Microsoft has now revealed all the details of their Windows 365 cloud based PC service. Here’s what it will cost, some pricing traps and some hidden ‘features’ to consider.
Windows 365 is a ‘PC in the cloud’ service that lets you run a Windows 10/11 machine from any Internet connected device. It means you can use a Windows computer from the browser of a Mac or Chromebook.
The service is intended for businesses and organizations who want to centralise their computer management. Staff can run the same virtual computer whether they are at home or work.
While Windows 365 is new, the technology behind it is well established. Virtual machines have been available for many years and even cloud PC’s from Microsoft Azure. Remote Desktop connections have been included in Windows computers for many versions including the Remote Assistance feature.
Windows pricing has now been revealed with the monthly cost ranging from US$20 up to $162 per month.
What about Microsoft Office?
Almost any software can be installed on a Windows 365 machine and that includes whatever version of Microsoft Office you like.
Modern Office is downloaded from the internet. For older versions of Office you might have to copy the install files from your computer to Windows 365 (slow and tedious but possible).
Licensing of Microsoft Office (or any other software) is handled the same as on any other computer.
Low Drive Space?
The drive storage on Windows 365 machines might seem low, ranging from 64GB to a mere 512GB. New computers often come with drives starting at 512GB and going into the Terabytes.
Keep in mind that Windows 365 machines are intended to be used with cloud storage, most likely SharePoint Online or OneDrive which have no bandwidth limits.
Windows 365 machines have generous bandwidth limits which only apply to outgoing data transfers beyond Microsoft’s cloud services. That means working with Teams, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business or OneDrive is not counted against the total bandwidth used. Inbound data transfers aren’t counted (so it seems).
The Windows 365 Business accounts have outbound bandwidth limits from 12GB to 70GB depending on the type of virtual machine. It should be enough for most because only outgoing and to non-Microsoft services is counted.
Microsoft’s vague about what they’ll do if a user hits those limits ” Microsoft may restrict bandwidth and outbound data volume on a case-by-case basis “.
Windows 365 Enterprise organizations have Azure virtual networking and Azure bandwidth pricing applies.
A small discount is available if you have Windows 10 Pro licenced on your main (local) computer. Naturally there’s some fine-print conditions.
The discount is a flat $4 a month. Microsoft tries to obscure and hype this by saying it’s a discount of ‘up to 16%’ – but that only applies to the cheapest Windows 365 machine ($24 down to $20).
To qualify the user must have a primary machine with a Windows 10 Pro licence AND that machine must access the Window 365 service at least once “each subscription term’ (we take that to mean once a month).
Upgrading machines but no downgrading
One advantage of virtual machines is the ability to expand or reduce the features of the machine to meet demand. For example, a virtual computer can be given more CPUs or memory to cope with a special task, then reduced to standard levels.
Windows 365 can only expand a machine. The mis-labelled ‘Resize’ admin option allows more resources to be allocated to the service (with a matching price increase) but not reduce it.
It’s another way for Microsoft to get more money from customers by pushing them to more expensive plans.
The only way to downsize a Windows 365 service is to cancel the current machine (after saving all data) then creating a new, smaller machine and reconfiguring it.
Upselling Windows 365
Be careful shopping for Windows 365 options because the Premium, Standard and Basic options aren’t the only ones, and the large-type prices have an important condition. There are more expensive and much cheaper choices hidden away.
The ‘Basic’ $31 pcm plan isn’t the cheapest. There’s also a $24 pcm ($20 with Hybrid discount) option with a single CPU, 2GB of RAM and 64GB storage or a $32/$28 option with 2 CPU, 4GB RAM and 64GB. This latter machine would be enough for standard use of Office 365 combined with OneDrive storage.
In addition, the headline prices ($31, $41 and $66) include the Hybrid discount. Add $4 per month if there’s no matching Windows 10 Pro licence or a Win10 Pro machine won’t be connecting each month.
Windows client is best
It’s true that most modern devices can connect to Windows 365 service, there are more features available from a Windows computer than a Mac or Chromebook.
The local device must have Microsoft Remote Desktop which is available for Windows, Mac. iOS and Android OR a modern HTML-5 browser.
Windows and Mac Remote Desktop clients support multiple monitors and dynamic resolution.
Teams communication limitation
Of course, Teams can be run from a Windows 365 machine either in the browser or the Teams app.
But there are limits in what Teams can do in Windows 365. Microsoft can’t bring itself to ‘come clean’ with customers even in its own FAQ with the question “Will Microsoft Teams work with Cloud PC’s”.
Video meetings are NOT possible from Teams in Windows 365. Only text and audio calls are possible.
In future, video streaming might be available from Windows 365. Even if/when it is, it’ll probably be better to run the video call/meeting directly from the local computer (via a browser) rather than involve Windows 365.
Windows 365 possibility for Mac users
Windows 365 does give Mac users a new option for running Windows programs on their Mac or larger iPad.
Some Mac users need
lower themselves to using a Windows program. That often involves installing a virtual machine onto a Mac machine which requires a lot more CPU, memory and disk space. Even a Windows VM is problematic on a newer M1 chipped Mac.
Instead, a Mac user can have a Windows 365 service. The Win365 machine is accessible from any Mac with no special or expensively upgraded hardware required.