Microsoft Cloud PC is Coming in Spring 2021

Posted on July 20, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Microsoft 365, Windows 10 with 69 Comments

Mary Jo’s at it again: In addition to today’s news about Windows 10X, Ms. Foley today reported that Microsoft is working on a virtualized Windows desktop experience for thin clients called Microsoft Cloud PC. It’s expected in Spring 2021.

As she writes, Cloud PC won’t replace Windows and Office on rich PCs for the foreseeable future. Instead, this new service will be option for businesses that wish to deploy low-end PCs that will behave in many ways like thin clients, with software delivered from the Azure cloud.

“Microsoft’s vision of Cloud PC is that it is the only Microsoft 365-powered user compute experience delivered from Azure and managed by Microsoft, at a flat per user price,” a Microsoft job posting that Mary Jo discovered reads.  “Microsoft Cloud PC is a strategic, new offering that is built on top of Windows Virtual Desktop to delivering Desktop as a Service. At its core, Cloud PC provides business customers a modern, elastic, cloud-based Windows experience and will allow organizations to stay current in a more simplistic and scalable manner.”

As Mary Jo points out, pricing will be key. For all its usefulness, Microsoft 365 today is just too expensive, and the addition of virtualized application support could driver prices further higher (or simply require more expensive SKUs).

There are also questions about the timing. Foley says that it could happen as soon as Spring 2021, as noted, but as with anything else this far out, technical problems could trigger delays.

Anyway, we used to joke ruefully about “Windows as a Subscription Service.” And this looks like it will finally happen.

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Comments (69)

69 responses to “Microsoft Cloud PC is Coming in Spring 2021”

  1. sevenacids

    Of course it finally happens. It's the holy grail of vendor lock-in, it was only a matter of time.

    • blue77star

      In reply to sevenacids:

      Microsoft is going to lose Windows users very quickly. They are really working hard on pushing everyone to Linux along with Gaming industry and that's the end of Windows and Microsoft as we know it.

  2. scottkuhl

    Well, I guess that's one way to keep running Windows on Mac after the ARM transition since it doesn't seem like Windows on ARM is going to be ready for mainstream any time soon.

  3. jimchamplin

    It seems to be the latest in the lineage of “Windows Fundamentals for Legacy PCs” and “Windows Thin PC.”

  4. proftheory

    I heard of companies doing this 15 years ago. One difference is that the Windows instances were running on local hardware in a server.

  5. Jim Lewis

    All the complaints about Internet service, yada yada. Most folks already depend on the Internet for productivity. Have more than one connectivity plan, e.g., cable and cellular data. But I already store all my important stuff in the cloud. What you might lose in productivity occasionally will very likely be offset by the big increase in productivity for being able to have a thin, light but very powerful mobile device because all the heavy-duty computing is in the cloud. Also, if your device goes south (a more likely scenario than the Internet giving out on you for any extended period of time), you can be back online in no time with another device since all your stuff is in the cloud, probably redundantly backed up to begin with.

    Relative to Citrix and its role in developing modern Windows, I just recently got a new computer but still need to access my old ones. Started using Remote Desktop for the first time ever. It's pretty amazing. Things are a little slower but I still have to keep reminding myself that I am not sitting at the keyboard of my old computer, just using it through my new one. If things are like that with Cloud Windows, I'll have no problems with that, especially if Cloud Windows eventually allows me from one device to be on and operate/configure any of my other devices that I want, computer, tablet, phone, watch?, AR glasses?, .... (am not likely to be an Apple user any time soon...).

    I remember back in the day with the Pocket PC and Windows Mobile, there were folks who would only sync their phone to a computer through a cable. Going through Wi-Fi or cellular would give the world access to their innermost secrets. I imagine with Cloud Windows, there will be folks like that who hold out to the end with everything on one or two physical devices, no cloud, no matter what.... "You'll never take me alive!"

