Hands-On with Microsoft Windows 365

Posted on August 2, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Uncategorized with 59 Comments

Microsoft released Windows 365—previously called Cloud PC—to its commercial customers today, so I obviously had to jump in immediately and take a look. Here are some quick first impressions of the service.

To make this happen, you will need a Microsoft 365 commercial account first. I’ve had one for years, tied to my (mostly unused) paulthurrott.com domain. I still have a Microsoft 365 Business Standard license, for some reason, which costs $12.50 per month with annual billing (so, $150 per year), but I’ve been meaning to cut that down to a Microsoft 365 Business Basic account, which is just $5 per month/$60 per year. (I don’t really need the locally-installable Office apps, since I get that from Microsoft 365 Family.)

Next, you need to pick a Windows 365 product version (or “SKU”). And there are a lot of choices, ranging from $20 per year per month all the way up to $160 per user per month. Here, I opted for the cheapest offering with monthly billing, since it’s unlikely I will keep using this. That gives me a Cloud PC with one virtual CPU, 2 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of storage at a cost of $20 per month. (This version assumes you’re using it with a PC that already has a Windows 10 Pro license; if not, the cost is $24 per month.)

To make this choice, you need to access the Admin interface in the Microsoft 365 dashboard. Then, navigate to Billing > Purchase services and select Windows 365 Business (or, if you do have a Windows 10 Pro license, Windows 365 Business (with Windows Hybrid Benefit)). And then make the purchase.

After you purchase a license, you need to assign it to a user. You do this by navigating to Licenses, selecting the Windows 365 Business license, and then choosing the user.

Once that’s all done, you can sign in with your Microsoft 365 commercial account at the Windows 365 website. Here, you will be shown a dashboard with quick actions—Manage your organization, Download Remote Desktop, and so on—and a list of your Cloud PCs.

I only have one, of course, but since it takes up to one hour to set up a new Cloud PC, I decided to download Remote Desktop for the best experience. (You can also run Windows 365 Cloud PCs via a web browser, but with a slightly reduced feature-set, Microsoft says.)

To connect Remote Desktop to your Cloud PC, you need to subscribe, or, more easily, subscribe with a URL that’s generated by the Windows 365 website.

After that, your Cloud PC(s) will appear in Remote Desktop and you can connect with them seamlessly. Well, after that hour-long wait the first time while it’s set up for you.

When that magical moment finally arrives, just double-click on the Cloud PC (and, the first time, authenticate) to get started. Remote Desktop will switch into full-screen mode by default and start up Windows 10. Slowly. (I windowed it to takes screenshots more seamlessly.)

I’m not sure what to say about the performance. It’s the first day this service is generally available, so I have to assume that Azure is getting hammered right now. And, of course, I chose the lowliest SKU there is. Between the two, it’s not exactly fast, but I feel like it will settle in. And I’ve already noticed that running an app and then re-running it results in faster performance the second time around.

As you would expect, the Cloud PC offers Windows 10 version 21H1, and while I had expected to see the Pro version, it was Enterprise. It’s very clean, also as expected, with no crapware or bloatware in the Start menu at all and only two apps pinned to the tile area.

And even though I am using the cheapest SKU, there’s still some nice integration between the Cloud PC and my local PC. When I open File Explorer on the Cloud PC, for example, there are redirected drives representing my local PC’s C: and D: drives, so I can easily copy files back and forth.

I was happy to snag the new purple Window 10 wallpaper provided by Windows 365, for example.

The Store apps all had their old white icons, too, so I checked for updates with the Microsoft Store and got those updated. I also performed a few basic housekeeping tasks like pinning frequently-used apps to the taskbar.

One of the nice things about Windows 365 is that it will store your state when you terminate the remote connection. That way, when you sign back in, everything is right where you left it. Any open applications or windows will still be open, in other words.

Another thing you don’t have to do, of course, is check for system updates. That’s handled for you automatically by Microsoft.

My only major takeaway so far is that this product seems to be ideally suited for two audiences: Those not using Windows PCs—there are native Remote Desktop clients on Mac, iPad, Android, and elsewhere, and the web for everywhere else—and those using personal PCs to more securely access work resources. I haven’t tried this yet, but I suspect that Windows 365 would work very well on an iPad Pro or iPad Air with a Magic Keyboard (and its integrated touchpad).

