Windows As A Service – A Discussion

After the success of offering Microsoft Office as a Service – in the form of Office 365, is it possible for Microsoft to offer its operating system, Windows as a Service? The article tries to find out answers, while talking about the possible implementation models. Please note that there are already Microsoft PaaS services such as Azure, but the scope there is limited. I am talking about offering entire OS as a service that can run in a browser and call upon other programs – local or cloud.

Windows as a service

Windows as A Service – The SaaS Model

SaaS stands for Software as a Service. You might already have been using SkyDrive Desktop that serves as an example of SaaS (Software as a Service). SaaS is clearly a software provided by some cloud service that you can use as and when required and as long as required. SkyDrive desktop, for example, is a software that you download from Microsoft and use it to synchronize your files on the cloud with the local storage.

But this is not about SkyDrive desktop. The implementation of SkyDrive desktop app is much easier compared to offering Windows as a Service. We all know Windows as an operating system. How is it possible to offer an operating system as a service? An operating system is required to fire up a computer. If the service is provided on cloud, how can one boot his or her computer to connect with the service? Will it still be called operating system? Or will it be an extension of the operating system?

I can assume we have the basic bootable Windows copy on the computers. With that copy, the computer boots up. This basic bootable Windows copy does not have many options as it is not a full fledged operating system but a compact, or rather, stripped down version of Windows operating system.

Once fired, the computer can then connect to the Internet and login into the cloud offering of Windows that has all the other programs necessary to keep a computer running properly and to help in launching other applications. These applications could be local or cloud based such as the Office 365 (Office on the Web: Office Web Applications) and Adobe Creative Cloud etc.

Benefits of Windows As Service (Software As a Service)

To keep it compact, safe and reliable, Microsoft may consider providing a basic, stripped down version of Windows operating system in a chip – or as we call it, a firmware. If it is a firmware, chances of getting any virus or worm will reduce significantly.

We may assume the firmware copy will always be safe and people need not add anti-virus to their computers as the only job of computers would be to boot and to connect to the Windows. These will be Windows computers and may not run other operating systems. In turn, hardware would be light – somewhat like the Netbooks.

The cloud copy of Windows is always updated so users get to use the latest version. As of this date, the latest is Windows 8.1 and everyone who is using Windows as a Service (SaaS) on Windows computers would be easily working on Windows 8.1 without having to buy each edition separately and just by paying a monthly fee.

Finally, there will be no piracy. An online version of Windows cannot be stolen and used on individual computers. I cannot see any way people can use it without subscription. The subscription charges have to be low else people may move to other operating systems.

Restrictions of Windows as a SaaS

Coming back to the SaaS implementation of Windows as a Service, I find it good enough until the user is restricted towards using the Windows based software only. That is, the default programs that come with the operating system. Of course, Microsoft can add many more programs and I am sure people will welcome those software as they are part of the entire Windows that they can use for a small fee per month. Likewise, the other programs such as Adobe Creative Suite etc. can also be used by the same computers but they won’t be part of Windows as a Service.

This type of implementation may not provide enough facilities to run local apps such as Photoshop, Adobe Premiere and Corel Draw etc. We know Adobe too has gone to the cloud and is available in form of SaaS: Adobe Creative Cloud, but consider a person using Corel Draw that needs to be installed on the local computer before it can be used. A typical implementation of Windows as SaaS (Software as a Service) cannot provide that. That is where we need it as a platform.

Windows as a Service – The PaaS Model

PaaS or Platform as a Service sounds much better as an operating system is basically a platform where other programs and apps can run. We can use the same Windows in firmware concept or we can use any kind of operating system to get the computer to boot. Once the boot process is completed, the users can get into the Windows cloud and from there, run programs like Photoshop, Premiere, Corel Draw etc. Though most of the companies are already going cloud to counter piracy (that is one of the benefits too: people cannot steal a cloud based copy of Windows), some are still providing the desktop/laptop/standalone versions.

Now suppose you booted using Linux or the stripped down Windows version (firmware version that we talked above). You can then connect to Windows as a Platform as a nominal fee per month, still enjoy the latest versions without having to pay extra for them and then you can also use desktop/standalone versions of different software by invoking them via Windows as a Platform Service. That sounds good but needs to be worked upon as how to call a program from your computer to the cloud based platform. It is possible with some thought and proper implementation of the platform.

One option is to use the cloud versions of other software – such as the Adobe Illustrator in place of Corel Draw. So far, Corel has not gone into the cloud but seeing the way Adobe and other creative suites are now part of cloud, it may soon be a part of cloud. If part of cloud, it will be easier to invoke those apps. But if the app is installed on your computer, and you logged on to cloud Windows, there should be a method to be able to use the installed programs.

The basic method of working on a computer is just the interaction between objects in RAM and CPU. Your input, resident programs etc. go into the RAM and from there, to the CPU, get processed and the results are sent back to RAM from where you can see or print the output. The objects in RAM change as and when needed, to run the installed program but for large number of programs, the only thing to be taken care of is to carry instructions and data from RAM to CPU and back to RAM. Hence, it is not non-implementable. The Windows on cloud is resident on your RAM for processing the local apps. Possible? Yes.

Windows As A Service: Conclusion

When I say Windows as a Service, I am talking about entire operating system as a service and not the likes of Windows Azure or Office 365. A look at both the formats: SaaS and PaaS, makes the latter more feasible for the SaaS part may need Microsoft entering into agreement with different software providers to provide their software as a service via the Windows subscription. This article can go on and on with different possibilities, but I will stop it here.

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Please share your thoughts on implementation of Windows as a cloud based service, rather than local installation. Would you like that?

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Arun Kumar is a Microsoft MVP alumnus, obsessed with technology, especially the Internet. He deals with the multimedia content needs of training and corporate houses. Follow him on Twitter @PowercutIN