NOTE: This article is not about genealogy, but I suspect many Windows users will be interested in it. If you are looking for true genealogy-related articles, I suggest you skip this one.
In the July 30, 2018, edition of this newsletter, I predicted:
“Huge changes are coming from Microsoft. A new rumor is going around that claims Microsoft is switching from SELLING Windows to RENTING it instead. Some users think it will be an improvement while others believe it will be a major step backwards to computing in the way it was done in the 1970s when very expensive mainframes did all the computing and all data input and output by humans was done by using remote ‘dumb terminals.’
“Microsoft is getting ready to replace Windows 10 with the Microsoft Managed Desktop. This will be a “desktop-as-a-service” (DaaS) offering. Instead of owning your own copy of Windows, you’ll “rent” Windows by the month.”
Microsoft made my prediction come true this week. Microsoft has now rolled out Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). If you have a fast internet connection, you can run your desktop off WVD today.
Starting now, you no longer need to own a PC with Microsoft Windows installed. Instead, you can “run” Windows 10 on a Macintosh, Chromebook, Linux, iPad, or Android tablet.
OK, you don’t really “run” windows on the other systems as much as you ACCESS Windows from almost any computer. That is a critical difference. All you need on these other systems is a web browser, such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, or probably any of the other web browsers.
Microsoft has been testing Windows Virtual Desktop (or WVD) for some time and now has released the application to everyone. Windows Virtual Desktop is a perfect example of a cloud-based application: the primary program (Windows 10) actually runs in multiple data centers located anywhere in the world. Not only is the operating system running in remote servers but the default operation runs all your programs (Word, Excel, email, games, and much more) in the same servers. Optionally, your files also can be stored either in the cloud or in your own local computing device, whether that local computer is a Macintosh, Chromebook, Linux, iPad, Android, or some other computer.
With WVD (Windows Virtual Desktop), you type on your local computer’s keyboard, use the local mouse, and view all the activity on your local computer’s screen. However, the local screen simply serves as a “window” into the software running on remote servers in the cloud.
As Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft 365, said, “Companies want to move this to the cloud. And WVD is really the only way to run real Windows 10 clients, multiuser, in the public cloud.”
I have heard many Windows users claim, “Oh, I could never use a [Mac, Linux desktop, Chromebook or whatever] because it doesn’t run my favorite Windows-only program.” That argument has disappeared. Now almost any computer can access Windows programs. Using WVD, you can run your Windows apps on ChromeOS, Linux, macOS, Android, or an iPad.
Why would Microsoft do this?
I can think of several reasons. However, I suspect one of the major motivations is the fact that Microsoft undoubtedly has been watching the success of Google’s Chromebook and Chromebox systems. Millions of these devices are being sold every year and we can assume most of those sales were to individuals, schools, and corporations who purchased a Chromebook or Chromebox system instead of a Windows system. (I doubt if many people purchase a Chromebook or Chromebox system instead of a Macintosh.)
Every sale of a Chromebook or Chromebox system represents the loss of a sale of a new Windows system. That means millions of dollars in lost revenue for Microsoft.
Part of the success of Chromebook and Chromebox systems is (1.) low prices and (2.) operating system simplicity and (3.) the fact that Chromebook and Chromebox systems never get viruses and (4.) the fact that Chromebook and Chromebox systems have a default of running applications in the cloud. (Today’s Chromebook and Chromebox systems also can run programs installed internally but that doesn’t seem to be as popular.)
Since Microsoft has experienced a significant loss in revenue due to competition from Chromebook and Chromebox systems, the company’s senior executives undoubtedly said to themselves, “We can do that too!”
I am sure that much of the motivation for Microsoft to add the capability of running cloud-based Windows applications is because of competitive pressures from Google’s Chromebook and Chromebox systems.
As you might expect, there are advantages and disadvantages to this cloud-based operation. Here are a few things I can think of:
Lower costs – Instead of purchasing a high-powered and expensive PC to perform heavy-duty computing, you simply rent time on some very powerful servers located elsewhere and access them ny using Microsoft’s WVD in your local computer, even if it is a non-Microsoft computer. The amount of savings will vary widely, depending upon your needs. For instance, if you need to use an engineering CAD/CAM program (computer-aided design & computer-aided manufacturing) only occasionally, it seems senseless to spend $2,000 or more for a high-powered Windows workstation that is only used occasionally. Instead, use a low-powered and inexpensive Chromebook or iPad or some similar computing device in your home or office with WVD to access high-powered servers in the cloud and only pay for the number of hours used. The results will be the same except for significant money savings.