Windows 365 doesn’t make a lot of sense for me, of course, because I already use and prefer Windows PCs, have been integrating my personal and work data for years, and have no plans to move to another platform. But that’s fine, this was just for testing purposes, and it’s easy to see how useful this service could be. And that, should Microsoft lower prices and bring it to consumers, it could be a very interesting solution, especially for those who have chosen non-Windows hardware.

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Comments (59)

59 responses to “Hands-On with Microsoft Windows 365”

  1. christophercollins

    Is it upgradeable with data in tact? Like, if you decided to test performance with 2 Cores & 8 Gig of RAM, will it allow that or do you start over?

  2. brettscoast

    Good write up thanks Paul this might be ideal for thin client use going forward I can see the benefits depending on your work flow.

  3. althalus

    Do they support hyper-v?

    • bluvg

      You mean nested virtualization? Is there a reason you would want to do that within a W365 desktop vs. just building a VM in Azure?

      • wright_is

        The VM in the W365 instance would be "free". The W365 instance is on a flat-rate, so spinning up a VM for test purposes is free. Spinning up a new Azure VM would cost additional money.

        • bluvg

          It's an interesting idea, but just wondering what the use case would be. I get the point about fixed rate vs. paying by usage, but the performance of nested virtualization is awful, and I'm wondering if the costs would really pan out to be cheaper. Maybe it would be for light dev work where it would be convenient to have a local VM to spin up occasionally for testing? Seems like an Azure VM would still be the better way to go, though?

          • wright_is

            We often run up VMs on our laptops to try something out, without using the precious resources on our ESX cluster.

            • bluvg

              Of course, local cluster resources are limited, but this is the cloud, so whether it's W365 or Azure, you're paying for use of Microsoft's hardware and services without a concern for their resource availability (so long as they have more). That local VM on a laptop is also presumably not a nested VM. Apologies if I'm missing your point, I'm genuinely curious what the use case might be.

              • wright_is

                Yes, but the W365 is a flat-rate, so no additional costs for running up a VM to quickly test a hypothesis. Running up an Azure VM would require additional money to rent the instance for the couple of hours. That is often something that would need to go through an approval process to get the money released, find someone with an admin account, with payment authorization and get them to run it up for you.

                By the time you've been through that process, you could have run up a small VM on your W365 PC, tested what you wanted and deleted it again.

              • wright_is

                No, it isn't (necessarily) nested - although I did create a test domain environment using nested VMs. The DC ran Hyper-V within a Hyper-V instance and automatically resumed the rest of the test domain, once it was up and running.

        • IanYates82

          Makes sense.

          Also, several features in Windows 10/11 rely on Hyper-V as part of a security boundary, or just as a means of making the feature work.

          EG: WSL v2 is underpinned by Hyper-V (that's a large part of what makes it more compatible than WSL v1, even though v1 had very cool technology & blog posts)

          Windows sandbox, if that's still even a thing, uses Hyper-V.

          Several enterprise security features around protected browser modes and protected regions of memory rely on Hyper-V

          So I'd expect this to work.

          • bluvg

            Ooo, those features would also be a great test, yes. WSL v2 or a new Edge Application Guard window should determine support pretty quickly.

  4. danbear2929

    Lol why would hyper v be supported in a Virtual machine . That’s where Hyper V server comes in for that.

  5. crunchyfrog

    How does the USB mapping work? I assume you can redirect a local drive to your cloud PC.

    Also, I wonder what the equivalent to a BSOD would look like if a program misbehaves with drivers, etc.

    • bluvg

      Peripherals and drives can both be handled, but performance is going to be pokey. By default, you can also copy and paste files in the full client.

      In the event of a BSOD, you'd lose your remote connection. Once the machine reboots, you could connect again.

  6. shmuelie

    Soooo, it's exactly what you get with RDP normally?

  7. sledge

    'And even though I am using the cheapest SKU, there’s still some nice integration between the Cloud PC and my local PC. When I open File Explorer on the Cloud PC, for example, there are redirected drives representing my local PC’s C: and D: drives, so I can easily copy files back and forth.'

    This is the RDP client doing this.

  8. dougkinzinger

    While it (Win365) is pretty cool and nice to have, it's nothing new nor amazing - it's just what Remote Desktop (and Citrix) admins have been doing for years, just hosted in Azure this time, and part of an org's existing 365 infrastructure. Nice, but not groundbreaking.

