Microsoft Announces Windows 365

Posted on July 14, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 365 with 96 Comments

Microsoft is branding its Cloud PC service as Windows 365 and will offer it to commercial customers starting in early August. It will initially offer remote access to Windows 10 but will add Windows 11 too when that system ships in October.

“Windows 365 is a cloud service that introduces a new way to experience Windows 10 or Windows 11 for workers from interns and contractors to software developers and industrial designers,” Microsoft 365 general manager Wangui McKelvey explains. “Windows 365 takes the operating system to the Microsoft Cloud, securely streaming the full Windows experience—including all your apps, data, and settings—to your personal or corporate devices. This approach creates a fully new personal computing category, specifically for the hybrid world: the Cloud PC.”

According to Microsoft, Windows 365 provides an “instant-on boot experience,” and it works with virtually any device, including Macs, iPads, Linux PCs, and Android devices. It retains state so that every time you sign in, you pick up exactly where you left off, and that’s true even if you access Windows 365 across different devices.

Windows 365 is built on Azure Virtual Desktop, another cloud-based remote desktop solution, and it differs from that service in one key way: Where Azure Virtual Desktop uses a consumption-based pricing model, Windows 365 has a set per-user/per-month fee … which I’m not yet privy to, sorry; I assume that will be announced today and will update this post as soon as possible. But it will be offered in Business and Enterprise versions, and your Cloud PCs can be managed alongside traditional physical PCs in standard enterprise solutions like Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

Windows 365 will be generally available to organizations of all sizes on August 2, 2021. You can learn more about this new service from the Windows 365 website.

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Comments (96)

96 responses to “Microsoft Announces Windows 365”

  1. covarr

    So Office 365 is now Microsoft 365, except in the places where they forgot to update the name, and now this is Windows 365... On the one hand, I kinda get it, but on the other hand, this is bound to confuse people, not unlike their Xbox naming structure already has.

    So I guess what I'm saying is they should go all in and rename Game Pass to Xbox 365.

    • waethorn

      They’re separating the names so that one day they can just pull the plug on Windows. What’s left will be their real money-maker.

      • Paul Thurrott

        There is no world in which virtual Windows replaces on-prem Windows. This is just another option.

      • stvbnsn

        So what? If they do, it will be as a greater paradigm shift, and it won't matter anyway. The days of locally hosted operating systems will eventually fade and that's a good thing.

        • zhackwyatt

          Except in environment where you have to have a standalone (not connected to the internet) network. Those tend to be forgotten, but they are massively used in certain industries.

        • Greg Green

          As others have mentioned, in many cases there are legal and corporate reasons not to have information off site.

        • kingpcgeek

          Exactly how are you going to access the Cloud OS without a local OS?

          • curtisspendlove

            You’ll always need some sort of base OS; but the implication here is that could be Windows 13X or Fuschia or whatever. Doesn’t matter.

            If you need your “one app”, it comes from the cloud.

            Paves the way to thinner, lighter modern base OS platforms.

            • clangst

              What's the path going forward if you're an engineer going into third party customer plants where easy Internet access isn't a given? "Sorry, I can't service your equipment because I can't get a decent Wi-Fi signal to stream my cloud apps." I don't see a full-blown local Windows OS going away anytime soon, for this reason if not for any other. Just because a use case isn't for the mass market doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

              • wright_is

                Running those RS-232 cables from the PLC to your W365 instance is going to be a bitch!

              • lvthunder

                It's also doesn't mean the cloud is going to be the only way to do things. It might be the primary way, but there are always edge cases where the primary way doesn't work.

              • bluvg

                Yup. I saw this during a Citrix engineer's demo, no less... trying to run PPT over HDX over Wi-Fi. It wasn't having it. All the IT folks in the room looked at the poor guy: "see, this is what our end users are dealing with."

                • bluvg

                  "Video simply does not work via a RDP connection."

                  Unless it's .wmv format, of course! ? To be fair, there are some pass-through options, but it can often feel like "um, why are we trying to do it this way?"

