Windows Cloud may be Microsoft’s answer to Chromebooks

Microsoft has been waging a war against Chromebooks on a number of fronts, including reducing the price of OEM Windows licenses on machines with certain specifications, working with manufacturing partners like HP to develop Windows laptops that could compete with Chromebooks on price, and negative ad campaigns. The next phase of Microsoft's campaign might be Windows Cloud, a version of the operating system that Mary Jo Foley at ZDNet speculates will only be able to run Unified Windows Platform (UWP) apps from the Windows Store. Foley goes on to predict that Windows Cloud may be released in conjunction with the Windows 10 Creators Update, scheduled for April.

If this story sounds familiar, it should. Microsoft conducted a UWP-only experiment with Windows RT, a version of Windows that ran on ARM-based hardware. The April release date that Foley predicts seems too early for the first wave of Windows Cloud machines to use the Win32-on-ARM emulation technology that  Microsoft and Qualcomm have demoed. This suggests that the new machines might carry x86 processors instead, meaning that Windows Cloud machines could potentially be offered in a wider variety of hardware configurations than the ill-fated Surface RT devices. We'd be shocked if the price tag of the first wave of Windows Cloud machines started near the high $500 asking price of the original Surface RT.

The original Microsoft Surface and its Surface 2 sequel were the most popular Windows RT devices, though that isn't saying much. The entire Windows RT program was a failure, with Microsoft absorbing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses on unsold devices. Whether RT's inability to connect with users was due to a lack of applications or the relatively anemic hardware available at the time remains an open question. When Windows RT was originally released in 2012, the Windows Store was pretty barren. While the Store still doesn't have the depth and variety of applications found in the Android and Apple app stores, UWP versions of mainstream apps like Facebook, Netflix and Kodi are all available, though.

For now, all Windows Cloud is as nebulous as its namesake. All that exists is a handful of references inside preview builds of Windows 10 and whispers from unnamed sources. If Windows Cloud devices are to launch in just a couple of months, we expect we'll have more information from Microsoft soon. While at first glance Microsoft appears to be diving into the Windows RT rabbit-hole again, the increased performance, reduced hardware cost, and improved UWP application availability since 2012 may make this attempt more likely to succeed.

Chromebooks have shown that this approach has merit. The closed-off nature of Google's Chrome OS platform is something of a turn-off for PC enthusiasts, and the lack of native applications means that AAA gaming and high-end tools for content creation and other esoteric endeavors are practically off-limits. However, not all users play 3D games or need advanced software tools, and the popularity of the Chromebook platform bears this out. In the hands of students and less-security-conscious users, this walled approach can make for devices that are substantially more secure than platforms that allow access to software that's not been screened. Anyone who's had to field tech support questions from a non-tech-savvy relative who can't stop themselves from installing every shady peer-to-peer application under the sun has probably wished for a way to handcuff that user. Blocking off Win32 apps and allowing application installation only from a curated app store could lead to major security and reliability improvements for less technologically-inclined users.

Comments closed
    • Ninjitsu
    • 3 years ago

    wait i thought Win 10 was Windows Cloud

    • blastdoor
    • 3 years ago

    Qualcomm ARM SOCs suck.
    Apple’s ARM SOCs aren’t available to anyone other than Apple.

    Is AMD still doing the ARM K12?

      • Ninjitsu
      • 3 years ago

      iirc no.

        • blastdoor
        • 3 years ago

        That’s too bad. Using an Android phone SOC as the basis for a Windows tablet seems unappealing to me.

        Presumably they could enforce the same sandboxing restrictions if they used an x86-based SOC. So why not do that?

        Well, ok… Intel price gouging. There is that.

      • tipoo
      • 3 years ago

      Question is, compared to what. They’d be a boost, and a large one, from the current Atom in the Surface 3.

      Since it’s not a phone and doesn’t have modem support to think about, maybe it could be non-Qualcomm too.

    • hungarianhc
    • 3 years ago

    One more thought… The author mentions Chromebooks as being good for “less-security-conscious users.” If that statement stems from a fear of the cloud / Google having data, then okay fine that’s not an argument I’ll be winning. If it means security in a business sense, then it’s quite off. Companies have started deploying Chromebooks to employees. These are typically higher end Chromebooks than you’ll see at Best Buy or anything like that. They’re high performance, and with everything in the cloud, you really do secure your enterprise. Most standard employee applications are web based, it’s much harder for employees to take data with them off the device, and with everything being on the cloud, if a device is lost / broken, it’s super simple to remote wipe a device, issue a new one in the same state, etc.

