2021 looks set to be a defining year for Microsoft. Alongside new Surface hardware, the company is focusing on software in a way we haven’t seen for a long time.
Without a doubt, the biggest announcement so far has been Windows 11. This brand-new version of Windows includes an overhauled design, various new multitasking features and native support for Android apps.
Now, it looks like Microsoft wants to build up the software infrastructure around the new OS. This includes Windows 365, a new business-focused service that the company has just announced. Here’s everything you need to know.
What is Windows 365?
In its simplest form, Windows 365 is a new service that allows business customers to access Cloud PCs from anywhere. A similar feature has been available via virtualisation and remote access software in the past, but it’s the first time we’ve seen an official service from Microsoft.
If you’re unsure whether your device is classed as a Cloud PC, there's no need to worry. All Windows 10 and Windows 11 devices will be compatible, and the session can be streamed to hardware running macOS, iPadOS, Linux and Android.
Once set up, it’s a simple case of navigating to the Cloud PC website and signing in – all modern web browsers and Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app are supported.
The timing of this announcement is no accident. As life begins to return to normal in some locations, Microsoft is anticipating that many companies will adopt a flexible working model, with each week split between home and the office.
It seems like a fair bet, especially when Microsoft itself is embracing similar practices. In this hybrid scenario, shifting from a Windows desktop in the office to a personal laptop at come can feel jarring. The introduction of Windows 365 aims to smooth that transition.
Within the Windows 365 portal, you'll also get access to Microsoft 365 apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Excel. Microsoft Teams will be natively supported on most plans, as well as Adobe Reader, the Edge browser and Microsoft Defender antivirus software.
Windows 365 plans are split into 'Business' and 'Enterprise', and the features vary slightly between them. Business subscribers can manage everything online via windows365.microsoft.com without the need for a licence, and add up to 300 users. The Enterprise tier removes this limit, allowing you to build on existing licences and take advantage of Microsoft's Endpoint Manager data security software.
When did Windows 365 come out?
Microsoft officially announced Windows 365 in a blog post on 14 July. It became available to business customers on 2 August 2021, although the free trial period has now been paused "following significant demand".
That means you'll either have to wait until trials reopen again, or commit to paying for a subscription without testing it out first. As is explained below, it doesn't come cheap.
How much does Windows 365 cost?
Microsoft has now revealed full Windows 365, and there are plenty of subscriptions to choose from. Firstly, plans are split into 'Business' and 'Enterprise', although the latter requires users to be running Windows 10 Pro. That allows them to take advantage of Windows Hybrid Benefit pricing, which is also available to Business subscribers.
Here's the full breakdown, exclusive of VAT:
|Processor||RAM||Storage||Subscription cost (per user per month, regular)||Subscription cost (per user per month, Windows Hybrid Benefit)|
Enterprise plans are all priced identically to the Windows Hybrid Benefit tier.
Will Windows 365 ever be available to consumers?
That’s not yet clear. Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 365 will be exclusive to businesses at launch, although these can range from one-man companies to huge enterprises. This opens the door for a consumer launch further down the line, but that’s just speculation at this stage. The seamless remote access Microsoft is advertising here could prove very to many consumers, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.