The Windows desktop is dying

But it’s not because of Macs or Linux – it's because Microsoft wants your Windows desktop to live in the cloud.

Today, chances are you're working on a Windows-powered PC. Tomorrow may be another story. I've been watching how Microsoft plans to move you from PC Windows to a cloud-based Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) model for years. Yet more proof has recently surfaced about Microsoft's master cloud desktop plan.

Zac Bowden, a senior editor at Windows Central, spotted an internal Microsoft document that was uncovered in the stalled-out Microsoft acquisition of Activision. In a June 2022 Microsoft internal presentation, the company said it plans to "Move Windows 11 increasingly to the cloud: Build on Windows 365 to enable a full Windows operating system streamed from the cloud to any device. Use the power of the cloud and client to enable improved AI-powered services and full roaming of people's digital experience."

Most of the focus here appears to be on a consumer version of Windows 365 Cloud PC. Today, there are two editions: Business and Enterprise. You can run either of them on a Windows PC, a Chromebook, a Linux PC, or even an iPad. They're designed to bring Windows to pretty much any platform. (I wouldn't try it on an iPhone or Android smartphone, but if you're a glutton for punishment, you can try it on those too.)

The Business version starts at $31 per user, per month. For that, you get a 4GB Azure VM with 128GB of storage, along with Microsoft 365 apps, Outlook, and OneDrive. Personally, that's too lightweight for me — the next step up, with 8GB of RAM for $41, sounds much more practical.

The Enterprise Edition comes at the same price points. Its only significant difference is for Windows administrators; Enterprise includes Intune, Microsoft's cloud-based endpoint management service.

On Windows 11 machines, you can access your Cloud PCs via the Windows 365 app. And within the next few months, Windows 365 Boot, now in beta, will enable you to log directly into your Windows 365 Cloud PC without booting your local Windows 11 PC.

The point of this is so multiple users can use the same PC to sign into their own personal, assigned, and secure Cloud PC. Its target audience is workers in nursing, salespeople, and call centers, who share business devices.

Pricing remains uncertain for this version, nor do we have a price yet for the family version. There's been speculation it might be $10 a month for a "family" account. If so, this would be a loss-leader price designed to get people to give Windows 365 a try.

This has been a winning strategy in the past. When I first used a PC in an office, I did it with my own KayPro II CP/M-80 PC. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) was a successful strategy long before the phrase existed.

Microsoft has also just released a new business version of its Cloud PC: Windows 365 Frontline. This take on the Windows cloud is meant for retail, healthcare, hospitality, and other vertical industry employees. Microsoft claims there are two billion frontline workers, so the company has high hopes it will prove to be a gangbuster service.

Windows 365 Frontline starts at $42 for 3 users per month. This entry-level configuration comes with two virtual CPUs, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of storage. For a frontline service worker, that should be more than enough.

Looking ahead, Microsoft expert of experts, Mary Jo Foley, Directions on Microsoft editor in chief, sees Windows 10 22H2 as the end of its road, with no more new features coming to Windows 11 in the second half of 2024. Both operating systems' end-of-support date is October 14, 2025.

Now we all know Microsoft will offer support well beyond that date. It would face enraged customers if it didn't. But what comes next? We don’t know for certain (not even Mary Jo).

Maybe there’ll be an AI-powered Windows 12 whatever that means. Personally, I'm inclined to ignore the current AI hype and focus on what Microsoft has already been doing: Ratcheting up a cloud PC model approach. The old desktop's death is coming. Long live the cloud desktop.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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