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.