With Windows Virtual Desktop, the bad old days are coming back

The PC — and yes, Microsoft — set us free. Now Microsoft is taking control.

Microsoft Cloud App Security

I’ve been saying for a while now that Microsoft wants you to move from Windows on your desktop to Windows as a service. I’ve rarely gotten so little pleasure from saying I was right.

In the last few weeks, Microsoft rolled out Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). If you have a fast internet connection to an Azure region, you can run your desktop off Azure today.

Maybe you’re OK with your business running on cloud-based Windows. I’m not.

Once upon a time, we didn’t have PCs. We had dumb terminals connected to mainframes. That put all the IT power in the hands of those who controlled the big iron. I am not going back again. I want to be in charge of my desktop, thank you very much, and I can paint some pretty scary scenarios of why you should as well.

Just as an example: Suppose the United States government decides you can’t use software from a U.S.-based cloud. If you had Windows on a desktop, you just keep going, but if it’s a cloud service, you’re dead in the water.

That’s not a made-up example. Adobe is shutting down its application service for Venezuelan users to comply with a U.S. executive order that prohibits trade with that country. If you live in Caracas, you soon won’t be able to use Acrobat, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop or Premiere. The exact same thing could happen if you relied on Azure for your desktop.

That said, let’s take a closer look at WVD. First, the good parts.

The WVD client app is available, as of now, not just on Windows, but also on Android, Mac, iOS and HTML 5. The last means that you can run Windows on most popular desktop browsers. Specifically, you can run WVD on Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer (but, please, in the name of all security, don’t!) and Safari. Moreover, Microsoft says — brace yourself — you can run WVD on Chrome OS, macOS and Linux.

What was it I said last month? Oh yeah, maybe Microsoft would replace the Windows NT kernel underneath Windows with Linux. This isn’t that, but it does mean you don’t need Windows to run, well, Windows.

This is the “real” Windows, by the by. As Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, said, “Companies want to move this to the cloud. And WVD is really the only way to run real Windows 10 clients, multiuser, in the public cloud.”

Microsoft, which has also made no bones about wanting you to move to Office 365 instead of upgrading to Office 2019, has also optimized it for use with its business-oriented Office 365 ProPlus.

Another interesting thing about this change is Microsoft doesn’t care anymore if you use desktop Windows. The old argument against the non-Windows alternatives ran something like this: “Oh, I could never use a [Mac, Linux desktop, Chromebook or whatever] because it doesn’t run my favorite Windows-only program.” Did you read what I said earlier? You can run your Windows apps via WVD on a ChromeOS, Linux or macOS now.

With WVD, Microsoft doesn’t care if you run Windows on your PC anymore. Chromebook, Mac, Linux PC — it’s all good now. Microsoft will still get paid. You’ll still have your Windows apps. But the PC as a standalone platform? It’s on its way out.

Those are the carrots. Here’s the stick.

In its latest updates, Microsoft has made it much harder to create an offline local account. You know, the one with just a username and password that you’ve been using since Windows 1.0 rolled off the production line in 1985.

Microsoft started making it harder to use a local PC-based account with the October 2018 update. It relented a bit with the May 2019 release, but now it’s a pain in the rump again to set up a local Windows account.

It’s still there, but if you’re connected to the internet — and who isn’t? — it’s hidden. You’ll find it hiding under Domain Join. To get it, you need to either run setup without being connected to the internet, or type in a fake phone number until your new Windows 10 installation gives you a prompt to create a local account.

There’s nothing intuitive about either of these approaches. And that is another thing making it crystal clear that Microsoft wants you to log in to Windows with a cloud-based ID and password. As someone who cares a wee bit about my privacy, I’m not happy.

I wouldn’t be thrilled if I were a sysadmin and my users bypassed my Active Directory Windows logins with an Azure-based login.

But, like it or not, Microsoft wants you to give up your standalone PC operating system for its centralized cloud-based operating system. It’s not just me saying this. Well-known Windows author Ed Bott told me that, while he doesn’t think we’ll see consumers relegated to Windows as a service anytime soon, “for enterprises, absolutely.”

So there will still be a home desktop version of Windows, for now. I wouldn’t count on it staying around for long.

This is not a good thing. Ultimately, I want computing power to be in my hands, not Microsoft’s or any other company’s. If you go along with this, as any poor sod working in Venezuela with Adobe products can tell you, you’re asking for pure misery.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon