Microsoft puts PCs in the cloud with Windows 365

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Microsoft puts Windows in the cloud. Windows 365 is a new service that allows businesses to access cloud PCs from anywhere by streaming any version of Windows 10 or Windows 11 in a web browser. While virtualization and remote access to PCs has been around for more than a decade, Microsoft is turning to Windows 365 to bring cloud PCs to businesses just as they transition to a mix of office and remote work.

Windows 365 runs on any modern web browser or through Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app, allowing users to access their cloud PC from different devices. “Windows 365 provides an instant-on startup experience,” said Wangui McKelvey, general manager for Microsoft 365. With this instant access, employees can stream their Windows session using all of their same apps, tools, data, and settings on Macs, iPads, Linux machines and Android devices. “You can pick up where you left off because the health of your Cloud PC stays the same even if you switch devices,” explains McKelvey.

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Windows 365 streams Windows to a web browser.
Image: Microsoft

Windows 365 will only be available to businesses when it launches on August 2, with a monthly subscription fee per user. Microsoft won’t give exact pricing details until the service launches next month, but Windows 365 is designed for sole proprietors up to and including enterprises with thousands of employees.

There will be two editions of Windows 365: Business and Enterprise. Both are powered by Azure Virtual Desktop and individual cloud PCs can be configured with a single CPU, 2 GB RAM and 64 GB storage space on the low end, up to eight CPUs, 32 GB RAM and 512 GB storage space. Microsoft offers 12 different configurations for both Windows 365 Business and Enterprise, and businesses will be able to scale processing power, so there are many options to choose from.

Technically speaking, Microsoft’s offering of Windows in the cloud isn’t much different from the myriad of choices businesses already have with virtualization. Microsoft has already offered similar technology with Azure Virtual Desktop, and Citrix has offered cloud-hosted desktop PCs for years. Where Microsoft tries to distinguish itself is in both ease of use and management. “Windows 365 is really going to make a huge difference to organizations that wanted to try virtualization for a variety of reasons, but couldn’t — maybe it was too expensive, too complex, or they didn’t have the in-house expertise to do it,” McKelvey says.

Businesses can create cloud PCs in minutes.
Image: Microsoft

Businesses can create cloud PCs and assign them to employees in minutes, eliminating the need for dedicated physical hardware. That can be attractive to many companies that hire remote workers or even temporary contract workers who need secure access to a corporate network. Because your entire Windows PC is in the cloud, employees don’t have to navigate VPNs or worry about security on personal devices.

While Windows 365 seems perfectly timed for businesses looking to tackle the complexities of remote working, Microsoft has been working on the service for years. The operating systems group at Microsoft had been working on a project codenamed “Arcadia,” a service to stream video games from the cloud. Arcadia dates all the way back to Microsoft demonstrating Halo running on a Windows Phone in 2013. This early virtualization work eventually led to Windows 365 and a focus on making it easy to use.

“When we built this team, we brought in a few leaders who had experience with virtualization, but for the most part we brought in people who had experience with Windows and experience with consumer experiences, because that was the bar we wanted to set,” says Scott Manchester, director of program management for Windows 365.

Windows 365 is designed to be easy for businesses to use.
Image: Microsoft

The pandemic accelerated work on Windows 365 and Microsoft’s broader focus on hybrid work. Microsoft has steadily improved Microsoft Teams over the past year and its vision for the future of meetings, remote working and more.

While Windows 365 is business-only right now, it’s easy to imagine a future where Microsoft could provide consumers with more powerful PC computing right in a browser. A startup called Mighty offers a $30 a month web browser that lives in the cloud, designed to provide a better web experience on older laptops and PCs. Windows 365 is arguably the first major step toward a future where you don’t need a dedicated Windows PC to run Windows.

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