    I'd subscribe to Cloud Windows, too, if at the same time that I have modern Windows through the cloud, I can run any old program that I want through a virtual container in the cloud. I have a number of old programs, too, where the developer has "left the building" and I can't install them on a new computer. So I hope in the move to the cloud, we'll be able to run old stuff we like in a virtual WinXP or Win7 environment on the side. And I'd be all for Microsoft instituting a new licensing scheme with developers whereby one's software can still keep running in the cloud after the developer has abandoned it, i.e., you don't have to reactivate with a server that's no longer running, you get a lifetime license if the developer originally wants to offer it and you want to buy it. Micrografx Designer is my favorite vector-based drawing program ever but Windows XP or Vista, I think, is the last OS it runs on (it's Designer's program interface that matters to me). I'd like Cloud Windows if it helped keep old software running and insulate software more against hardware and operating system changes and small software companies giving up the ghost (probably way too much to impractically hope for).

    BTW, Windows 2004 is up and running on 5 of the 6 Windows computers in our house. The only one that I am still getting the "Windows 2004 is on the way but not ready for your computer yet" message is for a 2009 Dell XPS-1340 laptop, which having had its system drive replaced with an SSD runs Windows 10 Pro very decently and I can run the XPS-1340 from my new computer via Remote Desktop without having to find more space to use the old laptop directly.

    • johnclark

      In reply to Jim_Lewis:

      "You'll never take me alive" - I've heard this so many times in windows forums and subreddits over the years, I think it should be the new motto.

    • blue77star

      In reply to Jim_Lewis:

      Storing stuff on cloud is like giving someone your credit card and other sensitive information. Paying for endless subscription for OS and Apps is a comedy too. I am coming from different angle.

      • SvenJ

        In reply to blue77star: Keeping your money in a bank? What's that all about? I'm not letting someone else hold on to it, it's my money and I can protect it better than anyone else.

      • Paul Thurrott

        This is like saying that people want to own their music. They don't.
      • Jim Lewis

        In reply to blue77star:

        Isn't putting one's money in the bank or trusting in a police force the same deal? Same with investing in stocks. I use OneDrive for Business for all things that I think need to be secure. According to Microsoft, my data is encrypted in transit and encrypted in residence although I believe under a court-ordered search warrant the information could be decrypted but if I were really paranoid, I think I could encrypt the info with a different method of my own choosing before it left my local computer. Last time I heard, the consumer version of OneDrive only offered encryption in transit, not in residence (but same deal, you could encrypt locally before you send to the cloud-I've sent "encrypted" PDF files to OneDrive). I can keep local copies and back up locally, store in another physical location, etc., for data that I wouldn't want to have lost in a cloud melt down. The most likely scenario is that a local physical disaster: a flood, a tornado, a hurricane, etc., in the worst possible case wipes out everything you own in your home and your local business. So for that, keeping stuff in the cloud through an appropriate trustworthy cloud provider offers pretty decent data loss insurance for most folks that you can only perhaps top by sending stuff to Iron Mountain.

  6. blue77star

    In reply to RM:

    I didn't say that, Microsoft will just turn into boring company me as consumer won't care about meaning won't have anything installed written or made by Microsoft. They will keep making trillion dollars on cloud and cloud services.

  7. bluvg

    The thing about "thin clients" is that part of the value prop is that they'd be pretty inexpensive. Nope. You can buy a decent laptop for the price of many of these things.

    At least one can hope that Microsoft will continue to build some performance optimizations back into Windows and Office after continually dropping perf version after version (1909 is a low point; see LoginVSI for results). The FSLogix acquisition was essentially an admission after trying to do it themselves that, hmm, yeah, trying to build our own RDVH/RDSH environment with our own products actually doesn't work very smoothly.

    • melektaus

      In reply to bluvg:
      Maybe, but it is the maintenance and support that form most of the 'inexpensive' part of the value proposition of thin clients, not the upfront cost and I assume that's what MS will be advocating when it markets this product.

      • bluvg

        In reply to melektaus:

        re: maint and support: ostensibly, that is the value prop, yes. In discussions with colleagues, those numbers often don't materialize into TCO savings. But every situation is different, obviously.

  8. Pierre Masse

    WANT!... a consumer version.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Pierre Masse: No reason for a consumer version. If you want it, just buy it. MS doesn't stop anyone from getting a business O365, or is it MS 365, subscription. It isn't all that much more than a consumer one, but is provisioned differently, and has different features.

