Time to weigh in on Windows Cloud, Microsoft’s rumored Chromebook-killer. (I like the concept!)

Supposedly, Windows Cloud will only run apps from the Windows Store. As Chromebooks have shown, there are a lot of people that can get by without desktop apps.

A few weeks ago, we learned about Windows Cloud, a new version of Windows 10 rumored to be in the works. Even though there’s nothing official right now, there’s been a bit of buzz, so I thought I might has well weigh in.

What is Windows Cloud? Again, we only have rumors and assumptions to go on, and the reality behind them could be completely different, but the idea is that Windows Cloud is intended to only run apps from the Windows Store.

Bloggers have already been banging away at supposedly leaked ISOs, and some have figured out how to “hack” it into running sideloaded desktop apps, but the way I see it, that’s not really the point. (More on that later.) What does seem logical is that in addition to pure UWP apps from the Windows Store, Windows Cloud might also support Windows Bridge apps (desktop apps that have been specially-modified to be distributed via the Windows Store). (If UWP and Desktop Bridge are new terms to you, check out Tim Mangan’s guide to Microsoft’s app strategy.)

Obviously, Windows Cloud is going after the Chromebook: You can do a lot with web apps, and there’s not much management or security to worry about. There are no desktop apps to muck things up, it’ll stay up to date with automatic updates, and if it ships with Windows Defender turned on, there will be no need for antivirus.

Beyond the Chromebook model, Windows cloud will have some additional advantages: Users can use Windows Store apps when the opportunity happens to arise, and overall it should be familiar experience, since it has a normal keyboard layout, it’s much more like a “normal” laptop than a Chromebook, it has a Start menu, and so on.

Who will use Windows Cloud?

I believe 100% that there are many people that can get by without desktop apps. Chromebooks have proven this, and Microsoft must believe this, too, or else they wouldn’t be doing it. For those that say that this is just Windows RT all over again, Microsoft has had 5 years and several major versions of Windows to recover from the mistakes of RT, and the web has had 5 years of getting richer.

To balance out the other side, I also believe 100% that desktop apps (whether prosumer or enterprise) are not going away for a few decades. Interestingly, though, it doesn’t take too much poking around to find that some people are really upset about the idea of a version of Windows that doesn’t let you freely install all your old desktop apps. Personally, I’m not losing sleep over this, but maybe a good compromise would be to follow the Android model for sideloading apps: If a user wants to do this (in this case it would mean installing desktop apps), make it a setting that they have to explicitly change, hide it deep enough so that clueless users couldn’t enable it accidentally, and allow companies to lock it down if they want.

I think Windows Cloud could fit in all types of scenarios: In the enterprise (depending on how the licensing) it could serve a lot of those use cases that we’ve been talking about with Windows 10 MDM: Road warriors that don’t need desktop apps; kiosks and embedded devices; or as a rich thin client.

It will fit in the education, too—just look at that Intune for Education announcement from a few weeks ago. (However, keep in mind that Intune for Education actually can manage desktop apps; plus many high school students need higher-end machines with real desktop apps.)

On the consumer side, I see this as a potential home run, too, but this is where Gabe and I keep on getting into debates about the actual acuity and desires of various consumer segments. Time will tell.

Overall, there’s a dizzying array of Windows options swirling around these days. (Maybe we’ll have to make a big matrix or something.) I think there are some good opportunities here, and I welcome the experimentation from Microsoft and OEMs.

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