Evaluating the user experience and cases for Windows 365

Windows 365 is “Windows as a Service – a cloud-based service that automatically creates a new type of Windows virtual machine (Cloud PCs) for users. Each Cloud PC is assigned to an individual user and is their dedicated Windows device. Windows 365 provides the productivity, security, and collaboration benefits of Windows and Microsoft 365.”

Windows 365 is “similar” to a dedicated virtual desktop assignment in an Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) environment, but is delivered as a SaaS service, providing a dedicated Cloud PC that users can remotely sign in to. It is also significantly simpler to set-up and manage that VDI infrastructure and offers a simpler commercial model.

You may ask yourself, “Why would I want to stream a computer to….well another computer?” Well – there is more to that – let’s look at Microsoft Marketing!

Fruit of the Loom – because one-size doesn’t fit all.

Just like your Microsoft 365 subscriptions, Windows 365 is available in both Business and Enterprise Versions.

  • Windows 365 Enterprise is designed for organisations who have already invested in Microsoft’s Endpoint Manager and using Endpoint Manager to deploy and manage their Windows 10/11 devices. This means that if you want to start using Windows 365 Enterprise you will also need a license that includes Intune.
  • Windows 365 Business is aimed at any size organisation with less than 300 users that need a Cloud PC. This is the same service – but a little more no-frills. Windows 365 Business does not support joining to a custom (Azure) Vnet, and also does not allow users to connect to on-premises resources (yet) – it is for Cloud Native users.

What is best for your organisation is based on a couple of things. If you want to have a quick lightly managed device for your end users or are just running a pilot – Windows 365 Business is a good place to start (it’s cheaper too). If you want to have more control, access on-prem resources and manage the Cloud PCs in the same way you manage your physical desktops then Windows 365 Enterprise is best. To see a full comparison, check out the docs from Microsoft.

Pricing

Windows 365 is available through three plans. Each plan is available as Windows 365 Enterprise or Windows 365 Business edition and each plan is of course priced differently ranging from £23.90 (RRP) for Business Basic all the way up to £56.20 for Enterprise Premium which has 16GB RAM/4 CPUs and 128GB Storage – you can also customise your own spec if you like!

  • Basic: For running light productivity tools, frontline tools and browser-based apps
  • Standard: For most users that need full range of productivity tools & line-of-business apps.
  • Premium: For users that need high-performance compute and heavier data processing.

I’ve been running on a mid-range Windows 365 Enterprise Cloud PC with 8GB RAM and 128GB Storage which was ample for all my day-to-day use

The User Experience – Test Flight

Windows 365 is available on a browser or dedicated app on Windows 10 and Windows 11 (and soon for iOS and Android). Regardless of how you access it, the user experience is an instant (well actually always on if you prefer), high-performance and reliable personal desktop experience (that’s also optimised for Microsoft Teams and your other Microsoft 365 apps) regardless of the apps you use. Once running fall screen, you totally forget is a Cloud PC – even things like touch and pen work if your physical device has those properties.

Windows 365 User Experience

Who’s is Windows 365 for?

Windows 365 isn’t designed for the consumer market. Instead, it’s for companies and enterprises that need to deploy a network over a large area. It’s also designed to allow businesses to utilize computing power as they see fit.

The question – will the Cloud PC “era” revolutionise business computing, after VDI has (and is in some areas) still heavily used from a security, agility, and remote purpose.

One view is that organisations will be able to offer more choice, support BYOD and no longer need to money spend on high-end physical compute devices, deal with logistics, repairs, maintenance, and lifecycle management. All employee’s need is an existing device / browser and a reliable internet connection access their Windows 365 Cloud PC. Since this is a subscription service (like other SaaS apps), they can avoid capital expenditure on laptops and desktops that may not get used 100 percent of the time, allowing them to be more efficient with the use of their resources.

On the other side, many organisations have been investing in modern mobile computing like the Surface Pro 9 5G for hybrid work with local apps that access cloud services like Microsoft Teams and Office 365 etc.

Common Scenarios? There are many scenarios in which neither model is best and as such we typically seem a blended approach (some with physical devices some with Cloud PCs or even both!!). Some may compliment their laptop and local app deployment model with technology like Cloud PC for accessing certain apps, apps that require additional security such as finance apps or development platforms. There will also be scenarios in which a Cloud PC only environment works. Let’s explore some of these below.

