Written by: Daniel Haurey on 03/15/21

You’ve probably heard buzz within the last year about virtual desktop solutions from Microsoft.

It’s for good reason. Windows 365 Cloud PCs for Windows have provided businesses with a seamless, secure solution for remote work – something that’s been incredibly helpful in the wake of COVID-19.

But there’s some confusion around what a virtual desktop really is. That’s understandable. The world of technology in general (and the world of Microsoft technology, in particular) comes with its fair share of jargon. There are a variety of similarly named products that are functionally very different.

To ensure you understand what you’re talking about when you talk about virtual desktops, let’s break down two of the most common phrases: Windows 10 Virtual Desktop and Windows 365 Cloud PCs.

What is a Windows 10 Virtual Desktop?

The phrase Windows 10 Virtual Desktop is not synonymous with Windows 365 Cloud PCs. Instead, it’s commonly taken to mean a feature in Windows 10 that allows users to add multiple desktop views on a single operating system (OS).

This feature has been available on macOS for a while and has been supported by third-party apps on Windows for a while, too. Now, though, virtual desktops are built into the Windows 10 OS.

To make use of a virtual desktop in Windows 10, users can simply click the “Task View” button in the Windows taskbar. (The shortcut for this is Windows Key + Tab.) From that screen, users can click the “New Desktop” button in the bottom right-hand corner to create a new virtual desktop.

Users can use virtual desktops in Windows 10 to open different applications and organize their work. Switching between desktops is easy; users can simply click the “Task View” to see any existing virtual desktop or use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key + Ctrl + Left or Right Arrow to move between screens.

This How-To Geek article gives a good primer on how to set all of this up. Again, this is a very different offering than Windows 365 Cloud PCs.

What are Windows 365 Cloud PCs?

While virtual desktops within Windows are simply a feature within an OS, Windows 365 Cloud PCs are a full-scale remote work solution that allows access to a Windows OS from any internet-connected device.

As we’ve written before, Windows 365 Cloud PC is a set of technologies that enables desktop and app virtualization service in the cloud (Azure).

To understand how Windows 365 Cloud PCs work, it’s important to understand the phrase “virtualization service” (as given in our definition above).

Essentially, a virtualization service moves computing off a local device, like a PC or a Mac, and into the cloud (a network of servers located off-premise). Azure is Microsoft’s cloud. So, Windows 365 Cloud PCs work by allowing users to access a fully functioning Windows operating system in Azure.

Importantly, Windows 365 Cloud PCs can be delivered as a multi-user service, meaning that multiple users can access designated remote desktops. The takeaway is that Windows 365 Cloud PCs can standardize your workforce, giving everyone access to the same applications with a uniformed look and feel, without requiring that everyone buy new computers.

For a full understanding of how the service works, it’s worth watching the video below. In it, Microsoft explains how virtual desktops work in general, and showcases some of the main features of the Microsoft platform in particular.


Are there other kinds of Microsoft virtual desktops I should know about?

In the past, there have been other terms and phrases for Microsoft’s virtual desktop services.

For instance, until recently, Windows 365 Cloud PCs were called Windows Virtual Destkops. Until 2019, Microsoft had an offering called Remote Desktop Modern Infrastructure (RDmi) that was essentially a precursor to Windows 365 Cloud PCs. Before that, there was Windows Server. Way back in the day, there was Windows Terminal Server.

At the moment, though, when you think “remote work solution,” you can think Windows 365 Cloud PCs – and Windows 365 Cloud PCs are going to be around for a very long time, even considering the constantly changing technology landscape.

When you think of the virtual desktop feature in Windows 10, just think “another window on my OS.”

Yes, it’s all a little bit jargon-y, but, in our view, the powerful capabilities more than make up for the difficulty in keeping the phrases straight.

Looking for more Microsoft guidance?

Hopefully, the information above is useful as you sort through Microsoft virtual desktop terminology and consider the needs of your own users and business.

If you’re looking for more Microsoft guidance, we’d love to hear from you.

At Exigent, we’ve been helping businesses to meet the demands of their fussiest Microsoft Windows power users since 1997 (even before Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server was released!) Cumulatively, our staff has over 200 years of experience implementing and supporting Microsoft technologies.

In other words, we know Windows inside and out, and we can help to answer any questions you have – about terminology, functionality, licensing, or anything else.

And if you are ready to implement a Microsoft solution, including Windows 365 Cloud PCs, we can provide white-glove support to make the process quick and seamless.

Schedule a free consult today.