                • bettyblue

                  Or things like a pandemic driving the need for so many to have video. Both to stream it and project via web cam.

                  Video simply does not work via a RDP connection.

      • Stokkolm

        Let me get this straight. They're creating a new service, so that later down the road they can kill it? In favor of an existing service that they have offered for years?

        • waethorn

          No. When they get to a point where Windows is just a set of portable API's that can run fully as a web-connected service, they won't need to host full VM's anymore. They can just pull the plug and everybody can just run a thin client with a web browser or a competitors platform, like ChromeOS, Linux or iOS/macOS.

          • chrisltd

            I can see why Microsoft would want to prepare for such a future, but given that Windows still brings in tens of billions of dollars a year, I'm not sure why they'd hasten its demise.

            • waethorn

              Microsoft could still make a thin client OS built on a Linux kernel and an RD client like Remmina before swapping it out for Edge, if that’s still around by then.

            • hrlngrv

              Which would bring in more revenue for MSFT: a Windows OEM license producing US$60 one time for a machine used for, say, 6 years, or a subscription service producing US$5/month for the same 6 years? Granted MSFT would need to provide more services for that subscription income, but for 6 times the revenue, they may be able to afford it. They could afford it even more easily of the monthly charge were US$8, US$10 or more.

              • chrisltd

                Sure, but don't you want to sell the $60 client side OS as well? Why cede that space to Google and Apple?

              • bls

                Part of it is the goal to turn as much of the revenue as possible into monthly recurring revenue. Look at what happened to Adobe's stock as their MRR increased.

              • hrlngrv

                s/of the monthy charge/if the monthly charge/

    • thretosix

      What is so confusing about the Xbox naming structure? I've always thought it has been quite clear the names and the differences.

      • bettyblue

        Until recently "Xbox" naming was all console or the subscriptions that supported it "Xbox Live Gold". Now Xbox means way more.

        I am not even sure what it fully covers, the PC, Console, Xcloud....Live Gold...Game Pass (console only?), Game Pass ultimate, which supports PC's as well? Is there just a game pass for PC only?

        Microsoft is the KING or horrible communication and the re-naming stuff. The logic behind how they rename stuff is so utterly bizarre as well.

        Example....Login with your MSN, Hotmail, Passport, Live, or Outlook account. Or I have worked on Live Communications Server, Office Communication Server, Lync, Skype for business and now support Teams.

        I want a job on that team but they were probably all replaced some random name generation on Azure.

        • thretosix

          I've managed to not have a problem with the naming conventions. I've just learned whatever was applicable at the time and used it.

    • christianwilson

      I understand it like this:

      Microsoft 365, while mostly Office, is an umbrella for access to many more Microsoft services.

      Windows 365 covers a virtual instance of Windows. It's a more focused product.

      • wright_is

        And can be added through and managed by the M365 instance, I believe. It is an additional cost add-on for business users.

      • will

        There could very well be new SKUs for Microsoft 365 that include Windows 365, like Microsoft 365 Pro or Enterprise, or something newer like M365 E6 (E5 is currently the top SKU so they could just do E6). I would guess the Windows 365 will be an add-on SKU for current M365 users, just whats the cost

        • wright_is

          It is an additional cost item for existing M365 business users or can be used stand-alone, from what I understood of the presentation. So you can book it for specific users (like Visio, Project etc.), as opposed to having to have it for the whole organisation.

      • davidjhupp

        Basically Windows 365 is a SaaS solution with a very simple flat fee structure, a high level service for internal business users, intended to appeal to the same market that buys Microsoft 365 services. Basically “365” means it’s a managed turnkey service for business users.

        Azure Virtual Desktop is a PaaS solution with a more flexible fee structure for those who have more complicated needs like higher performance GPUs, storage, etc. AVD can also be completely white-labeled and used with Azure AAD B2C, with the idea that a vendor that offers a Windows client application could use AVD to offer a managed SaaS solution to customers.