Use almost any computer to access Windows 10 – The WVD client app is available for Windows as well as Macintosh, Android, Apple iOS (iPad), Chromebook, and any other web browser capable of running an HTML 5 web browser. All modern web browsers are HTML 5 capable. This means you can “run” Windows via most of the popular desktop browsers.
Automatic software updates – There will be no need to install Windows software updates. Support personnel in the various cloud-based data centers will install all Windows operating system updates for you as well as updates for Microsoft products (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, OneNote, and many more applications). In most cases, the end user will still be responsible for updates to applications written by other companies, however.
Reduced risk of viruses – The operating system is maintained by Microsoft’s experts, reducing your risk of viruses and similar problems. The risk is not entirely eliminated, however, especially for programs installed by you, the user.
Essentially infinite disk space – Since everything can run in the cloud, you can store as many files as you wish. Disk space should never be a problem in the cloud. It also will be far more convenient than installing disk drives into your local computer. You obviously will need to pay for the rental of that disk space; but, in most cases, that will be cheaper than purchasing your own disk drive(s). Using WVD probably will also be much more convenient and cheaper than replacing your own local disk drive(s) after a hardware failure.
Backups are automatic – Files stored in the cloud are also backed up automatically all the time. Even if the cloud-based service suffers hardware failures, your files can be restored quickly by the system support experts employed by the cloud service. In most cases, the end user will never know there was a hardware failure; he or she simply accesses everything in the same manner as always.
NOTE: Storage of files in the cloud will be optional: you also can store files in your local computer, should you wish to do so. Should you elect to store files locally, you will be responsible for making your own backups of those files.
An “always on” internet connection will be required – This won’t be much of a problem in most homes and offices, but it may be an impediment when traveling. Not all airplanes, commuter trains, hotels, coffee shops, parks, or open spaces have wi-fi or cost-effective cellular or satellite connections available today. That certainly is changing, but wireless connections will not be available everywhere for a few more years. By the time all Windows users are forced to move to WVD, wireless access will probably be commonly available in 99% of the homes, offices, and other locations.
Speed – A fast Internet connection will be necessary in order to enjoy a “smooth operation.” A slow connection will result in slow performance and “jerkiness” as delays are encountered.
Issues with peripherals – While the keyboard, mouse, and screen on your your local computing device should work perfectly, what about scanners or other hardware devices or connections to a tablet computer, smartwatch, Kindle, flash drive, or other devices that usually connect via USB? All of these connections probably will be easy to use someday, but not as simple while WVD is still in its infancy.
Pricing – Using a cloud-based operating system may be either cheaper or more expensive than purchasing your own hardware and operating system. Pricing for the new Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) may be found at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/virtual-desktop/. The pricing schedule is complicated, but it can be as cheap as $0.004/hour US (four-tenths of one cent per hour for low-powered and low-usage) as listed at https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/details/virtual-machines/windows/. However, many users probably will opt for higher-powered and more expensive services.
Who is in charge? – Using any cloud-based service means that the user is always at the whims and policies of the cloud service provider. While the odds of Microsoft declaring bankruptcy and going out of business are slim, other issues can be a problem. First, Microsoft could raise prices at any time. Next, the U.S. Government can suddenly change its laws and regulations, leaving you out of business.
NOTE: One example is Adobe. The company is shutting down its application service for Venezuelan users to comply with a U.S. executive order that prohibits trade with that country. If you live in Caracas, you soon won’t be able to use Acrobat, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, or Premiere. The same thing could happen if you relied on Microsoft for your desktop.
Microsoft will first encourage corporations to move to Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). Individual consumers will not be rushed into making this change; you probably can continue to use Windows installed in your own computer for several more years. However, there is little doubt that Microsoft wants everyone to eventually rent their computing capabilities, not purchase the hardware. Of course, Microsoft will always encourage renting this amount of power from just one company: MICROSOFT.
As to the Windows PC hardware as a standalone platform, it’s on its way out. The change won’t happen overnight, but it certainly will happen if Microsoft has its way.
If you don’t want to participate in Microsoft’s visions for the future, now is the time to start planning on alternatives: Macintosh/Chromebook/Linux/Pad/Android or whatever new hardware and operating systems appear in the future.