Virtual desktop

Virtual desktop

'Frontline' workers: Microsoft's next target for its Windows 365 Cloud PC service
Microsoft is readying a Windows 365 Frontline offering for a June release, according to its own roadmap.
A representation of Windows 365's promised boot-to-cloud feature

Microsoft is targeting June 2023 as its delivery date for a new Windows 365 offering called "Windows 365 Frontline." Microsoft posted a note about Windows 365 Frontline on its Microsoft 365 Roadmap site on February 10, stating it would be available worldwide for PC, Mac, mobile and web users.

Microsoft made its Windows 365/Cloud PC service generally available in 2021. Windows 365 is a cloud-based virtualization service that builds on top of and complements Azure Virtual Desktop. Windows 365 is for business users only at this point and costs anywhere from $20 to $162 per user per month based on cores, RAM and storage.

Frontline workers (sometimes also called "firstline workers") are "deskless" workers who are employed on the front lines in retail, healthcare, hospitality and other industries and are a big target for Microsoft’s subscription-based Microsoft 365 services. Microsoft officials claimed early last year that there were two billion frontline workers worldwide, representing 80% of the global workforce. Microsoft officials said they'd seen 400% growth (from some undisclosed number) in monthly active usage of its Teams platform among frontline workers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020 to November 2021.

The exact form the coming Windows 365 Frontline offering will take isn't explained in the roadmap entry. Will it be a new edition which will sit alongside the current Windows 365 Business and Enterprise variants? Will it be available as an add-on to Microsoft 365 subscribers? How much will it cost? I asked Microsoft, but a spokesperson would only say that Microsoft had "nothing to share at this time" about its own new roadmap entry.

The Windows 365 Frontline entry notes that the coming release is "designed for organizations to provide Cloud PCs for shift workers or part time workers that only need a Cloud PC for a limited amount of time each day or week."

My assumption is Windows 365 Frontline will be built on the "Windows 365 Boot" capability that Microsoft officials discussed in April 2022. Officials said this coming boot-to-cloud functionality would be better than initially booting Windows locally and then connecting to the cloud because it would allow users to pick up exactly where they were last time they logged in with Windows 365. They said that the boot-to-cloud feature would be configurable by admins using Endpoint Manager. And they described this feature as "a great option for frontline workers using shared devices."

The Windows 365 Frontline offering could also come with limited hours of availability, such as pool of hours the Cloud PC could be used in a given week, which could be more appropriate for a shift worker than salary-based “knowledge worker." This might give Microsoft an option to add a lower-priced Windows 365 line-up to its roster.

Windows 365 Boot was one of four new Windows 365 capabilities that company officials touted last year as examples of tight Windows and Cloud PC integrations.

Microsoft also announced and delivered the Windows 365 App which enables users to pin their customized Cloud Desktop apps to their Windows 11 taskbar and/or Start menu for easy access. They also talked up "Windows 365 Switch," which will allow users to move between their Cloud PCs and their local desktop just as easily as they currently can move between different desktops using the Task Switcher; and "Windows 365 Offline," which will allow users to work in their Cloud PCs even when disconnected from the Internet. They'll be able to reconnect and sync later without data loss, officials said. Microsoft hasn't provided any delivery timing for Boot, Switch or Offline, but these capabilities are likely to be delivered with a Windows 11 feature update (or maybe as one of its interim update "moments" before this fall) as these features require tight integration with the OS.

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Windows 10 and 11 will cost less to license in some virtual desktop infrastructures, but Amazon Web Services, Google, Alibaba, and their customers will not benefit.

A type of server-based desktop architecture where each user has a dedicated OS instance running in a VM (virtual machine) hosted on a server.