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What is Windows 365 and what does it offer?

The Windows 365 Cloud PC subscription brings a new option to the desktop virtualization landscape, with some familiar traits and several key distinctions.

Windows 365 is a new Cloud PC subscription that Microsoft offers, launched during Microsoft Inspire 2021.

However, the Cloud PC offering isn't well established, so customers should learn what it includes and how it can help with their organization's goals before jumping in headfirst.

What is Windows 365 Cloud PC?

Windows 365 is the latest major offering from Microsoft in the 365 family. The service finds its roots in the Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) service, but there are many differences between Windows 365 and AVD. Windows 365 is a statically-assigned personal cloud virtual desktop service, which means that each user receives their own Windows 10 or 11 machine in the cloud with a local profile.

The machines are static, and after a reboot, they don't start up fresh from the image. All changes a user makes to the device -- software installation, file type associations, etc. -- are still on the machine after reboot. Because the machines are personal, users can always get back to their virtual desktop instance. This is quite different from a Citrix random VDI desktop, for example, which is nonpersistent.

The Cloud component of Windows 365 Cloud PC is also important to keep in mind. The machine the users work on is in the Microsoft Azure public cloud. And because of that, Windows 365 is subscription-based: Organizations pay one price per month to access that specific PC. No matter how many hours the user runs the cloud PC, the price will stay the same. This distinguishes the Windows 365 service a considerable amount compared to Azure Virtual Desktop, where the organization pays for the resource consumption on Azure based on usage. AVD has more features with support for random desktops, multi-user OSes and published applications. These features are not in Windows 365.

Windows 365 user experience

Users sign in through a traditional Azure web portal to access their cloud PC. After signing in, Windows 365 welcomes users with an introduction tour. After the tour, users can manage their virtual cloud PC -- as much as the managing organization will allow. Users can stop/start/restart/reset and rename their Cloud PC from the portal. To access the streamed Windows desktop, users can click on Open in a browser. Then the session will load in an HTML 5 version of the Remote Desktop app and allow the user to access the PC in the web browser. Users can also install the Microsoft Remote Desktop app and access their Cloud PC with the app.

Use cases for Windows 365 Cloud PC

The uses cases for Microsoft 365 Cloud PC are similar to those of any virtual desktop. It allows IT to centralize access to data and software from corporate resources. And for small businesses and personal use, it will enable users to have the same Windows environment from anywhere in the world on almost any device. With the power of the Azure data center, users will also get access to a fast and secure machine. Microsoft has also included its high-powered internet access within the cloud PC, meaning users have a download speed of around 10000 Mbps and an upload speed of about 3000 Mbps. The Cloud PC is an excellent place to work on the web because of those metrics.

The uses cases for Microsoft 365 Cloud PC are similar to those of any virtual desktop.

One of the new use cases with the Windows 365 cloud PC is improved security. These days, most organizations give all their users a laptop to work from. This transition to more portable and location-flexible work devices has accelerated with the COVID-19 pandemic, and these laptops do form a security risk compared to the traditional thin client workplace.

Some organizations allow end users to install private software on the computer, which increases the potential of exposure to viruses and ransomware. The prospect of personal and unregulated software is especially concerning if the end user connects a VPN to the company servers while infected. Therefore, Windows 365 can be a perfect system to let users quickly access corporate resources in a secure environment on that device. Organizations can allow users to run private software on the laptop, but when it's time to work, they switch over to the Cloud PC and connect a VPN session to company servers. Through this process, organizations will isolate the private and work segments of the end-user device.

Can Windows 365 stream to different devices?

Windows 365 can indeed stream to numerous device types. Users can access Windows 365 Cloud PC from Android, iOS, Mac and Windows through either the HTML 5 web client or the full Remote Desktop app. Another option for thin clients is IGEL OS, a stripped-down thin client OS that supports the Remote Desktop app.

There are some limitations that come with the array of devices eligible for streaming. Users can only open the connection on one machine at a time. However, under a traditional licensing model with one Cloud PC per user, any user could start a task on a laptop, disconnect the Cloud PC session and reconnect on an iPad. All of the programs will still be in the same place.

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