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What to expect from Windows 11

There are a lot of rumours coming out of Redmond right now. What we’re seeing is the convergence of lots of different strands of Microsoft’s future Windows strategy: Windows 11, 10X, Deschuttes (Cloud PC).

In the absence of facts, and my general impatience for all the announcements coming on the 24th, here are my thoughts about where Windows is headed in the immediate future:

The end of Windows 10

Unless there’s some pretty comprehensive disinformation campaign going in from MS, it seems pretty evident now that Microsoft is closing the book on Windows 10. That’s taken everyone by surprise, as back in 2015 Microsoft stated that Windows 10 would be the last version of Windows. We heard terms like ‘evergreen’ used to describe that fact that Windows 10 would become ‘Windows as a Service’, receiving content updates over its now infinite lifecycle.

From what we’ve seen, it looks like Microsoft will go back on that commitment with the release of Windows 11. But why damage some of that goodwill by releasing a new OS?

The Azure Equation

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Microsoft’s big strategy over the past 5 years has been to move as many workloads as possible to Azure. And the have been tremendously successful. Azure is catching up with AWS and now has around 20% market share compared to Amazon’s 32%. Nadella’s strategy of focusing on Office365 customers and gradually incentivising customers to make the move to Azure has paid hug dividends. In late 2019, MS took this one step further by introducing Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). This was released at just the right moment to offer an easy onramp to VDI for businesses hit by the pandemic in March 2020.

Growth of WVD has been spectacular, and MS has invested a lot of resources, building in new features and capabilities on an almost weekly basis. The success of WVD has lead to whole ecosystem of vendors such as Citrix, VMware and Nerdio building their offerings and their future strategies on integration with this stack.

A curious development over the past week or so has been that Microsoft has changed the name of WVD to Azure Virtual Desktops, or AVD. To me, this links up with the next key development that I’m expecting to see on the 24th:

Deschutes

Microsoft have been dropping hints about another one of their key developments for over a year. This project, codenamed Deschuttes, or better known as Cloud PC, has been kept under wraps longer than most other Windows developments. From what I can tell, Cloud PC is a true Desktop-as-a-Service offering from Microsoft, allowing users to use their own device as a thin client to get access to their AVD session. There are also rumours that this will integrate with Microsoft Endpoint Manager to enable full endpoint management along with the cloud desktop. The renaming of WVD seems to support this. To me, this looks like Microsoft is starting to bring its EUC capabilities together into a genuine Digital Workspace, similar to VMware’s Workspace ONE. This also looks like it will be a flat per user price for existing Microsoft365 customers.

Windows 10X

Windows 10X was s strange beast. It was originally designed for Microsoft’s dual screen Surface Due, but the two screen approach was dropped early on. It was then redirected towards the single screen Surface Neo, before this idea was then dropped. Early this year, we began to see preview versions that suggested that 10X was going to become a thin operating system, replacing Windows 10 S and possibly taking the place that was once occupied by Windows RT (remember that?). This would make sense in a world heading towards SaaS and AVD. There were even suggestions that 10X could have been the thin endpoint OS designed for Cloud PC.

However, last month we got confirmation that 10x had been cancelled and that the UI capabilities were being ported to the next Windows release named ‘Sun Valley’, which many of us assumed would be Windows 10 21H2. Early screenshots of Windows 11 suggest that those UI changes are now in Windows 11. 

My thoughts

Here are my predictions, and these could be massively wrong and very far wide of the mark:

Windows 11 will no longer support Active Directory.

Windows 10 built on top of Windows 8.1’s CSPs and modern management framework. Many organisations are now enrolling their devices into Intune rather than AD. AD is an old technology, first seeing the light of day with Windows 2000. There is very little reason in 2021 to add a Windows device to AD. Indeed, the only reason we did it before now was because Group Policy was the only way to centrally manage Windows. We no longer need to do this.

Windows 11 will be a streamlined, modular OS

Windows 10 didn’t know what it wanted to be so it did everything. Expect Windows 11 to be more modular with the ability to install with a minimal number of services enabled.

Windows 11 will have deep integrations with Azure by default

Windows 10 was released before Microsoft had fully realised its Azure strategy.  We’ve already seen that there will be a lot of deep integration with Azure in Windows 11. Early screenshots have shown prompts for OneDrive during install among other intentions.

MSIX will become the default way to install native apps

Following on from Apple’s move with macOS in 2018, support for older app architectures, such as 32 bit apps, may be dropped. 

Windows 11 will require a level of hardware certification

Older versions of Windows have tried to be as hardware agnostic as possible. macOS and ChromeOS have much tighter integrations with their hardware.

The home version of Windows 11 will be a rebranded version of Windows10 X.

It will have more in common in with ChromeOS than Windows 10 and be built for SaaS, VDI and the Web.

Despite all of the above, Microsoft may surprise us on June 24th. Don’t worry though, I’ll be ready to provide my opinions on the 25th!

Just enough OS to perform

Yep, this seems like a strange title. I’ve actually taken it from the title of the band Stereophonic’s 3rd studio album ‘Just enough education to perform’. Give it a listen.

Back to the operating system. Did you know that there’s a concept in Operating System thinking called ‘Just Enough OS’, or JeOS? You can check this out in more detail here.

The key concept of JeOS is that in some applications or scenarios, you don’t need a full-blown traditional OS. You can get away with a very slim OS layer that just carries out the tasks required of the application.

Just enough for…?

The key question here is ‘Just enough OS for what?’. Well that depends on what the OS’s user is trying to do. Traditionally, with native, local applications, you need a lot of OS to ensure compatibility, including backwards compatibility with older application architectures.

The firm direction for applications though is for less native and more SaaS. Even more interestingly, these SaaS applications are increasingly being brokered by Digital Workspace solutions such as VMware Workspace ONE. It’s conceivable that in 5 years time, SaaS apps and Digital Workspaces will be the primary method of application delivery and consumption in most organisations.

In that case, how much OS is Just Enough? What do we actually need from the OS to enable access to the Digital Workspace?

Basics of an Operating System

Well, there are some basic capabilities. First, the OS needs to be able to interface with the available hardware. There needs to be IO Management, Drivers, Storage and Networking Management etc. Then, there needs to be integrations with various services, the User Interface (UI) and of course the ability to enable some local applications.

Once that stuff is in place, we should be good to go. Remember, that when we’re connecting to a true Digital Workspace, most of the compute and app requirements are being taken care of somewhere else. We’re just consuming the end result.

Let’s have a look at a traditional OS connecting to a Digital Workspace:

You can see here that in this case, the traditional OS (Windows) contains all of the key services we need in an OS. However, it also has a lot of ‘stuff’ that we probably wouldn’t need when connecting to a Digital Workspace. That’s because Windows has a lot of additional capabilities that were built for the era of local computing. These components aren’t useless, they just won’t matter for most users in a modern SaaS environment.

How many enterprise users will be using Xbox services? Does anyone actually use Cortana, like, ever?

What about an OS designed for SaaS?

Let’s have a look at an OS that’s been designed for the SaaS era:

See the difference? The same core capabilities are there, including interfacing with the underlying hardware and the ability to broker access to local apps should they be required. However, everything superfluous has been removed. Only what is necessary to connect to a Digital Workspace is in the OS.

There are obviously some key benefits to this, from reducing the attack surface from a security perspective to requiring fewer resources from the hardware layer to offer the same experience.

Windows is a great operating system, and the foundation for most modern organisations. As we get deeper into the SaaS era though, it’s time to reconsider how much OS you actually need at the edge.