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Here's what experts say about Windows 11 and the fate of the local OS

Windows 11 Wallpaper
Windows 11 Wallpaper (Image credit: Microsoft via Aggiornamenti Lumia)

It's no secret that every day, more and more companies pivot toward cloud computing. Be they Wells Fargo or the folks producing delicious chocolates over at Mars, organizations across a variety of sectors are seeing the benefits of changing with the times. The question is: Will Microsoft eventually foist that same change upon Windows users?

There's a strong argument to be had that worldwide internet infrastructure isn't "there" yet, and that the local operating system has a home for the foreseeable future. But, on the flip side, look at Windows 365. Sure, it's targeted at Enterprise customers for now, but how long until it becomes Microsoft's de facto choice for consumer strategies?

With these hypotheticals and questions in mind, we reached out to experts to learn more about how Windows 11 ties into the fate of the local OS.

Windows 11's trajectory

Windows 11 Logo

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

At first glance, it's not immediately apparent where and when, if anywhere and ever, Windows 365 and Windows 11 will overlap in trajectory. The two products may very well remain relegated to separate bubbles for the indefinite future.

"Windows 365 is a very interesting product that has a bright future, especially on the commercial side of the business," said Tom Mainelli, IDC's Group Vice President of Devices & Consumer Research. "That said, I don't think the end of the local OS will happen anytime soon. In fact, I'd argue that over the last few years Microsoft has recognized just how important Windows is, to the company, its partners, and to end users."

However, just because Windows 11 and Windows 365 might live out their existences in forms similar to what they're debuting as, that doesn't mean a hybrid concoction can't come up down the line.

"I expect as we move forward, and we see existing device form factors continue to evolve, as well as new types of devices appear, how we use those future devices will also continue to change," Mainelli said. "As that happens, I expect there will be a need for new versions of Windows to better address those changes, too."

What comes after Windows 11 and 365?

Windows 11 Start Laptop Razerbook

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

There's always a "next" with Windows. So the question is, if not a straight-up consumer tilt for Windows 365 or cloud liftoff for Windows 11 ... what could the next thing be?

Steve Kleynhans, the Vice President of Digital Workplace Infrastructure and Operations at Gartner, weighed in on the subject. One thing he expects to see is Windows and the cloud grow closer, albeit not to the degree of Windows 11 abandoning its local roots.

"I think we're likely to see a Windows 11X. More around the 2025 timeframe. [With] such a groundswell behind the traditional PC, might as well ride that wave."

That was just the first of Kleynhans' predictions.

"I think there will be a consumer-ish version of Windows 365," he said. "I'm thinking there's also going to be a lightweight version of Windows that can run without any local applications. Or can support most of its applications coming from a browser, or in a cloud. Like a Chromebook does."

Windows

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

He theorized that Microsoft wasn't keen on letting any of the potential OS market slip out of its grasp, and that instead of moving existing products toward new purposes, the software giant would instead concoct new products so that every OS user had a Microsoft service built for their needs.

He likened it to the company's actively blooming Xbox strategy. That division has cooked up a way to reach every kind of gamer. It has the Xbox Series X for those who want a flagship console, Series S for budget console fans, all games coming to PC for people who want better machines than the Series X or can't afford a console in the first place, and even cloud gaming via Game Pass and the best Xbox Game Pass games for folks who want to game anywhere on virtually any device, no matter how unorthodox (e.g., Surface Duo 2).

And that's not all Kleynhans said. He noted: "There's an old saying that says that companies tend to build the products that match their organization. And I think it's important to note that the core guts of Windows come from the Azure team."

In short, even if the cloud is not the end-all-be-all of Windows' future, it's most certainly set to become a much bigger part of it.

The future of Windows

Windows 11 Tease

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Though analysts and experts foresee a long future for Windows as we currently know it, that probability wasn't always so high. There was a period of time when it seemed that, according to people within Microsoft itself, Windows 10 was set to be the final traditional OS.

Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst J.P. Gownder shared his thoughts on the subject. "I think a lot of folks got burned with Windows 10 claiming it would be the 'last version of Windows OS,' so these are tricky questions," he said. "But it's maybe not even quite the right question. Microsoft has been very clear about its 'intelligent cloud, intelligent edge' vision over the past few years, and it implies that both the cloud and the edge will continue to play a role into the future."

To this degree, Gownder agreed with other analysts that the cloud is the future. However, his vision extended into years we have yet to number.

"I would say Windows 11 is a step forward in integration between cloud and edge but not its final iteration," he stated. "Imagine a world in which more devices — autonomous robots, say — depend on Microsoft's intelligent cloud, intelligent edge services. You would then continue to see different aspects of the Windows 11 kernel (built on largely the same code base as Windows 10) find its way into more devices."

There you have it: Windows, as an experience, is set on the track of iteration and continued expansion. Don't expect to see any drastic shakeups to the existing formula, but do expect said formula to seep into new form factors, such as the robot that'll eventually be cohabitating your work and personal living spaces.

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to robert.carnevale@futurenet.com.