  9. Jim Lewis

    Relative to RDP, maybe someone knows the legality of this. Some of my old programs that I can't move to a new computer for some reason, I just use on the new computer, accessing the program on the old computer through RDP. However, some of these old programs have clauses in their licensing THOU SHALT NOT NETWORK THIS PROGRAM. So technically is it a big No-No to RDP access such a program if it has a no-networking clause in its license??? For one home computer program, I did ask the developer and he said that RDP did violate the terms of his license and I'd have to buy another license (even if I didn't actually physically install the program on my 2nd computer!) to access the program on the higher performance first computer. The guy did not buy my argument that the RDP-access computer was essentially just a remote keyboard and I was just a single user of the first PC. He said I was networking the program pure-and-simple and I'd have to buy a license for each device accessing the hosting PC. OTH, there are all the remote access programs out there. I've forgotten most of the technical details of this, whether the developer could even tell if I was using RDP, etc. but at the time I decided it was easier to pay him another $30 than to try to outsmart him, given my relative ignorance both of the legality and whether he could detect if his program was being used through RDP.

  10. kwmansfield

    Before retirement I was a controls engineer that would have an RDP connection to several Windows Server machines at a time. It was impossible to know you were not locally on the machine.

    Even remote access from home to my business client at work was very good. No need to drag a laptop home.

    My company did try an experiment with Wyse thin clients in the control rooms and maintenance shops 15 years ago. At that time our network wasn't ready and it failed. Today it would succeed.

    Anytime you can avoid the headache of maintaining a rich client is a win. Even with modern software deployment tools it was a huge expense and PITA. The cost of hardware and software is small compared to support costs. A small business, without the IT staff to run dedicated servers to host their own virtual clients, are likely to be very interested in this. I'm sure Microsoft knows where that sweet spot is.

  11. cr08

    As someone who has used Microsoft's RDP service quite extensively going back to Windows 2000 and assuming this would be the basis for any remote PC thin client offering from them, it should, at least from a technical standpoint, be a pretty solid offering from them. RDP has probably been the best performing remote desktop offering on the market for usability, performance, and most importantly resiliency when a network connection starts to flake out. Back in the old 1G cell network days it was hands down the one tool I'd choose above all else for remote access. Not VNC, Teamviewer, or other products.

    To add to that, Microsoft has continued to build upon the protocol over the years including proper host GPU acceleration support as well as fluid video streaming using h264.

    Overall I am curious to see how this plays out and how they market it. I can definitely see some potential use cases out of it.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to cr08: Have to agree. As an experiment, when Windows Phones were in vogue ;), I set up an Azure based Windows machine, I think it was an i7, with 16G RAM. I fired it up, loaded Office 365 and Visio. I used RDP on my Lumia 950XL to log into it. MS built a little dock for their Windows phones that connected via USB-C, which had HDMI out and several USB ports. I hooked up a keyboard, mouse, and HDMI monitor. I had a reasonable internet connection. Working on that setup, was hardly distinguisable from working on a local PC. I was working on a phone acting as my thin client. I could have logged into that virtual desktop from an iPad or chromebook just as easily. I could have configured the desktop with an i9 and 64G of RAM ju$t a$ ea$ily. Yea, Azure costs money, but that is a cost analysis a business needs to make, and MS needs to re-evaluate. If they turn this into a flat rate, bundling a virtual desktop, with the O365 offerings, that could be compelling. The flexibility would be a significant advantage.

  12. harrymyhre

    Super fast 5g will make this happen.

    there will be a day when you buy a tv and it’ll come with a 5g sim. You take it home, plug it in, select your provider an services and enjoy your big game, movie or whatever.

    no more waiting for a cable guy. That was the 1980s.

    • skolvikings

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      In communities that already have 5g, this isn't how it works. You still buy home internet say from Verizon, there's a central point where you receive the 5g service and it's then still distributed throughout your home with WiFi.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      I'd be happy to have 3G here. I have an LTE contract, but get Edge with 0.001 mbps at work.

    • red.radar

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      Unlikely. No one is going to pay the 10 dollar device fee to attach the device to the network. You can look at the low adoption rate of tablets and in car hot sports for evidence.

