WZOR recently wrote about Windows 8.1 Update 2 and Windows 9. He claimed Windows 8.1 Update 2 (or 8.2, nobody knows yet) is planned for September 2014 (Mary Jo Foley, on the other hand, claims it will be August). The most interesting part of WZOR’s post, however, are his rumours about “Windows 9” (currently scheduled for a Spring 2015 release), he talks about “Windows Shadow Cloud” or “Windows Cloud“, some sort of cloud version of Windows 9.
Let’s start with what WZOR actually said: (loosely translated from Russian)
Windows Cloud is a prototype of a some sort of cloud service where they (Microsoft) would offer the client portion of this cloud system as a free download. The ability to download will be implemented immediately in the BIOS of the PC (like Apple). It’s not clear, however, how it will work when the PC is offline and without some sort of subscription service (like Office 365). It might work somewhat like Windows Starter. The development of all this is top-secret.
It’s clear that WZOR is talking about some sort of subscription version of Windows, much like Office 365 for Office. This could simply mean users would constantly be updated to the latest version of the OS for free as long as they have an active subscription, maybe with the possibility to add/remove certain features for an additional cost. Or, it could be something truly revolutionary, a Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) service.
The following is my concept of what this DaaS service could look like, loosely based on WZOR’s rumours.
What is DaaS?
First off, what is a Desktop as a Service? It’s basically your OS in the cloud.
There are several ways one could achieve this, for example, by connecting to a virtual machine running on a server using a remote desktop app. This is exactly what Amazon’s is doing with their Workspaces service. They basically run your copy of Windows on a VM on their servers and you can access it from your PC or tablet. (Side note: To avoid licensing issues, they actually run a copy of Windows Server with the Desktop Experience pack installed…). Microsoft doesn’t really offer this service, but you can deploy a VM to Microsoft Azure and use it in exactly the same way, people are actually doing this right now.
The big benefit of this is of course that you can use ‘your PC’ wherever you are, at home, at school, at work, while your on holiday etc. It will always have your files, software and settings.
How could Microsoft implement this?
(Building on WZOR’s rumours about a free, BIOS OS(?) download) I would create a lightweight launcher that you can boot into and login with your Microsoft Account. If you have an active Windows Cloud subscription you can then connect to your VM in the cloud. It would be a bootable remote desktop client. This would enable users to run Windows with a very small footprint, for example, very cheap, or even completely free tablets, bundled with a Windows Cloud subscription.
As Amazon demonstrated, the VMs can be accessed using a whole range of devices, PCs, Macs, but also tablets, even tablets running Android or IOS!
You could change your subscription to allocate more storage to your VMs or easily scale the VMs with more memory, just like you can do with Azure VMs.
What about offline use?
First of all, Microsoft will never go cloud-only, they will always provide a traditional version of Windows for use on machines with a slow Internet connection, or with no connection at all. But that still leaves cloud users, what happens when their connectivity drops? Or when they travel to a place with no Internet connection?
There would have to be some way to download the VM’s contents to the device, along with device-specific drivers. The download would happen in the background, without the user noticing anything. When they go offline, they have a working copy of their Cloud PC for offline use. The local copy would constantly be updated to reflect the state of the parent VM, this can be done relatively easy using xdelta compression or incremental ‘backups’. (WZOR used the name “Windows Shadow Cloud”, perhaps a reference to shadow copies?)
And enterprise use?
I can see why enterprises would be hesitant to adopt this kind of technology, but this could enable entirely new BYOD scenarios! Just imagine the possibilities! The IT department could upload a base VM that can be customized for individual users, the employees can access their work PC at work (duh!) but also on their home PC or their tablet, they could ‘dual boot’ their home and work VMs.
Microsoft might even license the framework to corporations and governments to run the VMs on their own infrastructure, like they do right now with Lync, SharePoint, Exchange and Office Web Apps. That way a company could run their own cloud of employee PCs for maximum customizability and security.
Is this possible? Sure! The technology for basic DaaS is already available right now, I’m sure the more advanced stuff I described is possible too, if only Microsoft works its magic for a few years.
Is this what’s coming in Windows 9? Probably not, a simple subscription for OS updates is more likely what WZOR is referring to.
If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, let me know on twitter, or leave a comment below.