    • bluvg

      Nothing that new for sure, but doing this on-prem is a big lift which some companies would like to do, but realistically can't. And some would love to get out of doing it themselves and have Microsoft do it for them.

  9. ken_loewen

    At a previous employer, my 16GB of RAM ThinkPad had problems with certain Power BI projects so IT provisioned a 32GB VM on-premise. I had to run the VPN on my ThinkPad when remote and run a VPN on the VM to get to a client's data so Cloud PC would be a lot simpler (no need for an IT person's bandwidth to provision the VM and run the Windows Server).

    In my current employment, I've got a client whose 8GB machine is having problems with certain Power BI projects that my 16 GB ThinkPad has no problem with. Cloud PC would allow them to quickly move forward without having to purchase/install additional RAM or an entirely new PC.

    As I'm working with Power BI both in my job and as a student (but not at an education institute at which I have a "work or school account"), I would really like to be able to get this as an add-on to my (consumer) Microsoft 365 account that, as a Microsoft alumnus, I get for cheap.

  10. jlariviere

    I'm guessing there's no difference on bandwidth usage between this and connecting to "normal" remote desktop connections?

    • bluvg

      Depends which version of RDP you're running currently and if you're running vGPU, but most likely no difference.

  11. blindbuddy53


  12. sscywong

    Would it run ARM/ARM64 code? If so then would be great for developers to build ARM app

  13. unfalln

    Assuming that you go for something higher than the 2GB instance, is it possible for Docker Desktop and WSL2 to be used on these things?

  14. blue77star

    Expensive and over rated.

  15. kingpcgeek

    I wonder if you can run a softphone on the Cloud PC with a headset plugged into the local device?

    • ringofvoid

      If it works anything like the existing Windows-10-in-the-cloud offerings do, it'll have USB redirection for the headset and work fine for a softphone

  16. valisystem

    I'm curious about installing programs. Normally we need local admin privileges to install anything. How do you get, say, Adobe Acrobat to work on the cloud PC? I can't imagine each user is a local admin.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Your Microsoft 365 account has admin privileges, at least by default. I assume in bigger orgs they could change that.

  17. will

    Curious how printing works and if the org would need to use Azure Cloud print for network printers?

    • BizTechSherpa

      It should map printers similar as drives; that is an REDP client capability.

      • bluvg

        It can, but be aware this is a pretty significant security vulnerability by default, as it simply trusts the driver. This lead to a whole-org ransomware compromise recently.

  18. javial

    Can you see the processor type/model, the speed of the processor, the GPU that is using in Task Manager or in Device Manager?

  19. bluvg

    2 GB RAM is going to be pretty lousy perf (might acceptable for some specific scenarios, like very patient users with not much to do). I'd recommend 2 vCPU and 4 GB RAM as a starting point for any real work or testing.

  20. ggolcher

    I would love the Mac version of this.

    I have to run a Mac for work for just one single app. If there was a Mac version of this, I could move back to Windows happily.

    • staggersteve

      I seen on here someone suggest macincloud for running macOS remotely, but its aimed for developers.

      • ggolcher

        I wasn't aware of that service! I'll give it a shot and see how bearable the latency is.

    • SvenJ

      There's a Mac version of Microsoft Remote Desktop.

  21. BruceR

    "Another thing you don’t have to do, of course, is check for system updates. That’s handled for you automatically by Microsoft."

    Do you mean that you will never have to Check for updates?

    If so, is that documented anywhere?

  22. spacecamel

    How is the latency? I wonder if something similar could be used for gaming.

    • ringofvoid

      This is the premise of Geforce Now, Stadia, Amazon Luna, Shadow PC and other game streaming services. The selling point for those services is an optimized network protocol for streaming games. RDP is, to be kind, not optimal for streaming video, let alone games.

      • whistlerpro

        If only Microsoft offered such a service...

        Seriously though, it would be nice to have the saved state/quick resume style function on XCloud.

    • mattbg

      My guess is, anything to do with GPU is not going to be open access or flat rate. Otherwise, they'd quickly be hosting bitcoin mining rigs :)

  23. gregorylbrannon

    Paul, I have a Pixelbook Go with 8gb of ram. I would assume that I could run Cloud PC on it. Could you try it on one of your Chromebooks?

  24. marcwickens

    When you close the RDP connection, does the VM continue to run? I’m just thinking about if you’re rendering a video or doing some other long running task.