Windows 8 DaaS? I Think Not.

An advertisement from MyCloudIT claiming to offer a Windows 8 DaaS caught my eye this morning. Interesting stuff. Well, maybe not. Poke a little deeper, and MyCloudIT clarifies that what you are getting is not Windows 8.1, but a “Windows 8.1 Experience.” That is to say, not Windows 8.1, and not even a desktop OS. As with many DaaS providers today, MyCloudIT is offering either a shared RDS desktop or a dedicated remote desktop on a Windows 2012 R2 server in Azure. And well, yes, I suppose Windows Server 2012 R2 does look a lot like Windows 8, but to what end.

MyCloudIT was quick to respond to my question about whether its customers were using this Windows 8.1 Experience service. They are. However, the company has so far not responded to a followup inquiry asking if the user interface choice has influenced any customers.

Half the Windows 8 user experience is its touch interface, something that is going to be absent without a touch enabled endpoint and given that the vast majority of touch ready devices in use today are tablets with a 10″ or smaller screen it will be a deeply frustrating experience with fat fingers prodding too small icons hoping for the best. I should draw a distinction here between Windows 8 and Windows RT which while it shares the same outward interface, can’t run legacy apps and is thus exempt from many of the difficulties that a small screen creates. You don’t need touch to run Windows 8, but as many have complained Windows 8 without touch creates a new set of frustrations. Still if your goal in exposing users to the Windows 8 experience is to ensure that they ask you to take it away again I can think of no better way to do it that deliver it remotely.

I’m hard pressed to think of any significant use case for a Windows 8–based DaaS or VDI offering today. The only time DaaS and Windows 8 have entered the picture in the conversations I have had with enterprise IT organizations this year has been in the context of delivering a managed Windows 7 environment on employee-owned devices, a small percentage of which are running Windows 8 today.

For the three people in the world who actually need a “real” Windows 8.1 desktop in the cloud, there is one company willing to go out on a limb and support them: Microsoft.

Industry pundits started feeding the rumor mill in March last year with talk of Microsoft’s Project Mohoro, suggesting this was Microsoft’s big DaaS play—delivering desktops from Azure. The reality was less ambitious: Mohoro is, in fact, Windows Server 2012 R2 RemoteApp in Azure, delivering apps, not desktops.

With Amazon, Google, and a host of others offering desktops in the cloud, is Microsoft backing the wrong tech? While not what the pundits were wishing for, RemoteApp looks to be a better bet for Microsoft than DaaS. Becoming a “me too” player in an already overcrowded DaaS market makes little sense, and for better or worse, it would seriously disrupt its VDI licensing strategy. But for all this, you can still get a real Windows 8.1 desktop from Azure. If you really want it.

At Microsoft TechEd in May, buried amongst a raft of announcements about new developer tools and updates, Microsoft let slip that it was making Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 virtual machine images in the Azure VM Gallery. There is, however, a catch: Microsoft took pains to make it clear that these new Windows client images will only be available in Azure to MSDN subscribers and should only be used for application development and testing purposes. An obvious question at this point is, “why bother?” Surely all developers have access to physical or virtual development platforms where they can run Windows 8.1 regardless of their preferred desktop OS. They do, but by offering a dev environment in Azure, Microsoft may get more developers to think of Azure even when the projects they are working on have no immediate need of other Azure services.

Inevitably, the appearance of these new desktop OS images have fueled speculation that this may presage an announcement of a real Azure DaaS offering. However, Microsoft officials have made it clear that these new images are being offered strictly as a service to developers and that it believes that RemoteApp provides a service better aligned with today’s business needs.

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