Microsoft has put Windows online with Windows 365, which means any Mac, iPad, iPhone, or even Linux user can run a a virtualized PC in the cloud. Can, and should, Apple do something similar?

What is Windows 365?

Windows 365 will let you run Windows as a service in the cloud on your choice of device. When you move between devices, you’ll always find your cloud PC just as you last used it, which enables you to work on the device most convenient to you at any time.

You access the cloud PC using a web browser or native app, and the service requires fewer technical skills than it takes to run Azure Virtual Desktop. “Windows 365 provides an instant-on boot experience that enables users to stream all their personalized applications, tools, data, and settings from the cloud across any device including your Mac, iPad, Linux device, and Android,” said Microsoft 365 General Manager Wangui McKelvey.

Given Windows 365 is only available in Business and Enterprise editions, this doesn’t appear to be a consumer-facing solution; Microsoft hasn’t yet announced pricing.

Why Windows 365?

Microsoft is pivoting to address the needs of the new hybrid workplace. As a business tool, its service will enable easy provisioning of computer access to remote staff, including short-term project teams. That matters, as Gartner estimates remote workers will represent 32% of all employees worldwide by the end of 2021, up from 17% in 2019. In addition, as offices reopen throughout 2021, 51% of those employees will be in a hybrid environment, working from home at least one day a week.

Gartner also expects that through 2024, remote workers will use at least four different device types for work, up from three in 2019.

In a multi-platform mobile computing world, we get things done across computers, tablets, and phones — that’s what Microsoft is playing for here.

One thing it hasn’t done (yet) is enable Windows in a VM using Parallels on a Mac following the removal of Boot Camp from M1 hardware. I do think it makes sense for Microsoft to offer casual users some form of cloud PC access on short-term contracts, but I doubt it sees much value in such a nickel-and-dime business, so better just let us use Parallels.

What about Apple?

While there are services that mean you can run Macs in the cloud, Apple’s business remains firmly device-based. It wants to sell you hardware, and keeps the experience of owning that hardware interesting with regular software updates, exciting new features, and a highly rewarding user experience. But it still needs to ship units to make money.

Apple is diversifying, of course. The company’s fast-growing services income and its move to make those services available across a multitude of platforms and devices show it understands the crazy, mixed-up, multi-platform journey we’re all on.

At the same time, until it has a really good reason to give macOS a life away from devices — by which I mean, a high probability of selling stuff to customers — it’s unlikely to introduce Mac-as-a-service. Though it does now have the Cloud+ brand within which it will be able to offer it.

What excuse might Apple need to set macOS free? It really only makes sense if it has a companion hardware device it can sell.

We think the first generation of that hardware device may turn up next year when Apple is expected to introduce AR glasses, undoubtedly running some virtualized form of iOS. Given both iOS and macOS can be controlled using your voice, at what point might Apple put a Mac in your eyewear?

Unlikely, perhaps, but not impossible. And with Gartner predicting that more than 15 billion IoT devices will connect to enterprise infrastructure by 2029, platforms as a service may become the next big thing in the emerging metaverse.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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