        Windows 365 is a higher-level managed service that is ultimately powered by AVD, much like, e.g., Exchange Online is a higher-level managed service ultimately powered by Azure virtual machines.

        • sandy

          Sorry, but that's wrong. Exchange Online (EXO) is physical Exchange servers in Microsoft data centres.

          The Azure VMs bit is only for Azure Active Directory, conditional access, etc., but the Exchange bit is all physical.

          (Last I heard from Microsoft, EXO was 2U rackmount servers with lots of cheap, BitLocker-encrypted disks on board, and some solid state media for cache/optimisation.)

  2. markbyrn

    I'm getting confused with these name changes.

  3. Patrick3D

    Glad I got out of the IT industry, who needs desktop support when you no longer have a desktop to support?

  4. lvthunder

    I'm listening to the keynote and Satya just said they were cutting the app store fees from 20% to 3%. Did I misunderstand something? That's huge if it's true.

  5. jdjan

    Pricing will dictate my interest here. I could never figure out Azure because I'm not an IT Pro.

    • james.h.robinson

      I don't think this is part of Azure. I also think that one advantage of Windows 365 is that the pricing structure is more "flat" and therefore simpler than Azure.

  6. hrlngrv

    Gotta wonder about cost comparisons with Citrix and VMWare.

    • bettyblue

      Minor overlap IMHO. I see Citrix more for app vituralization/serving up apps and this more of a full desktop option. Yes Citrix does full desktops, and Microsoft has App V (or whatever the name is now).

      • bluvg

        Microsoft has RemoteApp as well (I think since Vista/Server 2008).

  7. suhailali

    It would be cool to access via Xbox it would make a great thin client and gaming machine.

    • themike

      I've been saying this for years. Port a version of Office to the Xbox and plop an Xbox down on a worker-bee's desk with KVM, and have at it. With a thin client with access to Windows 365, this would be brilliant and super inexpensive compared to a lot of desktops and obviates a lot of the end-point concerns.

  8. jdjan

    Dumb question, but how could this support dual-monitors?

    • hrlngrv

      If it's just I/O flowing between client machines and remote servers actually running Windows, the remote server VM could use a configurable video buffer, and screen dimensions would be one of the configurable settings. At that point, you'd only need a local I/O client which draws the video buffer on the correct local monitor.

      If you're using 2 1920x1080 monitors locally, the video buffer would be 3840x1080 with maximized windows only using a horizontal half of the buffer, and windows automatically un-maximizing when dragged from one side of the buffer to the other.

    • bluvg

      RDP has supported multi-mon for a long time, I think since Vista/Server 2008 (and using /span prior to that).

    • bhofer

      I don’t know “how”, but the technology is definitely there. My employer has a VDI infrastructure using VMWare, and I have a triple monitor Mac setup. My VDI uses two of the monitors, and it works just as if I was running Windows on my machine (maximizing windows to one monitor, snapping windows to half the screen on one monitor, etc.). I assume this would be pretty similar.

  9. lvthunder

    From the picture, it looks like it just runs in a browser window. Is that true?

    • wright_is

      Or a dedicated application. But, yes, also in a browser, if you don't have anything else.

    • bluvg

      They have a browser client as well as a desktop client (not the same as mstsc.exe). They've had an HTML5 RDP client for a while.

    • suhailali

      Yes but limited capability with browser versus via windows desktop. There's a device chart shown in the presentation.

  10. RobertJasiek

    Usage scenarious favouring thin clients and subscription prices aside, there are these major problems:

    • browsers are buggy so less stable than the Windows OS,
    • one must trust Microsoft cloud with respect to privacy, data protection and law conformity,
    • the internet connection must always work.

    • james.h.robinson

      I agree. This is why Windows 365 is an OPTION, not a necessity. And it isn't even an option for consumers right now.

  11. chrisrut

    This is pretty much EXACTLY what I wanted when I was an IT director (retired at the end of 2018). The inevitability of this was why I chose MS instead of VMware years ago. I love this architecture.

