Windows 365, what is a Cloud PC and why bother?

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Microsoft has now announced Windows 365, their ‘Cloud PC’ service for businesses. Before all the hype begins later this year, this is what a Cloud PC is and why you might use one.

A Cloud PC is a whole computer running ‘in the cloud’.  You can access this computer from any device and operate it just like a normal computer. Not only can you use the mouse and keyboard but copy/paste, print and audio works between the two devices (the physical device and the remote one).

The Cloud PC can have run any programs you want to install. Microsoft Office, obviously but also non-Microsoft programs.  Once installed, you can use that software from wherever you are and with devices that could not support your software needs directly.

Before looking at what we know about Microsoft’s Cloud PC or Windows 365 , let’s see the long-standing technologies it uses.

There’s nothing truly new about Cloud PC’s because it’s combining two features that are already available in Windows for many years.  Remote Desktop to remotely control another computer and Hyper/V to make virtual/Cloud PC’s.

Windows 365 uses the existing Azure Virtual Machines technology adding a much easier setup and control plus flat monthly pricing instead of paying for use.

Remote Control

Hopefully, you’ve seen computer remote control in action.  Most likely with Windows Remote Assistance.  Maybe a support person has asked to access your machine remotely to fix a problem or just see the issue you’re having. 

Windows has long had remote control features to view and control one computer from another screen.  Maybe view a laptop computer from a desktop machine. Or vice-versa when away from the office, using Remote Desktop to access the desktop computer.

Our book Windows 10 for Microsoft Office users has a whole chapter on Remote Desktop as both host or controlling another computer from afar.

Many workers will use remote control already.  Large organizations often get their staff to login to a central system to work on a distant computer.

Expert users do a similar thing with their own hardware. A powerful desktop computer can be controlled remotely from a laptop.  The main computer might handle complex tasks like photo or video editing that would be too slow on a cheaper laptop.

Cloud PC is just another type of remote control except that the distant computer runs on one of Microsoft’s enormous server farms rather than a physical computer you (or your company) owns.

This isn’t new technology.  As we mentioned, large organizations have been doing this for years (Windows Server, among many, has this feature).  Most web sites run on cloud based servers managed remotely.

The difference is that Microsoft will be offering regular Windows to individuals and organizations under the ‘Cloud PC’ name.

Virtual Machines

Maybe you’ve seen virtual machines or a ‘computer within a computer’.  Windows has Hyper/V tech in all the high-end versions.  Here’s an example of four computers running on one physical computer.  The three programs running are virtual computers (from left, Windows 7, Windows 10 and MacOS) which can be operated just as if they were real physical computers. 

These virtual computers are really programs (like Hyper/V or VMWare) which emulate a physical computer.  It’s handy for testing, running programs without conflicting with others.  Office experts use virtual machines to run old versions of Office ‘side-by-side’ with newer releases.

Our book Windows 10 for Microsoft Office users has a chapter devoted to setting up virtual machines.

Why use a Cloud PC or Windows 365?

Microsoft’s Windows 365 is a combination of the two existing technologies, admittedly on a massive scale:

  • A Windows computer as a virtual machine, Hyper/V running in a Microsoft server farm.
  • Remote Desktop to connect to the Cloud PC from where ever you are.

Windows 365 can be used anywhere with an internet connection.  All you’ll need is some device with a keyboard and mouse.  It doesn’t matter what type of device or how lowly the hardware is because all the hard work is done in the cloud.  This is sometimes called ‘Desktop as a Service’.

A humble, low-cost laptop, iPad or Chromebook can remotely control a more powerful Cloud PC.  The local/physical machine doesn’t even need Windows!  Office Watch mentioned this option when we explained 4.5 ways to use Microsoft Office on a Chromebook

It’s likely that Windows 365 will be accessible from any modern browser, though using Remote Desktop client software will have more options. 

Windows 10X is a new low-cost and limited Windows that Microsoft hopes will rival Chromebook’s increasing market share.  Win10X won’t be able to run standard Win32 apps like Office desktop but users will be able to connect to a Cloud PC with full-featured Windows and any programs you want to use.  Microsoft seems to be planning a joint marketing strategy of Win10X and a Cloud PC combined.

Microsoft calls this Cloud-Powered Windows Devices (CWD).  Nothing from Microsoft is complete without a new acronym! 

Your Cloud PC will have all your documents and files (probably saved in OneDrive) plus programs ready to use.  When you login to a Cloud PC it will appear just as you left it with programs running – just like a computer coming out of Sleep mode.

Who will use a Cloud PC?

The technology is mostly for organizations who can manage a lot of virtual/cloud PC’s more easily than physical devices.

There can be cost savings too.  Instead of paying for expensive, powerful laptops for staff they can use much cheaper devices which connect to the full-featured computer online.

Individuals or small businesses can take advantage of the same opportunities.  Professionals (architects, engineers, programmers etc.) can have their specialist software on a Cloud PC, then use it from a modest, cheap device wherever they are.

Microsoft’s Azure already offers Windows virtual or cloud machines for organizations and developers, charging by the hour.

Cloud PC’s will come in various combinations of CPU power, memory and disk space.  According to some reports, these are the possible options for a Cloud PC:

  • Medium – 2 CPUs, 4GB memory and 96GB disk space.
  • Heavy – 2 CPUs, 8GB memory and 96GB disk space.
  • Advanced – 3 CPUs, 8GB memory and 40GB (?) disk space.

Each plan will have a monthly price plus, perhaps, additional fees for use of CPU or bandwidth over certain levels.

The smart money is betting on a ‘Microsoft 365 managed’ option that includes Office 365 software as part of a Cloud PC. Though there shouldn’t be any problem getting a plain Windows Cloud PC and installing any compatible version of Office using an existing licence (consumer or commercial).

Windows updates will be handled by Microsoft automatically for Cloud PC’s.

We’ll have to wait and see what Cloud PC offerings and prices will be.

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