“Long story short, Windows 365 could be the start of something very big. I know some have fears about computers that they don’t actually own, but the ability to stream an entire operating system over the web from any device is huge. It still has a ways to go, I think, despite being totally usable if you need to run a Windows program on iPad.“
We do this at work via VMWare’s VDI (which also has a web client). It’s great in a pinch and (on an iPad) not so great for any sustained or complex work. I’m curious to find out whether Micosoft’s implementation is any better.
Looks like nothing more than “Remote Desktop 365” with the addition of an Azure hosted VM, packaged as a service. Hopefully with an additional layer of security… Even the icon looks like the RDP app.
Am I missing something here?
I don’t think you’re missing anything … wrt the technology.
But, this is huge, for a lot of people and organisations who don’t have a lot of technical skills, or who don’t wanna be bothered by techie stuff.
It’s easier. And possibly cheaper for a lot of folk.
I see an opportunity if a flexible pricing model is adopted.
For instance pay-as-you-go, usage based billing (with significant savings when you spin down the VM), temporary RAM upgrades for that once in a while video editing session etc. It could allow many people to potentially get real work done without investing in the hardware required.
Microsoft is probably in a good position to offer this “PC in the Cloud” service given the dominance of Office, Windows and everything else that runs on Windows. Might even be preferable to my corporate Dell craptop most days
I have been using Windows 365 for a week and have to say I am impressed.
Better than Azure Cloud PC or the Amazon Workspace version. It’s fast and snappy and integrated with local audio and video as well. Well thought out service and ideal for Mac users who need a Windows PC without consuming too much system resources like using Parallels. Pricing is not cheap, but I have run this on Mac, iPad, iPhone and multi screen setups without a glitch. The iPad experience is really good if you use the keyboard and trackpad.
Once you go in full screen mode it feels like a local multiscreen PC.
Installed Office, 1Password and Synology Drive and have everything I need. Also great to use as internet relay as it has more than a gigabit up and down internet connection, which is 20 times more than I get at home.
Most of the cost of running Windows is maintaining the software. Windows 365 eliminates patching and upgrading the OS as well as having to monitor for viruses. That should go a long way in justifying the cost as will the ability to run it on a thin client.
Microsoft is sending me a free trial. I’m also looking at a few competitors. I’ll be writing/talking about this once I get a bit more experience with it. Let me know if you have any specific questions/things you’d like to see me try.
My peripherals all work as if they were locally connected. Audio, Webcam, keyboard and mouse. Have not installed Logi software yet to see if it recognises bespoke settings, but all standard functions work as normal
I run a 3 4K screen setup and they all come up instantly in native resolution. No lag. Colours and backgrounds can be configured as normal
Depends also on the machine config you choose. I have 8Gb Ram 2vCPU and it is fast and snappy for productivity use. Have not tried editing yet, but will and revert once done. Knowing Windows you will have to opt for the more expensive 8 vCPU and 32Gb ram
1Password for Windows works as advertised. Including browser plugins in Brave and Edge
My MX Keys defaults to the Windows keys a.s.a. I switch to the RDP app. Haven’t tried with Mac keyboard yet. iPad Pro keyboard works fine
Speedtest consistently > 1Gb/s both up and down. All Windows security functions are activated and updated. Shields up shows no reverse DNS, no response to uPnP probes and all ports closed. Have not tried VPN yet. Connectivity and speed on LTE (on iPad) works fine. VM is as snappy as on Wifi/wire
Dropbox installs fine. Synology drive also and copy paste between Mac and VM too
Not tried but all WIndows apps I have installed as normal. USB peripherals also recognised so dongles should work. Doubt CPU based licenses will work with vCPUs
A week or so in and I am still impressed how smooth it all works. Much better RDP integration than having a remote Mac (which will lack audio/video and most peripherals)
I was outside doing some yardwork on this fine Sunday morning in Boise, Idaho listening to episode 602, “Was that a Rabbit Hole?”
Before I go on, I love needing out on this topic! I’m a 25+ year veteran in the IT services and cyber security space and have a lot of real world experience with various technologies including virtualization, software development, and leading teams of presales engineers and customer success mangers in the enterprise space. My job requires me to be familiar with many different Cloud offerings in both consumer and business contexts. My job in Corporate America has exposed and enriched my life in so many ways. I’m truly blessed to be able to say that I work in an industry that I truly love, and I’m glad to finally be able to offer something I’d substance to this fantastic community of folks.
This is the longest post I’ve ever put out in this or any other community, and I’ll apologize in advance.
Like Microsoft, Amazon Web Services has a similar virtual client desktop subscription offering called AWS Workspaces.
Unlike Microsoft this particular service has been around since April, 2013. It’s a more mature and stable offering than the new service from Microsoft.
