I have long awaited something like Windows 365, which is Microsoft’s PC in the cloud. So each user is assigned, depending on service level, a virtual PC with various features.
In fact, I’ve been waiting for this kind of cloud-based PC ever since Sun demonstrated their old Sun Ray One platform, which was positioned as a Windows killer but, in reality, was anything but.
Shortly after Sun launched their Sun Ray product, I held a CIO roundtable and the Sun team asked to sit in with the understanding they’d be flies on the wall and silent. I brought up the Sun Ray, and that silent team decided they’d speak up about the problems with Windows. Those CIOs took offense, pointing out they’d tested the Sun Ray and thought it was not adequate. They pulled no punches.
They pointed out that the performance was insufficient, as well as compatibility and support, and by the time they were done, it was clear they were not fans. That’s not to say they were happy with Windows NT at the time either, but they liked Sun Ray so much less.
However, there were aspects of the product that were compelling. It retained state, boot time was fast, and it was arguably (because the data was centrally located) far more secure against a breach as a result.
Microsoft set me up with a Windows 365 guest account with the base level configuration, two Xeon cores at 2.6 GHz, and here are my initial impressions.
The base configuration of the cloud-based Windows 365 performs as you’d likely expect, which means this is no gamer PC or workstation. It fails 3D Mark, PC Mark 10 turned out a score of 2,063, and Geekbench 3 scored 3,952. These aren’t high performance scores, but they are adequate for basic word processing, spreadsheet work, and email.
Now where it knocked everything I’ve ever tested out of the park was with the Internet Speed Test, where I got a max of 1,125 Megabits down and a whopping 2,053 megabits up top speed. The speeds did vary slightly, but I never got below 849 Megabits down or 1,901 Megabits up. For comparison, I pay for my cable provider’s fastest speed, which is only 329.8 Megabits down and 11.7 Megabits up. That’s 3x the download speed I get and around 200x the upload speed.
This speed creates some interesting issues when logging into social media because it is so fast that Facebook and Twitter had issues. I eventually got around to the Facebook issue, but Twitter freaked out and thought I was some machine trying to log into my account. I’m guessing it is some feature they put in place to catch bots and expect it will get sorted eventually. However, on Facebook, where I often see wait states when I’m typing, it felt like I could work at warp speed way faster than I could from my home machine.
This result suggests the highest performance will be when you work with other online applications like filling out online forms because internet speeds won’t hamper you. Twitter showcased that you may trigger an alert because the system thinks you are too fast to be human. I had no issues with eBay either with near-instant page loads.
Oh, and you log out on one machine, and log back in on another, connect time is a fraction of what it would take to boot a PC, and you are right back where you left off. It retained state. In short, it performed as well as a base desktop or laptop with one exception, with Internet speeds that are well beyond what most of us are capable of getting.
I wrote this column in Windows 365 and didn’t notice any delays or latency; it felt like Word was running locally. For someone with modest needs that mostly live in Office, live in the browser, and uses online apps, this is a decent alternative to running those apps on a local machine.
And this approach does have a rather significant security advantage; the files aren’t on the client device, which can be Android, Mac, or iOS. It should run on a current-generation Chromebook since they’ll run Android apps now (HP has a new Chromebook out, and they indicated Windows 365 would run on it).
Other than gaming, for most of what I do, Windows 365 ran fine with its base configuration and provided an exciting look at what happens when you combine the flexibility of the Windows 10 desktop with the availability of the cloud.
If you get a chance, check this out, it is what that old Sun Ray One should have been, and a little over 20 years later, we finally have that Windows killer; ironically, it is from Microsoft, and it’s still based on Windows.
Oh, and it will get better from here; this is a first-generation offering which typically means there is a ton of performance headroom, particularly when they add GPU options, in store for the future of Windows 365.