In recent years a few key trends have become common in the software space. First, a lot of things that we used to do with local apps installed on our computers can now be done in the cloud… even gaming. And second, subscription-based software-as-a-service has become increasingly common.

All of which is to say, it was probably just a matter of time until Microsoft introduced Windows 365, a platform that basically hosts a Cloud PC on Microsoft’s servers, and allows subscribers to stream their entire Windows environment (apps and all) to any device including Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, or iOS devices.

This is hardly the first time someone has tried to host a desktop operating system on the web. I remember startups aiming to do something similar in the early days of Web 2.0… but they were typically just fake desktop environments hosted on a website with a very limited feature set.

Windows 365 basically puts an entire Windows environment in a virtual machine, allowing you to beam it anywhere. That means you can pick up where you left off on another machine. You don’t need a powerful device on your desk or in your hands to run complex tasks. And your software should always be up to date.

Microsoft says its software provides “an instant-on boot experience,” and a consistent experience wherever you are. Need to get something done from your laptop while you’re on vacation? You don’t need to worry about whether you remembered to download your files or install your software licenses from your work PC before you left. Everything’s in the cloud.

Microsoft will offers Windows 365 Business and Windows 365 Enterprise editions, and IT managers can manage their virtual Cloud PCs along with more traditional hardware. And virtual machines can be configured with entry-level hardware (a single CPU, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage) or beefier specs including up to 8 CPUs, 32GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage.

Of course, this means customers will basically pay a rental/subscription fee rather than buying Windows licenses outright. But depending on the pricing (Microsoft hasn’t explicitly spelled out how much the service will cost yet), it might make more financial sense for corporations to pay a monthly fee than paying for new hardware and software every few years. It’s the same sort of trade-off individuals and companies currently make when deciding whether to pay for a one-time Microsoft Office license or pay a lower up-front amount for Microsoft 365… and then keep paying it year-after-year for access to the latest features, but also knowing that if they stop paying, they lose access.

At least for now you still have the option. Some companies that have made the move from one-time payments to software-as-a-service have removed the option to pay anything but a subscription. I’m looking at you, Adobe Creative Cloud, with your subscription-based Photoshop, Premiere, and Audition.

Internet speeds have gotten fast enough (and low-latency enough) that cloud gaming has become viable in recent years. So the idea of streaming an entire operating system from the cloud makes sense.

But it also means that whether you’re gaming or working, your ability to get things done will likely depend on your connectivity. If your signal goes out or weakens and all of your apps or games are hosted on a remote server, you might not be able to access them.

via Microsoft (1)(2)(3)

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    1. Microsoft also has a much bigger and more comprehensive datamining/advertising/social engineering apparatus, which a remote VM can funnel data into, than Shadow PC, if Shadow PC had one at all.
      I think you also had to pay for the windows license on Shadow PC, while you won’t with this because Microsoft doesn’t have to buy licenses from Microsoft to spawn new VMS with impunity.

  1. In terms of use case, my company hosts Windows VMs for people with Apple/Linux PCs or Android/iOS/iPadOS devices as an alternative to local VMs if an employee chooses to. Although, they’d likely never allow externally hosted VMs like this.

    Maybe small companies might use this? I’ve seen IT folks in smaller companies or companies who don’t put much focus on IT infra do worse.

    For personal use, I’m having hard time

  2. As someone who works in an IT company, or by all means as a private customer, I really see no benefit in this whatsoever.

  3. Maybe for business, but as for a consumer, NEVER!!! Can I possibly make that any more clear? I will go back to using a pen and a piece of paper for everything if Windows365 ever becomes the only choice. Everyone thinks Facebook is bad about gathering personal information? Just wait until Microsoft has every key press you ever make.

  4. Why would anyone want their computer’s operating system to reside in a computing cloud instead of on the machine? Why would anyone want their computer’s operating system to function as some company’s sales tool? I do not want either.

    1. There’s a lot of things in this world that no one really wants or would be much happier without, but got coerced into putting up with anyway.
      As far as the desirability of windows 365 is concerned, it’s all about the business market. In addition to all that stuff I said, it means you can have your workers use the same exact VM whether they’re in the office or the government locked everything down again. That’s probably what the “hybrid windows for a hybrid world” tagline is all about.

    2. It’s about the cost of your time. If you’re a home PC user then your time is usually free so taking on the burden of managing a windows PC, applying updates, fixing it when it breaks is usually fine as it costs you nothing.

      When you’re a business it’s a different story. If I make money by baking bread I lose money by doing anything else. I do not want to spend time fixing my windows PC so I can run payroll, that’s time I could spend baking. I just want my PC to be an appliance that always works. If it’s cheaper to pay someone else to make my PC be an appliance than spend the time myself making fixes I will do that. This applies to basically everything a business does. If it makes you money do as much of it as possible and task someone else with anything they can do for less than you.

      1. Sounds like material taken from a Windows 365 sales training presentation…

        I’d be curious what the average MTBF of Windows computers is these days vs 25 to 35 years ago. All I can tell you is I’ve got home-built Sandy Bridge (now Ivy Bridge)- and Haswell-based desktop computers that have been running 24/7 for years now with nary a failure.

        As far as your bread business goes, the cost of your time to run payroll far exceeds any time you’d spend fixing the PC to run it on. That’s why many businesses farm out payroll and other services to companies like ADP, etc.

        As in most ‘make vs buy’ decisions for business services, there are economies of scale, cost curves, and other factors to consider that can vary from one company to the next. There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ argument…

        1. Nary a failure sure, but did you keep them ISO27001 compliant? Part of that is constant patching, backups etc so the system is in flux and more likely to fail.

          The whiff of sales is from me being a cloud infrastructure engineer. In that space businesses want to run their applications to make money and have 1-2 infrastructure engineers to 100 app devs so you’ve got to offload as much responsibility as possible or else get swamped. I’ll take AWS SQS over a physical server or rabbitMQ on an EC2 instance.

  5. Like I said earlier, when Microsoft owns both desktop windows and windows 365, they get to choose which product wins, and if I was going to bet on it, I’d bet on Windows 365.
    Whatever hardware level you might pick, they can price it so that it’d take you five or more years to save up enough money using your $200 chromebook to buy a windows computer with the same level of hardware. And business will love it for the same reason. No need to buy anything but the cheapest chromebooks. But they’ll have another reason: No more needing to worry about active directory or anything else used to manage workstations and users. Just buy chromebooks and connect them to the wifi router, that’s all the networking they’ll ever need to do. In fact if this catches on Microsoft can quit supporting Active Directory entirely; shut down the updates, take down the documentation, make room for more VMs. Furthermore, Microsoft can mess with, read, or cut off access to your files; they can’t read them while a your computer is off, but whenever you’re not using a VM they’re free to automatically read EVERYTHING.

    The only downside is you’ll own nothing (and you’ll be happy).
    BUT WHO CARES ABOUT YOU!? THERE’S MONEY TO BE MADE!

  6. Isn’t this available for long time? You rent a (virtual) server and they give you any OS you need and you access it from any device you want?
    VPS?

    1. The difference is that a VPS is a virtual PRIVATE server and you usually have to configure a bunch of stuff manually. With Windows 365, everything belongs to Microsoft, and they set everything up for you so that it’s simple enough that an orangutan could figure out how to connect to it, but it’s always set up their way.