A PC in the cloud

It was going to happen sooner or later. While many regarded Chromebooks as devices merely fit for less intensive computing tasks, they have shown Microsoft and the PC industry a different approach to personal computing.

Analyst Gartner reported that Chromebook shipments were once again strong in the second quarter of 2021. This suggests that people are buying them as a primary device for end user computing.

People often complain at how Windows takes ages to boot – so much so that each new release of Windows strives to improve boot times. They also have to ensure their devices are running the latest antivirus protection to reduce the risk of being caught out by a hacker exploiting a Window vulnerability.

Central desktop management

From an IT management perspective, it is far easier to offer an operating system and desktop computing environment that runs in a secure cloud, where the user interface is streamed down to the device. All security is handled by IT admins centrally, on the cloud platform, minimising the risk of data loss and hacking attacks.

Software deployments are also greatly simplified. Software can be made available to groups of users instantly, based on policies and job roles. Access can be granted and revoked in real time. This approach to desktop computing is what Google has strived to achieve with the Chromebook. During the Inspire virtual event, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, introduced Windows 365 and a new category of device, the cloud PC, which seems to draw heavily on the reasoning behind the Chromebook.

Nadella described this new incarnation of Windows as a hybrid operating system, which is accessible on any device via the Microsoft cloud. Microsoft has effectively drawn a line in the sand, separating its older, on-premise desktop operating system and productivity software, from cloud-based software.

Like many SaaS companies, Microsoft already offers a browser interface for some of its products, such as Office 365. These products tend to load far quicker than the versions that run locally on desktop and laptop PCs. In the past, the browser-based user interface was less functional than in the desktop version, but Microsoft has steadily made improvements and Office 365 now provides a rich browser user experience that works on any device. A true hybrid OS needs to combine browser-based applications with the ability to stream Windows applications that are unable to run in a browser.

If it can get the cost of ownership, manageability and usability right, Microsoft may well be able to change our perception of personal computing.

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