Microsoft is holding an event in New York City on May 2nd, where the company is expected to unveil new software, and maybe some new hardware. ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, who tracks these things closely, thinks there’s a good chance the May 2nd event will be the official coming out part for Windows Cloud, a new light-weight version of Windows that we’ve been hearing about for a few months.
The operating system is expected to look and act nearly identical to other versions of Windows 10. But out of the box it will only let you download and install Windows Store apps.
Theoretically this could make Windows 10 Cloud more secure than Windows 10 Home or Pro. It could also help guarantee acceptable performance even on entry-level hardware. It’s likely that Windows Cloud will be a cheaper version of Microsoft’s flagship operating system that could be used on low-cost computers.
In other words, Windows Cloud could be Microsoft’s latest attempt to take on cheap laptops running Google’s Chrome OS. But does Microsoft need such an operating system? And do users want it?
This all feels kind of familiar. When everybody and their kid brother was releasing a tablet with a low-cost, low-power ARM processor, Microsoft built a version of Windows 8 for ARM-based devices. It was called Windows RT and it looked like Windows but it couldn’t run most Windows applications. It was kind of a flop.
A few years before that, Microsoft tried to take on a different type of small, cheap notebook: the netbook. When Asus launched the original Eee PC in 2007 it ran a Linux-based operating system rather than Windows. For some people that was part of the appeal. For others, it was an obstacle to overcome.
Part of what prompted me to start this website was the amount of interest there was in my articles about how to install Windows XP on the Eee PC.
Microsoft lowered the Windows license fees for small, low-cost laptops and Linux netbooks became a thing of the past as more and more PC makers shipped models with Windows software. Then netbooks themselves sort of faded away.
Or did they? Almost nobody uses the word “netbook” anymore, but their legacy lives on in affordable portable computers including Windows, Android, and iOS tablets and convertibles, cheap Windows notebooks, and perhaps most of all, in Chromebooks.
Not all Chromebooks are dirt cheap. But some certainly are. And part of the reason is that device makers don’t have to pay for the operating system. Google gives it away for free.
If Windows 10 Cloud is offered as a cheaper alternative to Windows 10 Home, it could allow PC makers to shave a few bucks off the price of entry-level computers. But here’s the thing: you can already buy dirt-cheap Windows notebooks.
At a time when it’s not uncommon to find fully functional Windows laptops priced below $170, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would opt for a less functional version of Windows in an effort to save a buck.
One problem is that new PCs aren’t just competing with Chromebooks. They’re also competing with older PCs. Can’t find a super-cheap 2017 model? Then consider picking up a refurbished 2016 model.
Anyway, I’m curious to see what Microsoft has planned for Windows Cloud. But I’m a bit skeptical about whether this new effort will be another Windows RT (a failed attempt to compete with Android), or if it will work out more like Microsoft’s move to offer low-cost Windows XP and Windows 7 license options for PC makers (which contributed to the drop in netbooks shipping with GNU/Linux software).