Windows 365 Frontline Limited Preview Now Available
Microsoft on Thursday announced a limited public preview of Windows 365 Frontline, a new desktop-as-a-service offering for use by shift workers.
The preview of Windows 365 requires signing up on a waitlist to try it. Some of its functionality that's of interest to IT departments will just be available at commercial-release time.
Windows 365 Frontline has a kind of rolling licensing scenario associated with the number of active users per time period. Under this scheme, an organization would purchase enough licenses for the "maximum number of concurrent active users." Each license supports "up to three Cloud PCs" and "these Cloud PCs can be used by any employee, as long as only one employee per license is active at any given time."
A Cloud PC is a virtual machine connected to Microsoft's Windows 365 desktop-as-a-service offering. It typically runs on top of a device's desktop.
Microsoft's announcement provided an example of how Windows 365 Frontline might get licensed. If an organization had a total of 300 customer service reps, but just 100 of them will be working concurrently, then those users could be supported by buying just 100 Windows 365 Frontline licenses.
Windows 365 Frontline licenses are not licensed by device, a Microsoft spokesperson explained via e-mail . Moreover, there's a mechanism should organization exceed the maximum number of concurrent active users. Here's how the spokesperson explained it:
IT administrators will see that they have reached the max concurrency limit in the Frontline Utilization Report. Employees will see a message in the portal on their Cloud PC card informing them their Cloud PC is unavailable and to wait for it to become available or contact their IT admin. Windows 365 is easy to scale up or down in real time based on the needs of the business, so the recommended next step is to purchase additional Frontline licenses to satisfy the needs of their end users.
Some of the policies and tools that will be available to IT pros when Windows 365 Frontline is commercially released were described.
Windows 365 Frontline depends on users logging out (hitting "disconnect") to free a license for the next worker. For workers that forget to sign out, it's possible to configure a Session Time Limit policy to log them out after a period of inactivity, Microsoft explained, in this Tech Community announcement.
IT pros have other options as well, such as the ability to apply critical updates when needed. They can power on a Cloud PC that's been turned off and apply a patch, if wanted. Some of these types of actions, though, will only be available when the product reaches the "general availability" commercial-release stage.
Microsoft is also promising to enable bulk remote actions by IT pros for Windows 365 Frontline via "the Graph API for automation purposes."
IT pros get a dashboard view of Windows 365 Frontline Cloud PC use via the Microsoft Intune Admin Center portal, which shows up to 28 days of data. The dashboard offers details such as the total number of connected Cloud PCs, the maximum concurrency limit, plus warnings if "you're approaching and reaching" that limit.
Windows 365 Frontline has some specific features to support shift workers. It has an automatic lock screen that signs out workers after a specified time period. It has an auto reset capability that will wipe a Cloud PC at the end of a shift (not available with the preview). Organizations can also use an optimized updates feature to time the delivery of Windows updates with the least disruptions to end users.
Windows 365 App Released
Microsoft's announcement noted that Windows 365 App is now at the "general availability" commercial-release stage and is available from the Microsoft Store. This application, supported on Windows 11 devices, is used to "stream your personal apps, content, and settings from the Microsoft cloud to any device." It lets users launch a Cloud PC from the Windows Start menu or the Windows Taskbar.
There's also a perk for IT departments with the use of the Windows 365 App as it "can enable employees with a single sign-on experience."
Microsoft also is planning to "soon" release the Windows 365 Boot and Windows 365 Switch features for end users, although the timing wasn't indicated.
Windows 365 Boot will let users log directly into their Windows 365 Cloud PC at startup and "designate it as my primary Windows experience on the device," Microsoft explained a year ago. It's deemed as simplifying things for frontline workers.
The coming Windows 365 Switch feature will let users toggle between the Cloud PC and a local desktop. It'll work with "keyboard commands, as well as a mouse-click or swipe gesture."
Windows 365 Device News
Microsoft also announced some device support news for Windows 365. Microsoft's desktop-as-a-service offering is now supported on LG's 2023 Smart TVs for workers at home. The TVs become workstations when paired with "a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse."
Also, Motorola is working to support Windows 365 on Lenovo ThinkPhone Android-based devices. Microsoft's announcement explained that "this new built-in experience will allow people to use the ThinkPhone to plug-and-play Windows 365 connectivity that finds and automatically configures their Cloud PC for use on an external screen."
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.