      Furthermore you will still need access to local resources to interact with other devices.

  13. red.radar

    Maybe this is just me... But anyone things this is going to perform well? Right now I am using OneDrive heavily at work and it can't keep up with me. It is constantly burning CPU cycles doing all the micro diff updates and the sheer latency of how slows applications to a crawl (especially excel). Now scale this out to a whole office building. ... I just don't see this working out well.

    Personally I have a hard time comprehending this vision they are selling....if its that hard to understand... its going to fail. It seems like its a contrived solution to solve the business problem of "how do we get people to pay more for windows?"

    • blue77star

      In reply to red.radar:

      Number one thing I uninstall from Windows 10 is One Drive. It is nothing but useless to me which slows down the system. That thing literally killed Office in my opinion ever since Microsoft integrated it with.

      • Paul Thurrott

        Then your opinions about its use and performance are out of date. OneDrive works very well and I use it every day across my PCs. No issues, performance or otherwise, ever.
    • hrlngrv

      In reply to red.radar:

      Citrix with a decent internet connection works just fine for Excel and Outlook on Windows laptops, Chromebooks, and Linux PCs.

      OneDrive is fundamentally different if you're using it for backup AND modifying GB of files on a daily basis.

      Citrix-handled remote VMs can use files stored on local drives, but it's as slow as you describe. In my experience it's much more common to use Citrix-handled remote VMs using files on remote file servers. That is, NOTHING stored locally. Whether that'd work well with OneDrive would be the big question.

      • robsanders247

        In reply to hrlngrv:

        Spot on! Plus, for those situations Microsoft acquired FsLogix about 18 months ago. That way they could provide a container for OneDrive (stored on Azure storage) that gets attached to your Cloud PC at logon. No files will have to move out of Azure, it will have a similar experience like you're working with files on a desktop with a 1Gbps connection to the file server.

        FWIW, I used to work at Citrix on technical marketing creating all kinds of white papers and performance benchmarks. One of the tests we did was comparing Outlook on different platforms: full desktop, on a Citrix XenApp server and also using VDI running on top of Azure. Best performance in terms of searching for messages was definitely using the Azure VDI desktop without any Outlook caching enabled. So Azure definitely has the resources to do this at scale for Cloud PC.

  14. rucksack technology

    Seems to me this is where we've been heading for a very long time, indeed, it's already where people who rely exclusively on Google are. I use Windows 10 daily and even my experience is almost entirely cloud based. My documents are (almost all) stored in the cloud. The apps I use for almost everything are web based. Of course, I have Windows 10 locally installed on my machines but everything syncs between the machines perfectly so switching machines is more a matter of switching keyboards and displays than anything else.

  15. hellcatm

    I think this will come to consumer PC's soon. Streaming the OS or apps to the PC makes sense. They can make a really cheap thin client with low end processor, graphics, and RAM, just have a nice screen, keyboard, trackpad and premium feeling shell and let people stream the OS or apps to it.

    The only issue is if you don't have a fast enough internet connection. I have 100 down and 10 up, but not everyone has this. As 5G rolls out it could work, if they can get it out to areas that don't have fast internet.

    • blue77star

      In reply to HellcatM:

      Imagine a nightmare of streaming OS and Apps, no matter how fast connection you have it is a horrible experience. There is no in hell I would ever sign up for such garbage idea, and most Windows users are not going to do the same. I think Linux on Desktop is going to become a thing in few years and entire industry including gaming industry will switch to it leaving Windows and Microsoft thin client stupid idea behind.

      You think that multi million industry is going to accept this stupid idea? Nvidia, AMD, Intel are on making money on selling beefy hardware for their consumers. Like someone who purchased 3900x is going to turn his/her machine into thin client to stream Microsoft OS and other nonsense from cloud. hahah. If there is one delusional company today, that award should go to Microsoft. Their arrogance is a comedy at this point.

      We all know that Chrome OS miserably failed, no one cares about. Some people are using and that number is next to nothing.

