In an internal memo from 2005, Microsoft’s former Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie details how an always-accessible, cloud-based Windows desktop will one day transform the technology industry. His vision is coming to life more than 15 years later with Windows 365, a subscription service that lets you stream a powerful Windows desktop to any device—yes, even your iPad.
Microsoft is one of the most powerful cloud computing companies in the world. Its Azure platform holds up a good chunk of the internet, and will soon be responsible for the U.S. Defense Department’s data.
Of course, you might know Azure as the backbone for Xbox Cloud Gaming (formerly xCloud), a service that beams demanding console games to phones, tablets, and any other device you can think of. Windows 365 is simply the next step after Xbox Cloud Gaming. If you can stream a AAA game to any device, why not do the same with a super-powered, cloud-based desktop?
In that vein, Windows 365 is actually very similar to Xbox Cloud Gaming. Users can access their Cloud PCs from any device with a modern web browser, so long as they have a decent internet connection. And like cloud-based games, Cloud PCs retain their open apps and activity even as you jump between devices. For example, apps you open in Windows 365 on your iPad will still be there when you use the service on a laptop.
Cloud PCs sound incredibly convenient, though the main benefit may be power and speed. Subscribers can pick how powerful they want their Cloud PC to be and run apps that are too demanding for their real-world computer or tablet. And as Microsoft demonstrates, its Cloud PCs can reach internet speeds up to 10 Gigabits, making for a lightning-fast browsing or file transfer experience.
The idea behind Windows 365 isn’t exactly new, and several cloud-based “virtual PC” platforms have launched over the last few years. But unlike Shadow or Microsoft’s own Azure Virtual Desktop, the new Windows 365 platform is easy for individuals or large businesses to manage. It’s not a niche product—that’s why it carries the same “365” moniker that Microsoft slaps on its modern Office suite. (Although I should clarify that Windows 365 is based on the Azure Virtual Desktop platform.)
Business and Enterprise editions of Windows 365 will launch on August 2nd. Companies will pay a flat rate for each Windows 365 license that they use and can pick from 12 different Cloud PC configurations to give their employees. This system should be familiar to businesses that currently pay for Microsoft 365 services.
Unfortunately, we have no idea when Microsoft will sell Windows 365 subscriptions to individuals. But that may not be a bad thing, as this service likely costs more (in the long run) than a high-end PC. If you’re an enthusiast who wants to try Windows 365, you’ll have to find an employer who’s willing to pay for it, at least for the time being.