      • frenchy2k1
      • 3 years ago

      The mention of Chromebooks and security usually is about people being less savvy and getting viruses and other problems on their windows computer.
      With a Chromebook, with all your data in the cloud, in case of problem, you just reset it and wipe it clean and get your data back with a clean system.

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 3 years ago

      Hmm, you have a good point about locked down OS’s potentially being a good fit for cloud-facing companies. Doubly so for a locked-down version of Windows. They are already handing out thinner Windows laptops at work because AWS is taking over more of our heavy lifting.

      The author probably meant to imply that the users in question were less security aware, more likely get themselves screwed up with malware.

    • hungarianhc
    • 3 years ago

    I think 2017 is going to be very interesting for Chrome OS. Google started 100% web native, and now every Chromebook that is released in 2017 will be able to run Android apps. While that probably isn’t good enough for the general Tech Report crowd, that does solve about 90% of app use-cases. The new hardware out there like the Chromebook Plus, Asus C302, etc is really interesting.

    Microsoft, on the other hand, is coming from the other direction, which I think will be difficult to execute. Rather than starting with a naked, fast, web browsing core, and adding more, they are trying to take bulky Windows and mash it down to make it usable and more streamlined on cheap computers. We’ll see. Hey at least they’re trying.

    Meanwhile, Apple keeps raising the prices of their laptops and ignoring market trends. I guess they can do that when OS X is still the best OS out there, but I’m not sure how long it will stay that way.

      • tipoo
      • 3 years ago

      During a new redesign they’ve increased prices in the past, and then dropped it next generation, no?

      I think the next update will be what they truly wanted too, Gurman said the form fitting battery they wanted in it didn’t pass in time due to focus on iProducts, and I feel like the chassis and battery size were designed with Kaby Lake in mind but with Intels delays they shipped with Skylake.

      [url<]https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-20/how-apple-alienated-mac-loyalists[/url<] Either that, or Apple knows they'll sell less and less Macs, so they think they may as well raise the margins for a lower selling product to keep it around.

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 3 years ago

      I’m not seeing Win10 as being too bloated for this, especially when additional parts are removed during the lockdown. Should be easy for them.

    • One Sick Puppy
    • 3 years ago

    On the one side, Chromebooks have ALOT of missing functionality that should be completely divorced and independent of the internet and included in the OS as standard, so for me, there’s a demand for that.

    On the other side, Microsoft’s track record for small laptops is abysmal. At least the Chromebooks are relatively snappy and don’t become utterly useless after a year like Netbooks.

    Still, I’d pay the premium for an 11″ macbook air over any of the two machines above – the Mac tax is worth it for the infinitely superior product.

      • Anonymous Coward
      • 3 years ago

      There is a certain market for inexpensive locked down laptops… I’m thinking education.

    • tipoo
    • 3 years ago

    So, I take it the next Surface not-Pro won’t have their tech for translating win32 apps to ARM? That’s all I wanted, a high performance ARM chip in the Surface 4 that could run Win32 apps if you needed it, since Intel I think discontinued the line of Atoms that the Surface 3 ran on.

    This cloud business sounds like not that.

    • DragonDaddyBear
    • 3 years ago

    I’ve made this comment before, so have your down votes ready: Chromebooks are popular because most people don’t need a full-fledged PC as their primary device. My wife, for example, only ever has Chrome open with a bajillion tabs. My mom has a computer and it isn’t even turned on most of the time. My primary/gaming computer hasn’t been on in a month (I have a Miix 700 that I use more often).

    We are moving away from the days where everyone had a computer to one primary desktop PC in most homes with tables, Chromebooks, and smart phones being the per-person device. The only use case that seems to buck this trend is gaming where there are PC gamers in the home. Microsoft is smart to hop on this trend. And their app store is growing. Three out of four of my most used apps on my Android phone have a Windows store equivalent (Kodi, bible, baking, email, and browser being the most commonly used on my phone with only Youtube not being a dedicated app on my Miix.)

      • Ninjitsu
      • 3 years ago

      But we’re apparently moving away from tablets too…

        • frenchy2k1
        • 3 years ago

        We’re not “moving away” from tablets, the market for it just reached saturation.
        Basically, most of the people that wanted a tablet have one and it’s already good enough for most of their applications.

        I have family that dropped their desktop entirely for an iPad2 and are happier for it.
        Computers are more powerful and can be used for creation and gaming, but tablets are all most of the population need, for email, browsing, facebook and videos. And they’re easier to use.

        • Anonymous Coward
        • 3 years ago

        Seems like most families around here have at least one tablet per child. Apple should look into boosting the birth rate.

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