      • Pungkuss

        Not sure why folks keep complaining that an OS relying on an internet connection is a bad thing. Dude, a computer is plain useless without an internet connection. I don't know a single person that has a PC and don't have the internet. My phone died and I lost my Internet 2 months ago. There is nothing to do on my computer without the internet. Don't act like there is. This is a good move by Microsoft.
        In reply to blue77star:

        • blue77star

          In reply to Pungkuss:

          Sorry I can disconnect Internet and I can do anything I want on computer and everything works fine. This idea Microsoft talks about is the concept of thin clients from 70s everyone moved away from a long time go. PC is not Phone, and I am sure Phone is useless without Internet cause you cannot check Facebook status. I get that.

          There is plenty to do on computer without Internet, just because you have no idea what to do is your problem.

          • hrlngrv

            In reply to blue77star:

            Thin clients weren't a thing in the 1970s. At BEST you could use a 300 baud dial-up connection for a local dumb terminal. And even when that worked, at best you might be able to write simple scripts for the OS on the remote system. Otherwise, you used what that remote system provided, and they generally didn't provide much.

            The PCs of the 1980s succeeded because people using them could do things their MIS/DP department (as IT was known back then) wouldn't do for them and sure as Hell wouldn't let them try to program on their own. IOW, PCs in the 1980s and 1990s succeeded because they were real computers OUTSIDE CENTRAL CONTROL.

            LANs, intranets and server-based applications have changed that. Much software for such centralized systems are now fairly customizable with modest training. And Citrix handles macro-heavy Excel workbooks just fine.

            The capabilities and economics of centralized computing are radically different from what they were in the 1970s.

            The one fly in the centralized computing/thin client ointment is poor networking.

            That said, where I work, NONE of the nonexempt (paid by the hour) employees can get anything done when the network goes down.

          • Paul Thurrott

            This is a very old-fashioned mindset. It's like saying that you'll only own cars from the 1970s because you can repair them yourself. More to the point, it's disconnected with the way the world really is already.
            • kingbuzzo

              In reply to paul-thurrott:

              I have a car from the 70' appreciate her simplicity and reliability however the cloud is the future

              • Paul Thurrott

                That's nice. But as the user of a car from the 70s, you understand that this is not a mainstream solution for the general population.
            • blue77star

              In reply to paul-thurrott:

              Multi billion hardware and software industry needs Windows therefore Windows we all know is not going away for a long time. And if Microsoft magically removed Windows we know out of equation that industry would move to alternative called Linux. And Linux market share is currently > than Mac OS which is very interesting.

              Back to cars from the 1970s :)...currently looking for Mustang from 60s to buy. I despite new cars, just bunch of plastic with bunch of useless electronic and can't stand automatic transmission.

              My wife drives one of these fancy sedans with all the sensors and nothing more annoying than blind car sensor. When I drive that thing just beeps and I am thinking, shut the f. up you stupid little thing and let me drive. If I was to listen to that stupid thing I would never be able to change lane in the city.

              • Martin Sjöholm

                In reply to blue77star:

                Well, good thing then, that progressive mindsets drive the evolution of technology and advancement. You sound like a grumpy old, change adverse, "bedder in dem ol' dayz" kind of guy. Bet you were offended by thin screens, and SSDs not producing any noice while accessing data. Sorry, but we will see everything move to the cloud and all will be thin client accessing resources online.

                I could never go back to a combustion engine vehicle after having been at the wheel of a modern all-electric car with all the bells and whistles. Can't wait for them to drive autonomously.

          • Pungkuss

            Explain exactly what those things are. You can use productivity software offline until your connection comes back and it automatically syncs back to the cloud. What exactly are the use cases that you have where you will be tapping away when your internet connection goes down.

            In reply to blue77star:

        • ikjadoon

          That's not the problem, my dude. Cloud OSes have many benefits. But, the cons for cloud-based Windows are hard to swallow for many:

          1) your operating system is subscription-based (crap)

          2) your experience is limited by your internet quality & speed (crap x2)

          3) all updates are auto-applied; see Microsoft's web apps for examples galore (crap x3)

          4) vendor lock-in may slither in ever more quickly (crap x4)

          5) expect untold levels of segmentation and disarray in the dozens of SKUs (crap x5)

          Streaming music or games: OK, they answer to a massive consumer audience. People hated car subscriptions and I imagine they'll hate OS subscriptions, too.