  12. 1armedgeek

    Let me say this upfront. I know this is NOT for consumers.

    However, this would be ideal for me. I'm a wheelchair user with assorted limitations. It is a big hassle to carry a laptop when I leave my home. I use public transportation.

    I always have my iPad, though. While I do like the iPad for a lot of things, I still *need* a Windows computer. It would be great if I were able to use the iPad for more than disability-related uses.

  13. bluvg

    Just saw this quote from a financial site:

    • The Windows 365 PC-as-a-Service streams the operating system, including apps, data, and settings, from Azure to any device at a $200-plus monthly cost for most enterprises per device.

    What was it that Ballmer said about Apple's App Store percent cut? That kind of take is "good if you can get it" or something like that?

  14. HachingMonkey

    I'm curious, could you construct a cheap thin client from a Raspberry Pi and a 1080p monitor and run it through a browser?

  15. vladimir

    This is how an ipad will run windows before MacOS

  16. uk user

    You techie guys are going to town on this but to me does it mean that instead of paying for the whole 365 thing could I just pick the individual office apps that I need to run from the cloud? And would I still be able to save my stuff locally like I do now, instead of having to access the cloud all of the time. Also if stuff is streamed in the future can older generation equipment be used seeing as all the powerful stuff is being done elsewhere? I'm at the simple end of computer knowledge so bear with me lol.

    • james.h.robinson

      Unfortunately, Windows 365 has nothing to do with what you're talking about. You are talking about Microsoft 365, the product formerly known as Office 365.

      To my knowledge, you cannot pick the "main" Microsoft 365 apps individually, although you can pick Project or Visio separately. Microsoft 365 has both a cloud version and a locally-installed version. You can save files in the cloud or locally.

      Back to Windows 365, this is currently NOT for individuals consumers. Therefore, I wouldn't even worry about it if I were you, to be honest.

      Have a great day!!!

      • Greg Green

        This just demonstrates how bad the naming convention is. Office 365 to the uninitiated probably means Office. Microsoft 365 could be anything from Azure 365 to Xbox 365, and everything in between, including Office 365.

  17. endoftheroad

    Looking at this big picture, computing started centralized, ie., mainframe/terminal, then pc's came along and things got very decentralized. This introduced new problems, the hardest to solve being security, so now Cloud "PC's" are the answer, and they very well might be. Everything that was "old" is "new" again, but how do you keep selling hundreds of millions of PC's when mobile devices are everywhere, they add the personal dimension and they can be remote clients to the Cloud for many use cases. Seems like we could end about where we started, after having had a lot of money change hands.

    • wright_is

      Cloud services and web apps are the new mainframe. Windows 365 is a half-way house.

  18. Daekar

    Hey Paul,

    One of the reasons why we stick with Windows at our house is hardware compatibility. How would that work here? I mean, if I plugged in a scanner, would I be able to pass the USB connection to the remote session and run the Windows app provided by the manufacturer of the scanner?

    • Paul Thurrott

      I can't wait to try this and find out. But I suspect that the Remote Desktop client handles some passthrough---printing would be an obvious win---but not others. And that this would vary by client. Ideally you'd be able to run individual applications remotely on real Windows and then just use the underlying printing mechanism as well.

      • bluvg

        mstsc.exe (not sure about their WVD client) supports printer redirection as well as USB (and other device) pass-through--if the host side supports it and has it enabled. However, this opens up a security hole (incidentally somewhat related to the PrintNightmare vuln): if you allow a client print driver to install, you're inherently trusting that the client machine hasn't been compromised. Sophos did a write-up on how an org was ransomware-d by someone logging in via RDP with a compromised machine; it had a malicious print driver which was then installed on the host side, which then compromised the org. Microsoft has a generic Easy Print driver option that can help somewhat.

        Also, the USB pass-through performance hasn't been great--it's limited by RDP channel performance behavior more than raw bandwidth. Even with GbE to the host (and the driver loaded on the host), full color scans over RDP won't run at full scanner speed. I suspect this would be that much slower over the internet.

