Microsoft users will soon run complete Windows 10 desktop systems that exist only in the cloud. These computers, known as Cloud PCs, will be accessible from any physical computing device they own, including Mac computers.
The new feature is called Windows 365 and launches on August 2. Microsoft is not the only organisation that offers what is a cloud-based virtual machine. Amazon, Google and IBM and myriad others offer virtualised environments, while Microsoft offers it already through Azure. They have existed for years.
The difference is that Microsoft is emulating a standard Windows desktop environment in the cloud, complete with a user’s wallpaper and other personal preferences. It sees Cloud PCs as becoming the norm.
Users can choose the power and storage size of their Cloud PC, and install applications as they would on a home PC.
The initiative is directed at enterprise and businesses of all sizes, but the company concedes personal tech users may adopt it.
Windows 365 is among new features announced at Microsoft’s Inspire conference.
Melissa Grant, director of product marketing for Microsoft 365, said development of Windows 365 took 18 months.
“You can really think about Windows 365 as a new delivery method for Windows, or Windows 11 when it’s available later this year, delivering that as a complete SaaS (software as a service) from the Microsoft Cloud, with all your apps, all your content, all of your settings available to you on any device.”
She said a person could access their cloud PC from anywhere globally. All their work is saved when they log out and will be restored when they log back in.
Ms Grant said there was no limit to the programs users could install and run. Anything that runs in Windows 10 can run in Windows 365.
However, its speed of operation would depend on the power of the Windows 365 machine the person is on.
She said customers trialling the system found it was workable even when using satellite communications.
There are two versions: The Enterprise version lets a central administrator manage a fleet of Windows 365 devices using Microsoft Endpoint Manager. There is also a business version for 1 to 300 users.
Microsoft will sell the system as a subscription service with monthly fees. Users won’t be charged for usage time. Pricing will be announced at the August 3 launch, she said.
Microsoft sees Cloud PCs as pivotal in the movement to employees partly working in an office and partly at home.
“Hybrid work has fundamentally changed the role of technology in organisations today,” said Jared Spataro, corporate vice-president, Microsoft 365.
Microsoft also announced enterprise-focused changes involving Teams and its employee experience platform, Microsoft Viva. All Teams customers will get access to Dynamics 365 data in Teams at no extra cost. It is integrating Workday, Qualtrics and ServiceNow into Viva.
It is reducing fees for transactable offers to 3 per cent, a reduction from an industry standard of 20 per cent, it says.
A transactable offer is where Microsoft facilitates the exchange of money for a software licence on a publisher’s behalf.
The conference goes for two days.