        • johnclark

          In reply to Pungkuss:

          You know steam has an offline mode

      • hellcatm

        In reply to blue77star: If games can be streamed, then so can apps and even quicker because no moving graphics. You can already do it with Citrix from a local server. Also OnLive was testing it years ago when we didn't have 100 megabit connections.

        You seem to blast what everyone says which is why I usually just ignore you.

      • michaelmdiv

        In reply to blue77star:

        I think Linux on Desktop is going to become a thing in few years

        Just like all the other times this has been predicted...

        • blue77star

          In reply to MichaelMDiv:

          Streaming Windows from Cloud for sure is not going to be a thing. I can guarantee you that. If Microsoft thinks the future is that, trust me entire industry will switch to Linux. Btw Linux got a big traction lately. It has bigger market share than Mac OS which says enough about Apple too.

          • naddy69

            In reply to blue77star:

            "Btw Linux got a big traction lately. It has bigger market share than Mac OS which says enough about Apple too."

            Um, no it does not. Linux desktop is still around 2%. Mac is over 25% in the U.S., and over 15% world wide.

    • irfaanwahid

      In reply to HellcatM:

      Dude, if xCloud is possible, I believe OS/apps can be streamed too. Latency/performance is yet to be seen however it cannot be discounted that this may actually work and may get successful.

      It maybe really useful for frontline workers, remote users, businesses with multiple branches, businesses saving costs on hardware is a win. IT admins have the template ready on the cloud and a new user just signs in and bam all settings/apps are all there.

      I like the idea!

      • blue77star

        In reply to irfaanwahid:

        I am sure some people will do it but we are talking about very small <1%. There is no saving cost with Microsoft cloud. They charge a liver and kidney for services there. Let me not even go there.

  16. slbailey1

    The timing of all of the MS news is very interesting!

    1. Microsoft Cloud PC - Spring 2021.
    2. Windows 10X without Win32 support (VAIL) - Spring 2021. This release targeted to education and business first-line workers using low-end devices.
    3. Windows 10X with VAIL on high-end devices only - Spring 2022.

    I like this! If this schedule holds, this is what I think will happen. Microsoft will spend 2021 working on making the Cloud PC a solid product. Then in the spring of 2022 add a version of Cloud PC that uses OneDrive as the data drive to the consumer version of Microsoft 365 (Personal and Family). This version of Cloud PC will more than likely limit the number of Win32 apps installed. I am thinking the limit maybe 5 app.

  17. blue77star

    All Microsoft bets are on cloud.

    • olditpro2000

      In reply to blue77star:

      Microsoft loves subscription revenue. They've been headed in this direction for decades, starting with Software Assurance.

      • hrlngrv

        In reply to OldITPro2000:

        Don't minimize cynicism.

        The real genius of Software Assurance was making large enterprises PAY TWICE. Once for SA on a recurring basis. Again for preinstalled Windows and Office on new PCs even if those PCs' harddisk were wiped then given the enterprise standard image as soon as they were inside the door.

  18. winner

    Oh goody, when the internet burps, I'll lose any semblance of productivity.

  19. BigM72

    At a technology level, we already have this available via Citrix.

    The difference is that MS can extend distribution to the SME, education and consumer segments?

    • skolvikings

      In reply to BigM72:

      At a technology level, Microsoft already offers this. Just search for "Azure Windows Virtual Desktop." The story here is the flat rate pricing and the making it easier to use.

    • hrlngrv

      In reply to BigM72:

      FWIW, several University of California campuses already use Citrix. Gotta imagine large universities in other states, e.g., U Texas Austin, U Michigan Ann Arbor, U Wisconsin Madison, U Illinois Urbana-Champagne, and others also are already covered.

  20. olditpro2000

    Interesting. Mary Jo also mentions in her article that Cloud PC could be priced at a flat rate as opposed to the pay-as-you-use Azure resources for WVD.

  21. Greg Green

    In reply to RM:

    That’s what GE and Sears thought. They’re not dead but they do stink.