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Why Microsoft 365, Windows 365 matter for IT services firms

Office 365, Microsoft 365 and Windows 365 differ not only in their feature sets and capabilities, but in the opportunities they afford service providers.

Dave Sobel is host of the podcast The Business of Tech and co-host of the podcast Killing IT. In addition, he wrote Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business.

In this video, Sobel explores the differences between three Microsoft offerings: Office 365, Microsoft 365 and Windows 365, a cloud-based desktop launched in July. He also discusses how these products translate into opportunities for channel partners.

Transcript follows below. Minor edits have been made for brevity and clarity.

Dave Sobel: So, I messed up last week. When talking about Microsoft's new cloud PC initiative, I called it
Microsoft 365 when in fact it's Windows 365. I issued a correction. The listener who reported it said it was clear [which product] I was talking about, but I figured I'm not alone in the potential confusion. So, let's walk through the naming here. There are 365 names aplenty.

  • The first was Office 365, which was announced in October 2010. It was the successor to Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite, or BPOS. It was upgraded several times over its history. Office 365 included multiple plans, making this more confusing, too. There are consumer plans, small business plans and enterprise plans.
  • In April 2020, [Microsoft launched] Microsoft 365. The idea [of Microsoft 365] is to showcase the stuff beyond the Office suite [such as enterprise mobility and security]. The brand was introduced three years prior, in July 2017.
  • Windows 365 was announced in July 2021, and it's a service to put Windows 10 and 11 into the cloud, across platforms, and it's subscription-based. It's based on the Azure Virtual Desktop, which is Microsoft's enterprise [desktop and application virtualization] product.

Just so you know, all three brands are currently active. Office 365 is in place for some of the plans targeting certain enterprise markets.

Microsoft 365 vs. Windows 365 for channel partners

Besides the fact that I want to get the names right, here's why we [should] care about each. I'm putting on my small and midsize business-focused lens.

Microsoft 365 is the product line to care about. That's the work layer, the productivity suite where work happens, and the layer in which there's a ton of consulting opportunity. It includes tools customers are generally familiar with. And as the suite has expanded, the real business process work became apparent. It's about Teams, SharePoint, Active Directory integration, business intelligence and the way business is built within the suite. There's a ton of value here in consulting and in training.

Windows 365 is a level below that. That's the infrastructure layer. It allows for a business to move to a subscription for the operating system. And more importantly, the OS lives within Microsoft's environment. The opportunity here is in reducing management overhead and improving security. Unlike Microsoft 365's value, this could be viewed as competitive to some services offered by infrastructure-focused providers, such as some managed services providers.

I think the customers' needs will drive some significant adoption here. Savvy providers will recognize that the value in Microsoft 365 is higher than the Windows 365 potential lost value. Take comfort in the fact that the basic training and help-desk engagements will remain. A user who can't print will need white-glove assistance for the foreseeable future. In a Windows 365 and Microsoft 365 combined approach, you can reduce the risk that the users will get themselves into security problems and still help them use it and help them print.

Skeptical? Windows 365 trial demand overwhelmed Microsoft at launch to the level that they stopped taking new trials.

I think providers are missing the equation. While, yes, [Windows 365] is more expensive than just building your own hardware [setups], the service includes cost around security setup and management software. But from a customer perspective, they're moving the spend rather than taking it away.

Microsoft is taking away a lot of the actual management of devices with [its Windows 365] move. You can build a complete Windows environment that runs entirely on top of another environment that you likely don't care about. It could be entirely unmanaged -- or simple: Chromebooks, iPads. Take the complexity away from the user or give them the actual flexibility.

For most users, if you simplify down to a browser and Office suite and Webex, you [have met many of your needs] and you don't have any of the annoying overhead of a full modern computer with a PC and OS on top of it.

In this configuration, Microsoft Endpoint Manager is your RMM [remote monitoring and management], and it enforces with policy against the operating system rather than [add an agent] to the operating system. Put this in the context of my recent comments about RMM. Why add an attack vector when you don't need to anymore?

Security implications

Now, project out: a possible Chromebook competitor. Dream of a Surface device that runs just remote desktop. Here, you have a fully managed experience even without having to control the endpoint. Even today, this makes every virus-infested home computer now a viable option for small businesses to use.

And that example proves a new model. A business can run entirely on Microsoft's cloud in a controlled, managed way and, also, not trust any endpoints. That's the zero-trust architecture [we talk about], and this is a simple way to accomplish that goal.

Does this instantly change the landscape? No. But yes, sure, your day-to-day operation didn't change, but the direction is pretty clear and the way you should be heading if you want to change the game for security. A zero-trust architecture is within reach. Thus, I'm redoing my own threat calculus based on this. And that's why we [should] care about both [Microsoft 365 and Windows 365].

About the author

Dave Sobel is host of the podcast The Business of Tech, co-host of the podcast Killing IT and authored the book Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business. He owned and operated an IT solution provider and MSP for more than a decade, and has worked for vendors such as Level Platforms, GFI, LOGICnow and SolarWinds, leading community, event, marketing and product strategies, as well as M&A activities. Sobel has received multiple industry recognitions, including CRN Channel Chief, CRN UK A-List, Channel Futures Circle of Excellence winner, Channel Pro's 20/20 Visionaries and MSPmentor 250.

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