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
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?
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."
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
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.