    • stephenf

      That might be tricky. Vendors might need to have their drivers/software/hardware go through some qualification engineering and testing. Doable.

  19. blindbuddy53


  20. saint4eva

    This is a welcome idea.

  21. will

    So. Many. Questions...

  22. awright18

    I wonder how they will market this. What are the best use cases for remoting to a PC as a normal worker in the enterprise? Is there deployment/security type wins here? Allowing business to use client hardware for longer periods of time? New customers could run all macs, and remote to Windows PCs for certain scenarios. I'm really curious who is buying this. I'm a developer, and I have used remote virtual desktops before, and liked it, but just curious about other people.

    • vladimir

      I guess the same customers that already use today Desktop as a Service (DaaS). I don't really understand how this is different from Amazon Workspaces or equivalent services. They are used in environments where security is key, such as banks for example

    • bettyblue

      I could see lots of reasons, mostly security. The cloud virtual machines are physically more secure and if domain joined could be super locked down.

      So Joe User logs in from whatever device and gets dropped into a secure Windows environment that is also physically locked down.

      My "Windows" needs are very limited at work and I have a on-prem VDI that I utilize for those rare needs. I remote into it from my Macbook most of the time. I have done it from my iPad Pro as well, (on vacation) with MS-RDP for iOS and a mouse now with the latest iPad OS update. Though I switched to Jump Desktop for the RDP solution. The VDI could be this cloud option for all I care.

      • kingpcgeek

        Security always comes down to the weakest link Any remote takeover of the local host or keylogger installed invalidates the security you gain by the Cloud OS.

    • bluvg

      There are deployment tradeoffs--some good, some bad. Troubleshooting a poorly-performing application in a VDI-like environment can be much, much trickier. But once you get things sorted, you're not dealing with disparate hardware and drivers, and the PCs you're trying to update are not wandering the planet with sometimes zero connectivity. In a non-persistent VDI setting, you update a golden image and push it out, which is a thing of beauty if you can get there. You can also do Remote Apps, remoting individual applications rather than full desktops. Managing app updates that way can be much easier.

      On the security front, the wins are more obvious, especially on the non-persistent side--log out and log back in, and you're back to the golden image.

    • lvthunder

      It depends on the business and how that business is run. This will allow employees to work from home using non-company-owned hardware. It could also allow you to use software your hardware doesn't run well.

    • adamhays

      Azure Virtual Desktop (previously called Windows Virtual Desktop) is commonly used in enterprise right now. It's a much better experience than typical remote desktop services on a Windows Server. So if you have multiple users that access the same hosted application, this is definitely the way to do it for security, administration, flexibility and the user experience. Also, if you subscribe to an enterprise version of M365, the licensing required to make all of this happen is already included, so you only pay for the infrastructure costs if you decide to go this route.

      • bluvg

        Not trying to be picky (though it can be difficult to distinguish in support forums which is being discussed), but Remote Desktop Services includes both RDSH (traditional "terminal server") and RDVH (the Microsoft VDI solution). As Brian Madden often pointed out, sometimes RDSH is the right way to go over RDVH, though the calculus would be different if not on-prem.

        In Microsoft's case, their current Azure virtual desktop solution is actually closer to RDSH than RDVH, since they're basing it on Windows 10 multi-session.

    • Paul Thurrott

      The obvious marketing so far is zero trust, instant boot, and pick up where you left off, regardless of device. Assuming the connectivity and pricing work out, this could be a big win for many.

      • stephenf

        If they get the pricing right, I could see this working in the consumer space as well. Microsoft 365 + Windows 365 bundling anyone?

      • james.h.robinson

        Good explanation, sir. Thank you.

      • Richardsona39

        I've been interviewing a lot of admins over the last year at large architecture and engineering firms (so running heavy software), and quite a few have shifted to virtualized environments with employees just having a fairly basic laptop, and they're loving the ease of administration, and employees can work from anywhere.