10 Comments
  • Running an OS on the cloud produces lag, Someone on YouTube tested out Windows 365 and he was disappointed about how much lag there was. with so many people with poor broadband even in the U.K, I think it will be many years before we will be using an OS in the cloud apart from enterprise, and to be honest I don't see the point.
    i am not going to use windows in the cloud to do video editing, the other thing is the price, people are not going to pay to use their computer. I can't see how Windows 11 is any different to Windows 10 in the cloud way, apart from MS forcing Home users to have an MS account. so people get these strange ideas. Let see how long windows 365 lasts.
  • People already pay to use their computer. You have to consider that monthly Best Buy or Dell payment as part of that. Many, many people already pay to use Office applications via Office 365. Sure they are often local, but you are really renting that local copy. The concept of doing the same with the OS might be strange, but it isn't that different. Not only could you get a less capable 'terminal' than you might otherwise need, you could conceivably dynamically change your capability. You could use your 'cloud PC' on various devices as well. I agree the infrastructure isn't there yet, except in some enclaves where they really think this is imminent. Latency is certainly an issue but only in some use cases, I would think, gaming, maybe high end video editing. I imagine there are still lots of Enterprises using VMs on a WAN on a daily basis. I do, and I don't really notice I don't have a desktop under my desk. Just a little thin client sitting there. Cloud is pretty much just that.
  • I pay for my computer outright, well I built my computer, I don't pay monthly for my phone either again, pay outright, I just pay monthly for the service.
    I know people pay for office applications, but most are businesses, I don't think I know of anyone who pay for office unless they run a business.
    It is a lot different running an OS on the cloud, Privacy would be a problem as well, bad enough with google, Micrsoft and others spying on us as it is, just imagine what it would be like if we had a cloud based OS.
    I know chrome OS is cloud based, well kind of, but that is a different thing, not that I would use it myself, I don't even like my files being in the cloud, sol I certainly would not use a cloud based OS. Anyway as I said, the infrastructure is not there, even here in the U.K there are still people who are lucky to get 5Mb/s out in the sticks and I certainly know that may people in the U.S.A have rubbish broadband
  • Oh, one of those, this is how I do it, so that must be right for everyone types. So, you don't know anyone paying for Office 365 Home or Personal? Odd, it's a billion dollar business for MS. Not sure why privacy would be any more of a problem. There is nothing in the OS and apps that is particularly private. That's all in the files and data. All that is in OneDrive and Exchange already. Of course I'm sure you don't use any cloud file storage, and run your own mail server. But you are right, the infrastructure isn't there for it to be a ubiquitous option. That's the only thing keeping it from being an option today though. That and cost. Not what it costs to do it, what they want to charge for it. All the tech already exists. It's called an Azure virtual machine and I used a Lumia 950XL to host one 5 years ago.
  • People are so ready to crap all over this and they can't imagine that MS, the world's second largest company by value, has come up with a productivity solution that many companies are willing to pay for. The stuff about lag, subscriptions vs. outright purchases, privacy and security, etc. are all just nonsense ways of saying "Boo, it's new and I don't like it."
  • Windows 365 consumer version can be the perfect OS for microsoft AR glass they are making. This can be better solution because you don't have to reply on other devices as apple ar glass will be powered by iphones or macbooks. Windows 11 and Windows 365 integration will be the next-gen platform for the consumers.
  • I saw a discussion during the introduction of Win365, where it was argued that the average wifi-speed is 27 Mbit/s, and that this is more than sufficient to run Win365. This number (27 Mbit/s) must be in urban areas in USA. If I go to my local cafe in Europe, the speed varies from 15 kbit/s to (at best) 2 Mbit/s. In 2017, I stayed in an apartment in a large European city. My Samsung phone had a donwload speed of 2 Mbit/s, while my Surface Pro 4 had ca. 15 kbit/s. So the wifi-speed varies with wifi-provider, but also with the quality of the wifi-card and software. Because of this, I will not buy a new laptop without LTE or 5G (so, no Surface Laptop Studio). Furthermore, I will not buy a computer without a local OS, local apps, and local storage -- I have to be able to work even if LTE/5G is down (so, why does the Surface Pro 8 LTE models limit SSD to 256 GB?). Ideally, I want to be able to simultaneously use my laptop as a terminal against a more powerful computer for the majority of time when I do have decent LTE/5G (or wifi) connection. But I want to be able to choose whether I use some cloud PC or log into the workstation at my office. Many places on earth has worse internet connection that were I live. It would be extremely shortsighted to base OS development on the ideal situation in urban USA.
  • Average is a funny thing. If you have 50 people getting 1Mbps and one guy getting 1.4Gbps (5G next to the tower), the average is 28Mbps. Only one of them is going to be happy though. 27Mbps is actually low for what a lot of people in the US get with cable providers. That's not atypical for DSL provided by phone companies.
  • "It would be extremely shortsighted to base OS development on the ideal situation in urban USA." That's exactly who the world's largest and most profitable companies target. Why wouldn't they? US cities are full of educated, high-income people.
  • "Experts" sure... Yeah