The service not only supports Windows, but Linux as well. More on that below.
You can read all about it on the AWS Workspaces page/site.
Everything from here on out is based on my own personal multi-year experience with this service.
I’m not paid by AWS, it’s the other way around. I’ve been a use of this service ever since it came out in 2013; both as an administrator managing 100s of users, and as an end user myself in my homelab/sandbox/playground.
One general gripe I have with all of AWS services is their fairly complex pricing structure. You really do need a book to understand it all.
Thankfully, AWS provides very good documentation on their pricing, as well as technical documentation along with some decent tools to help manage costs so you can stay within whatever budget you might have.
Like all of their other services, AWS offers a free tier that lasts a year for some small instance to get you hooked on the service. The free tier has limitations, but is more than adequate for your “try and buy”evaluation. After the trial period, they have monthly and per hour pricing that takes effect.
I did some “back of the napkin,” math, based on my own usage, and I found the AWS offering to be cheaper than the equivalent offering from Microsoft.
To get started, you’ll need an AWS account, along with a credit card to get started.
Right now, AWS is offering a free capability for up to 50 users that ends on October 31st.
Similar to Microsoft’s offering, they have different workspace compute sizes to meet whatever your needs are. They also give you “free” storage to store documents and share with other AWS Workspace users, powered by their awesome S3 storage service
It’s too much to type here to describe it all, so here’s a link to the Workspace pricing and options page.
The service is designed for business and multi-user corporate setups, but can also function for individual use. It’s not designed or recommended for gaming.
That being said, their higher end offerings come complete with GPUs and they do a decent job of playing some games. Just don’t expect it to do what a beefy physical gaming rig can do.
Just like a physical Windows client environment, you can install apps like Dropbox, 1Password, Office and more just like you would a Windows PC that you might have at home or work.
The Workspaces service isn’t just limited to Windows. For all you Linux fans, they also offer a Linux desktop OS based on their custom fork of Red Hat known as AWS Linux that comes complete with the YUM package manager.
Before I go into the features that I have personal experience with, it’s important to repeat what by David said the 602 episode:
**you are going to need a decent internet connection to get a similar experience to a physical PC.**
I have cable-based Internet here in Boise with an asymmetrical 1 Gbps down and 50 Mbps up. My home network has solid WiFi (300 to 650 Mbps depending on device and proximity to the WAPs) and physical connections that result in zero issues with latency or delays.
My home network is based on Ubiquiti’s pro grade wireless APs that use PoE connections to enterprise class gigabit switches with 10 Gbps SFP+ fiber connections between my separate and standalone office (more like a very plush shed) and the main house. I’ve got a few fiber lines that run through 175 feet of conduit I buried a while ago expressly for this purpose.
As I mentioned at the start, I’ve worked (more like played) in IT for a long time, and really do enjoy the industry. I’m a tech and gadget enthusiast and set all this up in order to keep my skills current and to maintain some level of “tech street cred” when I’m with my team, peers and clients.
Yes it’s overkill, but when you are enthusiastic about your hobbies, you go all out!
If anyone is interested in atheism network details, I’m happy to dig deeper and share, especially since David and Stephen covered the home networking topic in episode #598 back in July.
Back to AWS Workspaces.
Here is a list of what I love about the AWS Workspaces service and why I’ve been a happy paying customer all these years, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
1 - Security
The workspace virtual environment lives in a VPC (Virtual Private Cloud) that is not wide open to the world.
In plain terms this means that there is a firewall that you control and manage. You decide what ports to open, and what originating/source IPs are allowed to connect to it.
You can configure public and Private subnets as well as Internet facing NAT services for web browsing, Ps updates and the like.
The AWS shared security model means that they do their part with the network infrastructure via the VPC, and you do your part by managing the access policies, access IDs and keys, passwords or other secure logins using hardware tokens, ToTP, encryption, etc.
Read more about how to setup a workspace using a VPC in the AWS docs.
2 - Flexibilty
They have many different “sizes” of virtual PCs for you to chose from. See the pricing link further down this post for details.
You install just about any application you want on either the Windows or Linux variants. If I’m developing software, I can install a LAMP stack or Docker on Windows or Linux and have a fully functioning development environment.
You could also install a VPN client stop ensure that all traffic to and from the Workspace instance is encrypted and secure.
If a VPN client isn’t for you, you can create and manage a site-to-site VPN with the VPC (for a few) so that everything is encrypted from your home or work firewall.
From a corporate IT security perspective, this is great because administrators can define policies to ensure that the virtual PCs are safe and comply with whatever their policies mandate, and you can be sure that all data in transit is encrypted as well.
When you’re done using it, you can delete it and start with a fresh instance. This is especially useful if you’ve messed up a setting or configuration, which I’ve done on more than a few occasions.