  • Long term remote or contract workers that may not need a corporate device because they choose to use their own or because providing them with one is cumbersome and logistically difficult. For example, you may have a new contractor working with you full time for a period of weeks or months. Windows 365 Cloud PCs can be be used to create a dedicated, cloud-based environment for contractors with access to a specific set of applications, access to specific parts of your network and have specific conditional access policies. With Cloud PC, IT can quickly enable this securely on their personal device, with whatever restrictions you choose, completely isolated from their personal desktop.
  • Remote Work / work from anywhere – For example, you might be working from home or the office on your laptop and leave to go home, into the office or just to grab a coffee at the local cafe. Instead of lugging your laptop along, you could simply take your tablet/iPad and access your Cloud PC where you left off. This is also a great use case when on holiday and you need to access your desktop.
  • For specialist apps or secure environment – You may have roles within the business such as finance, surveyors, 3D modellers, programmers etc, who work on petabytes of data on a dedicated high-end workstation. For these people working remotely may not be an option or accessing seamless is a security nightmare. With Windows 365, these employees could have access to the same PC power as their office workstation on a secure environment on their own home PC or tablet.
  • To get super-fast internet access if you have isolated remote workers. Another advantage of Windows 365 is superfast internet. How? Well, since your Cloud PC runs from the Microsoft Cloud, you are essentially streaming just the screen – all your local apps, file and processing are done in the Cloud, so when you download large data from Office 365 or any other source, it’s actually being downloaded to and from Microsoft’s data centres, which means super-fast internet. Microsoft demo’d a speed test which showed download speeds of up to 10 GBPS and upload speeds of up to 4 GBPS. In my tests I received the following.
  • New employees and for improving the break-fix experience – For employees that develop a fault with their corporate laptop or for new employees that don’t yet have a laptop, Windows 365 can be a great fit. Instead of getting them to use their own device as a BYOD device mode (which is not secure, breaches company security policy, could increase risk of breach, malware infestation etc), while they wait for a device or repair, use Windows 365 to quickly provision them a corporate Cloud PC which they can access from any device and that looks and feels exactly like the experience they are used to. This minimises impact to the user, keeps them productive, reducing urgency in repair or device procurement and can make for a super slick process for all involved.

Windows 365 from an Admin Experience

Now then, I am not an IT administrator anymore (I was once), but from the experience I have had setting up demo and test environments, it is so simple. Reason being, there is no setting up and maintaining complex VDI network and software infrastructure or different tools to use for management, since everything is managed through Intune – which you probably already use!

Using Intune, IT can manage both physical and virtual devices in one place making it simple to deploy software, add new Cloud PCs, upgrade Cloud PCs and of course, reset them, delete them and re-provisioning them. IT can also easily see how much computing power each Cloud PC or user is using and because they run in Azure (which is Carbon Neutral), you can technically deploy an entire fleet of Cloud PCs with zero CO2 overhead! Onboarding users is simple too, as you can simply make a user part of the right group (ensuring they also have a license) and a new Cloud PC is automatically provisioned which takes less than an hour. If you have autopilot enabled, then just like a physical device, the apps, configuration, settings etc are all applied as part of the build!

Since device specification is controlled by a license – should a user needs a more powerful device, IT can simply assign a different license – no waiting on a complex configuration change or buying a new physical PC (also good for the environment). The opposite also applies as a Cloud PC can be changed to a lower power device – saving compute power and licensing costs! Network performance monitoring is also built inside Windows 365 and because every Cloud PC runs from Microsoft’s Cloud they get laser-fast and direct connect connectivity to your Microsoft 365 app and Azure and being a Microsoft Cloud Service – Microsoft continuously monitor and run diagnostics on your Windows 365 environment – meaning if they detect an issue (either with your config or theirs), IT get notified!

Quick Intune Tour of Windows 365

Security First

One of the big appeals of Windows 365 is for remote work, temporary staff, new joiners, contractors, and students. Since the Cloud PC is…well in the cloud, it’s inherently more secure – protected by the same enterprise class security, identity, and compliance solutions from Microsoft that most admins will already use. Since Cloud PC is accessed via a secure browser or the Windows 365 app, it is isolated and insulated from most threats, and since is not directly installed on your device, it’s inherently more secure and can be configured to have no local access removing the risk from malware or ransomware from the underlying physical device.

Cloud PC also supports Azure AD Single Sign (and even password-less sign-on) on which gives a frictionless user experience without the need to use separate passwords – reducing the risk of credential theft in your environment which is especially useful when used with personal devices.

“By leveraging Windows 365 we can quickly and easily provide contactors with Windows 11 desktops which they can access on their own laptops meaning they are protected by our security and compliance policies. These Cloud PCs are instantly available from any device and any location, with little to no risk from the physical device they use to connect from”.

A customer quote!

Windows 365 vs Azure Virtual Desktop

How is Windows 365 different to Azure Virtual Desktop then?

Where Windows 365 Cloud PC is a dedicated desktop, managed by Microsoft as a SaaS app, Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD) is a Platform as a Service (PaaS) service which runs in Azure. With AVD, organisations have more full granular control over the environment build, and can configure a fully tailored, customised desktop and application virtualisation experience using either pooled or dedicated (one to one) desktops. Windows 365 is dedicated desktop and does not support multi session like AVD does. Billing of AVD is based on Azure usage whereas, Windows 365 is a single subscription per user and billed on a flat per user, per month fee (based on the spec of the machine).

Both Windows 365 and AVD make use of some overlapping technology, so they may seem similar but there are major differences.

How to Get Started with Windows 365

  1. Procure some licenses from your partner or Microsoft direct
  2. Configure Windows 365 from Intune
  3. Configure the on-premises network connection
  4. Create Security Group for Cloud PC users
  5. Assign a Cloud PC license to your users (or at group level)
  6. Create a Provisioning Policy
  7. Configure Hybrid Azure AD Join or Native Azure AD Join
  8. Create or assign a custom or stock image
  9. Enable and configure updates for Windows 365 (you can even use Autopatch)
  10. Assign users to the group created in step 5
  11. get the user to download the Windows 365 App or connect via a browser at

There’s a full guide on Microsoft Learn or speak to your partner to help you set up a PoC via FastTrack or as a paid PoC.

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