You could be forgiven for missing Windows 365, even if you pay attention to the IT news. Partly, I suppose, because Microsoft chose to release it during the summer holidays! And really, it’s a pretty simple concept: a PC-per-individual, in the cloud. It’s neither a shared desktop, like RDS, nor a non-persistent ‘always fresh’ desktop, like Windows 10 based Citrix. This machine functions like a personal device (usually a laptop or desktop) with the advantage of being entirely detached from your hardware.

For me, there are three key benefits:

  • Security. The big one. You can’t leave it on the train, drop it, lose its BitLocker key or spill coffee on it; its hardware won’t break and its battery won’t die; and no-one can just walk off with it. Whatever happens to the physical device you’re using Win365 from, you can pick up another one and carry on working. Plus, you can use the same Conditional Access policies you operate for Office 365.
  • Consistency of performance. Your chosen device just needs enough grunt to run the display and bandwidth to connect: the power is provided by Microsoft Cloud.
  • No hardware upgrades. Microsoft has signalled quite clearly with Windows 11 that it’s no longer our choice to sweat aging hardware: it simply won’t install on unsupported machines. With Windows 365, you just need something that will run the client – a far less rigorous specification!

But do I need it?

There are three major use cases for virtual desktop services:

  • BYOD / hybrid / home worker
  • Compliance-heavy industry (e.g. Legal Services, Insurance, Financial Services)
  • Contractor / developer (“Temporary employee”)

Up to now, the solution has been a virtual desktop platform like RDS or Citrix. So why move away from that? For me, the biggest difference is that you don’t need new infrastructure – or perhaps, more importantly, new skills to build it. Citrix is a fantastic tool, but not something you can assign a generalist to build. RDS is less premium but limited by its shared desktop nature. ‘Noisy neighbour syndrome’ is always tricky to explain to users!

With Windows 365 you can use the same management tools such as Endpoint Manager as your physical machines. And because it’s in Microsoft cloud you can use a site-to-site VPN if you need to connect to on-premises infrastructure.

The major downside, though, is the connectivity: no internet means no Windows 365. That might seem unlikely these days but the ‘dead spots’ on my own two-hour train journey to London would get very annoying!

So how much would it cost?

As you’d expect, Windows 365 is priced on a per-user-per-month basis. It sits alongside and leverages your Business or Enterprise Microsoft 365 licensing, with certain minimum requirements since it uses things like Endpoint Manager to operate. There’s no additional cost for running the machine, however: this is a fixed price, making it far more predictable. 

How might this work in practice? Let’s say I have a developer in another country working on the code for my developed and hosted SaaS application. Historically, I could either trust their personal device or provide them with one of mine. Since they’re working with my intellectual property and core code, security is paramount, so I’d probably choose the latter, thereby retaining management and audit rights over the endpoint in use. But it would cost me at least £1,200 for a developer-spec machine, plus shipping and admin; and if the device goes wrong, it’s on me to fix it.

By contrast, an 8 CPU, 32GB RAM Windows 365 device with 256GB storage would cost about £112 per month. True, the physical device could last three years; but as we’ve already established, the Windows 365 one will never break or need support; and it’s always mine. So once that contract is completed, I can just switch it off. No collection, no rebuild or recycling – it’s just gone!

So… do I want Windows 365?

Personally, I think Windows 365 fills a niche we didn’t know we had. For businesses with call centres and mass thin terminal use, it simply won’t work commercially: RDS and Citrix offer far more density. And where you’re already providing devices for employees, it would just add more cost.

In my view, there are two use cases right now:

  1. A premium service for highly mobile executives or professional nomadic workers. They’re likely to be high-value in terms of productivity and use multiple devices, so will benefit from an always-on, easily accessible service.
  2. Secure workplace provision for temporary or permanent contractors on a fixed monthly-cost basis, with clearly defined support.

Technology-wise, Windows 365 is an obvious step. It may also offer a glimpse into a not-too-distant future, as start-ups and professional services companies seek to offer their employees maximum flexibility to attract and retain talent. But for me, it will probably remain a premium service until the commercials stack up better. Let’s see what happens!

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