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Windows in the cloud will wrest control away from the end user

Windows in the cloud will wrest control away from the end user

According to an internal Microsoft presentation, Windows is going to run in the cloud in the long term. The strategy sounds like a logical next step in our digital lives, but will change the fundamental nature of desktop computing.

A quick glance at Microsoft’s offerings is enough to see where Redmond is heading. For decades, it has sold PC operating systems with the broad Office package as the value-add. Other software services have come and gone, but nowhere has growth been more rapid than in the cloud. Since the rise of Azure over a decade ago, the Microsoft suite has become increasingly accessible from cloud environments. But where businesses can already deploy Windows 365 for a fully cloud-based OS experience, consumers still stick to a local Windows install. That will change, in due time.


The Verge mentions that Microsoft explicitly referred to an evolution of Windows 365 for consumers as early as June 2022. A full operating system in the cloud should be accessible from any device.

In the meantime, the AI hype of recent months has been added to that. ChatGPT took the world by storm, while maker OpenAI struck a billion-dollar deal with Microsoft. This has led to countless integrations with Office products and Windows itself with all sorts of Copilot appearances. Why is this relevant to a cloud-based Windows? Because generative AI soon requires an awful lot of computing power that almost no one possesses. Most of the world runs on laptops, Chromebooks and small office PCs that need to be efficient rather than powerful. The time is ripe for a revolution, especially now that performance improvements in CPUs and other components are not too spectacular.

Tip: This is what Windows Copilot will look like

So Windows 11 is now getting some AI “retrofits,” retrospective tweaks somewhat awkwardly pasted onto an existing OS. With Windows 12, we can expect seemless integration in this regard – and it just might rely heavily on the cloud.

Focus and new plans

We have long seen that the current x86 ecosystem is no longer unchallenged. Who can deny that Apple’s move to target ARM architecture specifically was a smart play? By betting on technology that only enhances its own specialties, it has moved away from the relatively minor improvements that Intel chips have brought with them over the past decade. There are rumors that Microsoft is working on proprietary processors for Windows 12, so perhaps they have reached the same conclusion in the environs of Seattle as Apple did.

Moving away from x86 and its army of hardware partners will not be happening overnight. Yet change is coming that will drastically alter the nature of local hardware. After all, the focus will shift to fast and reliable connectivity and on-the-fly removal of streaming artefacts. Where CPU, GPU, RAM and storage currently all contribute to a fast system depending on the application, these components need to perform a different task in a cloud world. Aren’t there problems with that, too? Indeed there are, and they are diverse.

Loss of control

The main problem with cloud services versus local hardware is the fact that it requires a connection. In many environments, even in built-up areas, this is a concrete problem. 5G, Wifi 6E, you name it, none of it has universal coverage. By now, the professional world has grown accustomed to the fact that not everything can be on-prem anymore, resulting in, for example, stifling sales or falling back on backups when things fail. Ultimately, this problem will never be eliminated entirely, but practically speaking, the world already runs in the cloud a great deal. In addition, it is conceivable that a cloud-based Windows also runs a limited local variant as a backup, which in stripped-down form is still capable of anything as an OS.

What will pose a more structural problem is the fact that proprietary hardware offers the user a great deal of control. Currently, you can improve the functionality of Windows yourself by throwing more powerful components at it, even if software bottlenecks remain. In addition, nothing stops you from tinkering with registry files or making other modifications to the system. It’s not Linux, but in theory, a lot is possible. Also, there is always the option to opt out of updates, perhaps because they no longer support software or introduce new problems. With the move to the cloud, Microsoft can take this control away from the user: updating then happens regardless of whether you want it. This is an inevitable consequence of cloud functionality for consumers. It is OS-as-a-Service, rather than a license you carry with you.

We have already seen this process with video and music services: Netflix and Spotify carry attractive offerings, but prevent end users from doing too much with the content. Illegal commerce or not, .mp3 and .mp4 files can be tinkered with, while today’s video streams run behind the scenes.

Not everyone is following

The reality is that we are probably going to see a dichotomy between Windows in the cloud and locally. On the one hand, Microsoft will propagate that the online variant brings more features, speed and scalability. At the same time, many users don’t want to be utterly dependent on their Internet connection any time soon.

So this process will be slower than we saw with video and music services. Still, the recent past shows that users are choosing convenience over control. In that regard, we may still speculate about the exact nature and speed of introducing a cloud-based Windows, but we can say with certainty that Microsoft knows what it is getting into.