Windows Virtual Desktop + Microsoft Managed Desktop revelation in the making

As with the introduction of Windows 10, things are about to change massively again...

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Getty Images / Microsoft

 [Disclosure: Microsoft is a client of the author.]

One of the interesting observations I have is how people lock down on an experience with a vendor and how that perception remains unchanged unless something significant is done to change it. In context, this means that often when I hear someone talk about Microsoft Windows problems and unreliability, they may be talking about anything from Windows 95 to Windows Vista…or whenever they last used the product.

But they act as if they are talking about Windows 10, which is vastly different – even more so the farther back their experience goes. (I’m establishing this as a foundation because things are about to change massively again.)

At Microsoft Ignite this week, I was briefed on Windows Virtual Desktop on Microsoft Managed Desktop. And while both alone are impressively powerful, when you put both efforts together you see a potential to truly turn the Windows platform into a true appliance…something users have wanted ever since PCs replaced terminals (which were appliances). This could massively change PCs to a degree where they legitimately could replace smartphones.

Let me explain.

Windows Virtual Desktop

The Windows Virtual Desktop is basically full Windows in the cloud, accessed through a browser as if it was on your desktop. This desktop could be a PC, but it also could be anything else that would run the Edge browser (and likely other browsers).

There are an increasing number of things that run browsers today – TVs, cars, refrigerators (and other home appliances), tablets, Kindles and smartphones. Once this platform becomes fully generally available, any company with an E3 or F1 license will already have rights for it. The only additional charges would be for the Azure resources being used.

This alone is very powerful, because it means – given the increased capability of devices to run browsers – you could access a full instance of Windows on an ever-increasing number of devices that no one ever thought could run Windows. Assuming adequate bandwidth, the experience would be almost identical to running the application locally. (One interesting aspect is that the hosted apps interact with desktop apps as if they are local.)

This cloud instance would be fully protected, updated and patched with far less disruption…because it would be done during user downtime without the need for the local hardware to be connected or even powered on.

Advantages over other offerings include far more flexibility in host pools that can be fully adjusted to the customers. This also syncs the cycles between servers and desktop platforms, making testing apps far less problematic and costly.

On paper, for anyone that has struggled with Windows at scale, they should already be hearing angels singing at this point. But now let’s look at the Microsoft Managed Desktop.

Microsoft Managed Desktop

The Microsoft Managed Desktop is basically turning a PC into an appliance. In fact, if you want the lowest cost, highest reliability, least aggravating PC experience – whether or not you use this service – you should use it as a template, because the end result will be dramatically better than whatever you have today.  And, unless you’re in the US or Australia, where this will be first introduced (currently it’s invite-only), emulating this may be your only choice.

What makes this approach low-cost is that it’s Microsoft-only, including the hardware (Surface).  This includes a 3-year refresh cycle. If there’s a hardware failure (partial or complete), the replacement will be sent immediately, allowing the user to continue using the damaged unit.

As noted, the security and productivity components are all from Microsoft, which then can fully assure the result. Some interesting results are that entire classes of viruses – even if downloaded and even if the user attempts to execute them – won’t run. Quality and feature updates become non-events. This is partially the result of Microsoft being able to control the entire core technology stack, especially the anti-virus.

What’s particularly interesting is that even firms brought in to test the security of the firms running this solution found their machines quarantined. They had to have security components turned off, so they could test. That’s pretty much unprecedented. 

(As an aside, during this testing, Microsoft discovered that many of the test sites had inadequate controls over access. Large numbers of employees and entities had global admin rights. This should be flagged as an expedited test for every internal audit organization as a serious problem. I suspect, like unsecure passwords, this is far more of a global problem than we realize).

Wrapping up: Windows Virtual Desktop + Microsoft Managed Desktop

Each of these solutions is interesting and powerful in their own right, with Virtual Desktop being the bigger game-changer. If you can run full Windows and all your apps on anything that can run a browser, you don’t even need a PC. I can easily imagine a time when I could go into my hotel room and do my work of the 4K+ TV on the wall or plug my phone into any display and get a full Windows experience. I’m just wondering how long it will be until someone builds specialized hardware specifically for this use model.

But when you add the Microsoft Managed Desktop, you get a blend of cloud and local capability tied to a level of security and simplicity we didn’t think was possible on a PC. This is going to drive cost reductions and hardware designs and get us closer to a terminal-like experience that we’ve always wanted and often demanded.

It both amazes me how long it took us to get here…and that we’ve finally arrived. I doubt we yet realize how big this potentially is…

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