but the next big change is the potential mix of Windows with Windows 365. We’ll see that starting by the end of the year. The end game should be what appears to be a Windows desktop that integrates so well with the cloud that, when necessary, it can seamlessly switch between instances to comply with corporate policy, ensure security, and provide on-demand automatic fallback from Azure Cloud.
Falling behind for OS upgrades is becoming more and more serious
One of the big improvements to both Windows 10 and 11 includes security. Until the early 2000s, Microsoft didn’t take security seriously and left it up to companies like McAfee and Symantec to fill in the loopholes. This was the one lesson Microsoft had to learn from IBM in the 1980s, although it did eventually learn the lesson. Now, not only is the focus on security at Microsoft serious, it has progressed admirably year after year.
It also means that the company is moving much more quickly to address security threats and re-engineer Windows for those threats. In the past, there was little incentive to do this outside of usability and UI changes (which worked in Vista and especially Windows 8 against early deployment). Today, the danger of staying on an outdated version is the increased likelihood of credentials being compromised, systems compromised, and systems that have not been updated become hosts of malware, especially ransomware.
I’m a former internal auditor and my team used to punish people who made peerless but ridiculous decisions, like delaying an OS upgrade when that decision opened up the company to attack. By punishing, I mean those employees were fired. Today’s risk landscape is so extreme that practices need to favor an approach that focuses more on malware protection and less concern about reducing the pain of an upgrade.
Businesses may also want to prefer secure PCs in their specifications for much the same reason: they provide the strongest protection for hardware, software, firmware, access, and credentials without negatively impacting productivity. It has simply become too risky to postpone changes that increase your security profile. Being new to the operating system, up to date on patching and owning the most secure hardware can go a long way to ensuring the next breach occurs for some other companies. Microsoft has even created a unique security processor called Pluton, which should be in your PC’s specs as a requirement from now on.
Windows 11 + Windows 365 and the future
Once Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft, the company started its pivot from a desktop software operating system and platform company to a cloud software and platform company. It should come as no surprise that Microsoft is now beginning to merge the two offerings. Initially, this will allow companies to maintain cloud instances of Windows that are potentially more secure than desktop computers — and can remain secure, even on consumer-grade machines. Initially, this will allow for increasingly smooth movement between the two environments, and each environment will be hermetically secured. Therefore, if one side is compromised, the other will not be injured.
Users will be able to easily switch between environments they will automatically pull from cloud services as needed, whether it is a hybrid environment or just a cloud environment, never knowing or caring about the difference.
Microsoft has talked about a bunch of other features to better organize files and folders; Provides greater flexibility for hybrid work; and improve remote management and provisioning. But it’s the big improvements in security and cloud integration that will make the most difference. The former will push ever more aggressive upgrade cycles to deal with the growing threats; The second is on the path of automating every aspect of desktop management, with artificial intelligence (AI) technology that dynamically adapts to how each user works.
The idea of using AI to uniquely modify your user experience based on how you use a tool is the biggest promise of AI — systems that adapt to you, not the other way around. When that begins to emerge soon, it will change the Windows experience forever, and it could be an even bigger advance than Windows 95 represents.
Microsoft is delivering some great achievements later this year. I am eager to try them out.
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