Microsoft wants to put Windows PCs fully in the cloud – but what will that mean for you?

Microsoft wants to put its Windows operating system fully in the cloud, or at least that’s the suggestion – going by recently-revealed information from a company presentation that took place last year.

That ‘state of the business’ presentation from June 2022 has just come to light as part of the FTC vs Microsoft hearing that’s currently underway, The Verge reports. It includes a lot of talk about the cloud relating to business and gaming, but also to consumers who use Windows.

And as part of its ‘Modern Life’ consumer space, Microsoft is planning for a long-term opportunity to move “Windows 11 increasingly to the cloud”, and to use the “power of the cloud and client to enable improved AI-powered services and full roaming of people’s digital experience”.

In short, this suggests that rather than letting you install future versions of Windows on a drive nestling inside the PC on (or under) your desk, Microsoft wants your copy of Windows installed on a machine in a big data center somewhere, probably many miles away from you.

The overall aim is to build on “Windows 365 to enable a full Windows operating system streamed from the cloud to any device”, we’re told.

Analysis: Clouds on the horizon

It’s no secret that Microsoft sees the cloud as its future. After all, the software giant already makes an absolute stack of cash from its cloud services, which are expansive, to say the least.

In the business world, Windows 365 is a service that offers a streamed Windows installation to devices. That’s likely to be the future for consumers, too, certainly going by this presentation. As The Verge points out, there’s already a move to introduce Windows 365 Boot for Windows 11, which will allow a computer to log into a cloud PC instance rather than the local version of Windows (installed on the drive).

In the future, rather than such a choice (local or cloud dual boot, effectively), there may be no local installation at all, and all you’ll do is log into your cloud instance. Although it’s important to note that the presentation materials don’t specifically talk about doing away with local copies of Windows entirely – so it’s something of a jump to reach that conclusion (admittedly not a particularly large one).

At any rate, the cloud offers benefits and drawbacks for any service based in it. Broadly speaking, you’re getting a whole lot of flexibility and convenience, but trading that off against security concerns (and privacy worries, plus issues around control of your data).

File Explorer tabs in Windows 11

(Image credit: TechRadar)

With a fully cloud-based Windows PC, you’ll be able to go anywhere, and as long as you can get online, you’ll be able to log onto your Windows installation and work away from any device – with all your files and apps immediately to hand, wherever you are. The convenience of this is a major and undeniably attractive facet of the experience here.

As long as you have an internet connection being the key caveat, and the most obvious weak point for an entirely cloud-based PC. Can’t get online? Then you can’t get onto your PC (whereas with a physical desktop PC, you can use it offline, of course).

The other main concerns for users will be security and privacy as mentioned. With your files, data, and preferences in the cloud, you’ll be reliant on Microsoft to look after it, and keep everything safe from hackers and breaches. And those who get paranoid about Windows telemetry and monitoring are clearly going to have a fit when it comes to the privacy issues around having a cloud PC, with everything you do on that PC happening in the beating heart of Microsoft’s servers.

The further worry here might be the cost of a cloud PC – is this an ideal opportunity for Microsoft to bring in a monthly subscription charge for consumers using Windows? It feels that way, and that’s bound to be an angle the more cynical focus on. Or, Microsoft might offer a choice between payment and adverts in some manner, with the possibility of cheap cloud-connected systems implemented along such lines being an idea floated late last year.

One way or another, the future of Windows for consumers is likely to become just as cloudy as it is for businesses already, with pros and cons around that. The key aspect really will be whether local installations will still be facilitated (and dual boot options offered, cloud or local), or if that’s something Microsoft is hoping to entirely push to one side eventually.

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