Can’t say enough about the level of flexibility and number of configuration options that are available to suit whatever your needs might be.
3 - Storage
They give you ample
free tiers of storage (80 GB, IIRC) for the root partition (aka C drive) and you can increase that to suit your needs.
They also have additional storage (aka D or E drives, if you will) for documents, files, music, movies, images, etc., that scales to 1TB and beyond.
The best part about this is that with their client or the standard RDP client, you can copy/transfer files to your local Mac, or connected external drive by simply connecting your local environment as a network drive. The experience is pretty seamless.
There are other storage options that you can integrate as networked drives to share with others within the same workspace, or with other cloud offerings.
4 - Pricing structure (aka value for your money)
Like most clod services, there are various tiers with different prices depending on the confirmation you choose.
You pay a small flat month fee (~ 7 bucks a month for the smaller compute versions, and up to ~70 bucks a month for a beefy compute version with multiple virtual cores and GPUs).
There is also an hourly usage charge that starts around .25 cents an hour and goes up from there.
Thankfully, AWS provides and discloses all of this and provides a number of tools to help keep and eye on costs and stay within a budget.
In short, you pay for what you are using and how long you are actively using it. My average monthly bill is between 25 and 50 dollars a month, depending on my workload.
Pricing and sizing information for their service is here.
Note: The Linux desktop offerings are cheaper as they don’t require the Windows licensing that Microsoft charges for.
Speaking of, you can pay for the license as part of the service, or, if you have your own Windows license, you can use that with the service. Again, they are pretty flexible and can meet you where you are at.
5 - Availabilty and Stabilty
AWS has data centers all over the world and a robust CDN to ensure that the workspaces are speedy and available no matter where you are in the world.
Before COVID, I was traveling all over the world to the tune of 300 - 350K miles a year. Imagine not having to lug another PC with me and having access wherever there is mobile data or wifi service.
Since the service is designed for business, it needs to be highly available and stable so as not to negatively impact your business. 5 9’s of reliability is there and I can’t recall a time that the service had been unavailable.
Not all AWS data centers offer the service, so you should check out their website for details on where the Arvid is available.
6 - Upgrade path
The Workspace service is designed for client/desktop use cases. However, if you outgrow the Workspaces offering, you could upgrade to a dedicated Windows or Linux server instances instead. There’s a lot to choose from and you can check out the plethora of compute and Os options on their site.
There’s a lot to like about the service, and you should definitely check out the free capabilities to play and experiment before throwing down your hard-earned cash.
And most importantly, don’t just take my word for it. There are a ton of blogs and videos that can give you even more information.
Here’s an AWS blog from 2018.
It’s dated, but it’s still applicable in todays world. I’m sharing this so you get a sense of how long the service has been available; which has a secondary benefit of indicating the maturity and stability of the service.
RackSpace and other providers offer similar services, and you should definitely check them out to determine which one works best for you.
Lastly, while I might seem like an AWS fan boy, I’m not. I just have a lot of experience with this particular service and with many other Infrastructure as a Serivce (IaaS) providers.
I use pay and use Google’s GSuite (rebranded to Google Workspaces) and their Cloud Platform (GCP) along with Microsoft’s Office 365, Visual Studio and Azure subscriptions.
If anyone has questions, comments, thoughts or other feedback, please reply and I’ll do my very best to answer and help this great and wonderful community that has taught me so much!
, & ,
TL;DR There are multiple hosted services that will give you a virtual Windows PC “in the cloud”. Depending upon how much handholding or administrative support you need, the prices can vary quite a bit less than Microsoft or Amazon AWS.
When I ran a small hosting company myself, I just created a few virtual PC’s on a server for my own remote use. It was really easy even back then (10 years ago).
Nowadays, my need is for a Virtual PC on my Mac laptop that has physical interface to networks and USB devices when I am onsite, so the only solution, other than carrying a Windows laptop, is dual booting or slugging it out with Parallels (which is fine if I only need network access, but anything with USB ports has always been problematic for me).
So still hoping that Microsoft and Apple make peace and figure out (with or without Parallels help) a retail solution for virtual Windows with x86 emulation/simulation on M1 Macs - hopefully soon.
Thanks for the long write-up. Agree with your assessment on AWS Workspaces, which I have used both for professional and personal use. Great service and very flexible.
You do need tech skills to set it up and get it right though, especially if you run confidential stuff on your cloud PC. As you said the whole security config, with virtual networking, internet gateway, VPN etc is quite the setup.
All of this is seamless with Windows 365. Easy straightforward setup and also the integration with local PC (sound, video, peripherals, multi-screen setup) works really well. I have been impressed with Windows 365 so far. Definitely not cheap, less configurable but as a usable solution out of the box it definitely delivers. That said the need for a Microsoft 365 business account is a drawback and adds to the base cost