Microsoft brings Windows to the cloud with Windows 365 and Cloud PC

Starting August 2, Microsoft will start selling subscriptions to virtualized Windows desktops, apps, data, and settings as part of a new Windows 365 service connecting to a Cloud PC 'experience.'
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: TechRepublic

Microsoft officially took the wraps off its newest virtualization service on July 14 with the debut of Windows 365 and Cloud PC. This new service, built on top of Azure Virtual Desktop, will allow users to bring their Windows 10 or (once it's available later this fall), Windows 11 desktop, apps, tools, data, and settings to their personal and work devices, including PCs, Macs, iPads, Linux, and Android devices, via a native Remote Desktop application or web browser.

Microsoft's pitch is Cloud PC will provide a secured place to store apps, files, and documents, which users will be able to access anytime on any internet-connected device. Information is stored in the cloud, not on the device. When moving between devices, users can boot up quickly and pick up exactly where they last left off, regardless of device type. 

Microsoft is planning to make Windows 365 and Cloud PC generally available starting August 2 and to announce per user, per month pricing for the service around that same time. There will be multiple price points and plans available for purchase, which will offer different amounts of processing power, storage and memory. Unlike the case with Azure Virtual Desktop (the service formerly known as Windows Virtual Desktop), Windows 365/Cloud PC will be available for a flat subscription rate and not a constantly changing rate based on the consumption of cloud services. 

Microsoft 365/Office 365 will continue to be available as separate subscriptions. And using Windows in a virtualized manner with Windows 365 will be an option, not a requirement. Users still will be able to run Windows and their Windows apps locally if that's preferable for them.

Leaks about the existence of Microsoft's Cloud PC, codenamed "Deschutes," have been circulating for more than a year. Microsoft officials are now using "Cloud PC" to refer to the Windows experience that users will log into via Windows 365, which is the actual service that will stream Windows 10 or 11. Melissa Grant, Director of Product Marketing for Microsoft 365, said the use of the two different terms is "a way to differentiate the difference between the traditional PC experience and the experience powered by the cloud through Windows 365."

One of Microsoft's main goals with Windows 365/Cloud PC is to simplify the experience of setting up, maintaining, and managing Windows. There will be two options for businesses with the service once it's available, Grant said. For small businesses with no IT support, a self-serve option -- with many settings automatically applied on their behalf -- will likely be the best option, she said. For enterprises who use Microsoft Endpoint Manager, admins can provision and manage Cloud PCs much like they do physical PCs today, Grant said.

Admins will be able to scale processing power and monitor the performance of Cloud PC for their users. The service will include built-in analytics enabling IT pros to see the network health across their organizations. The Endpoint Analytics dashboard will show Cloud PCs that aren't working properly, make recommendations and handle upgrades. There also will be a new Watchdog Service for running diagnostics continually and providing alerts when diagnostic checks fail.

Windows 365/Cloud PC won't only support Microsoft apps; the service also will allow users to remotely log into any app that can run on Windows 10 or 11. Software developers won't have to make any changes or modifications to their apps for them to work virtually with Windows 365/Cloud PC, Grant said. And because apps are running virtually, users will have access to high-compute apps like video editing software or graphic design programs regardless of the device they're using, she said. And users will get access thanks to Windows 365/Cloud PC to apps which have not traditionally been cloud-enabled.

By the way, if you think you've heard of a service called "Windows 365" before, you may have. Back in 2014, there was talk that Microsoft was planning to turn Windows into a subscription service, possibly branded Windows 365, which would entail the company charging users monthly or annually to run the Windows OS. Those rumors turned out to be false.

Update: Here are the requirements for using Windows 365/Cloud PC, as posted on Microsoft's Tech Community site. 

  • Users with Windows Pro endpoints: Windows 10 E3 + EMS E3 or Microsoft 365 F3/E3/E5/BP
  • Users w/non-Windows Pro endpoints: Windows VDA E3 + EMS E3 or Microsoft 365 F3/E3/F5/BP
  • Azure subscription

Update No. 2: Here are the sizes and performance levels Microsoft is planning to offer with Windows 365/Cloud PC:

Credit: Microsoft

Click on the image to enlarge. Thanks to @teroalhonen for the link.

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