        • lvthunder

          If you don't mind what are the differences in cost doing it this way?

          • bluvg

            A whole lot of "it depends," but you're typically looking at server clusters with nodes with lots of memory, appropriately-balanced CPUs, and plenty of IOPs and NIC/HBA throughput running nVidia virtual GPU cards. If your applications play well, you can save quite a bit of time keeping things up to date. If a laptop/cheap endpoint dies, you can swap it quickly, rather than provisioning a replacement high-end workstation. The user data is not local, so you don't have to worry about moving it, or spend time working on local backup solutions/roaming profiles/etc.

            Not a cheap setup, but avoiding that downtime is often worth far more.

  23. navarac

    And more than likely this will develop into another subscription fee for consumers eventually perhaps? There will come a time when all of these fees are greater than income! Still, there's always Linux thank goodness.

    • james.h.robinson

      I'm not sure why people on this forum are so concerned, considering that this service is apparently not for consumers. It can be very beneficial for a small business, though.

      • Daishi

        Because it feels like the thin end of the wedge.

        Today, it’s just an optional service for businesses.

        2 years from now, it becomes available for home users.

        5 years from now, the requirement for a Microsoft account turns into a requirement to have a Windows 365 account, “but it’s ok there’s a free tier”

        8 years from now, the available functionality of the free tier has been stripped down to the point that you basically can’t do anything with it.

        10 years from now, “our users have overwhelmingly already chosen the Windows 365 experience so we are making it’s simplicity, security and flexibility the primary way to get Windows. Sure if you dig far enough into our website you can probably find the hidden link for a local copy that we maintain so that we can say we aren’t forcing people into our subscriptions, but who really wants to pay an extra $200 on top of the cost of your computer for the thing you used to just get included with it when you can just thoughtlessly give us $10 a month for the rest of eternity?”

        And frankly I feel like I am being generous with the timelines and you could easily cut them in half.

    • davidjhupp

      Yes, basically imagine Microsoft 365 eventually including thin client access for Windows-only Office 365 applications, so e.g. your Microsoft 365 subscription might include the ability to stream something like Access or Publisher to something like an iPad.

      Perhaps Access and Publisher are bad examples, but app streaming is also attractive because of Data Loss Prevention. Now imagine streaming *all* of Office to your iPad (already possible, but not yet completely turnkey), where the cloud VM has a high-speed connection to your OneDrive, and your sensitive business data is never actually stored on your local device.

      While iPads are rather secure, in a very sensitive line of business the decreased risk of never actually transmitting sensitive business data to local devices might be a substantially stronger selling point than “saving money.”

      I could see this kind of turnkey Windows Office app streaming eventually just being an add-on service for Microsoft 365, and perhaps even just being included in higher tiers like Office 365 E5.

      (I can also see Apple being somewhat unhappy about this, for the same reasons Apple doesn’t like xCloud!)

    • jimchamplin

      Not sure why that seems like a natural progression. Microsoft’s hardware partners want to sell you a nice expensive PC, not a cheapo thin-client.

      • Daishi

        They don’t care what they sell you, so long as they get their profit margins. If they can make the same amount of money off the $600-700 premium thin client as they do off a $1500 premium PC they couldn’t careless which one they sell you

      • james.h.robinson

        Also, customers won't need a thin client to use Windows 365. They can most likely use whatever machine(s) they currently have.

      • bluvg

        Thin clients aren't that cheap! There are potential admin benefits, but the math sometimes isn't that great compared to a commodity PC you maintain traditionally.

      • navarac

        True, but it's seems the way that Microsoft thinks :-;

        • vladimir

          thin clients can focus on screen, usability and power efficiency. They can be expensive and probably have higher margins than powerful computers. However, it will take years before someone decides to produce a thin client that works only when you have excellent internet connection

  24. gandalforce

    I knew this would be a thing since Office 365 was introduced.

    Xbox 365 would be 3rd pillar. It will come...