Earlier this week, Microsoft unveiled a plethora of upgrades to Windows 11, which has been positioned as the operating system of the hybrid work era. The additions include a new file explorer, improved video conferencing facilities and various security upgrades.
However, some of the announcements also contained clues as to how the company might shape itself future operating systems. And if the rumors be to believe, Microsoft has already started work on Windows 12.
The Windows 11 roadmap’s focus on improved mobility and the renewed emphasis on Windows 365the company’s PC-as-a-Service offering suggests the future of Windows is firmly in the cloudespecially in a business context.
Head in the clouds
In a world where connectivity is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, it’s possible that Windows 12 could become Microsoft’s first-ever cloud-only operating system, hosted off-device and bundled with compute and storage as part of a subscription package.
The system would be similar in many ways to traditional virtual desktop setups, which have been used by companies for years to support BYOD scenarios, but which offer simplified pricing and configuration structures and extend to a wider audience, including consumers.
Sure, Microsoft is already interested in shifting to a hybrid arrangement. At the event earlier this week, CEO Satya Nadella announced that “the lines between the PC and the cloud are blurring”.
Right now, the goal is to streamline the transition between on-premises and Windows 365 desktops, so users won’t be able to tell if their apps, compute, and storage are coming from the cloud or from their machine.
But the logical next step might be to move everything to the cloud, à la Chrome OS. Microsoft has already announced that it will allow Windows 365 customers to boot directly to their cloud desktop, bypassing the local operating system, which falls just one step short of the cloud-only vision.
In a business environment, moving to a cloud-only system would give IT administrators more control over security configuration and identity management, and a complete overview of how devices are used. But in a broader context, moving to a cloud configuration is more about enabling new consumption models.
Windows 365 is marketed as a service that offers professionals unparalleled flexibility, both in terms of the location and device they work on, and the resources available to them. There are currently twelve separate Cloud PC configurations, each offering a different number of resources, and customers can switch between the tiers at any time.
Microsoft could use a new cloud-based operating system as the foundation for an even more collaborative drive to PC-as-a-Service, normalizing the model on offer Shadow and GeForce Nowwhere any PC can be turned into a powerhouse workstation or gaming rig† Under this scheme, customers can pay for PC hardware in installments in addition to their computers and cloud storagesimilar to the way smartphones are often sold today.
The move to a cloud model would also change the paradigm from a hardware perspective. With compute in the cloud, there would be little need for giant SoCs, which would mean more freedom when it comes to form factor. The main priority for device makers would instead become support for lightning-fast connectivity with as little latency as possible.
Ahead of ourselves
Ahead of this week’s Windows 11 event, we spoke with Wangui McKelvey, GM of Microsoft 365, and Aidan Marcuss, CVP Windows Device and App Experience, to hear about the company’s vision for Windows and the cloud.
Asked directly whether the logical conclusion of the current Windows 11 trajectory is an operating system that is completely separate from the device, we were told that this is not Microsoft’s vision for the time being.
The ambition isn’t necessarily to develop a fully cloud-based operating system, but rather to aggregate the experience to support a wider range of use cases and serve a wider range of users.
“It’s not about reducing to a single on-premises or cloud-based solution, it’s about choosing both and enabling additional scenarios,” Marcuss said. “Our job is to enable flexibility and turnkey solutions for customers.”
Admittedly, a fully cloud-based operating system would present some challenges. For example, connectivity is not evenly distributed around the world, meaning access to computer performance would be determined arbitrarily by location. While next-generation network technologies and large-scale satellite broadband projects aim to democratize access to connectivity, we are not there yet.
Service outages at the ISP or cloud provider level can also be an issue, temporarily turning our devices into useless shells, a condition that would undoubtedly pique the interest of cybercriminals. Microsoft has announced functionality that will allow Windows 365 customers to access their cloud desktops offline, but it’s not yet clear exactly what features will be available.
And then there’s the latency question. For use cases such as competitive gaming, a cloud-based model may not be appropriate, even though cloud gaming services are now beginning to make some headway.
Finally, a large-scale shift to PC-as-a-Service is likely to meet resistance from computer manufacturers, whose ability to justify more than $1000 price tags will plummet in a world where we’re all spinning. thin customers Like it this one†
However, none of these problems is insurmountable from a technological perspective. And while Microsoft has denied it is working on a fully cloud-based operating system, plans have never been set in stone.
As a first step, we expect a greater number of companies to adopt the PC-as-a-Service model to support the needs of hybrid work, where employees no longer work from one location or from one device.
But later we saw that Windows 365 was also extended to the consumer market. Currently, only businesses can purchase subscriptions to cloud PCs, but consumers can also take advantage of the flexibility and alternative pricing structures that the service enables.
McKelvey asked us if we might see a consumer-facing cloud PC in the future, and he smiled politely and took a moment to think. “We are thinking about all the opportunities we can create with this technology. I’ll leave it at that.” RoxxCloud