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April 6, 2022
Microsoft plans to bring Windows 11 and Windows 365 Cloud PC closer together with integrations between the two. The ability to work in and manage both environments were among numerous enhancements planned for Windows 11 and Windows 365.
During its Future of Hybrid Work webcast this week, Microsoft also outlined significant Windows 11 security, productivity and accessibility enhancements. Some updates are available immediately; others, including the Windows 11 and Windows 365 integrations, will start rolling out next month.
Microsoft is hoping the improvements will boost uptake among businesses and enterprises of Windows 11. Released last fall, Microsoft is claiming strong demand for Windows 11. Microsoft claims those who initially accepted the Windows 11 upgrade is double what it saw when it released Windows 10.
Microsoft’s Panos Panay
“Windows 11 has the highest quality scores and product satisfaction of any version we’ve ever shipped,” said Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Windows and Devices chief product officer.
A survey of 5,000 PCs based on anonymous user telemetry tracked by AdDuplex showed more than 19% were running Windows 11. An earlier survey by the firm tracking 60,000 PCs showed it doubling month-over-month in January, to more than 16%. Since then, the survey indicates that it has tapered. The latest usage figures show only a 0.1% increase since February, according to a Tom’s Guide observation.
Not all commercial organizations and enterprises are rushing to jump on the Windows 11 bandwagon. Many power users and IT professionals complain Microsoft has stripped important features from Windows 10 in the new release. Complaints include strict hardware requirements, a less customizable taskbar and Start Menu, and UI changes that require more clicks.
Nevertheless, the way people use Windows and those who provide managed PC and device services is poised to change. By integrating Windows 11 with Windows 365, the desktop operating system is morphing into Microsoft’s vision of a cloud OS. It will provide the same secure logon options including support for Windows Hello.
Windows 11 users will be able to navigate between their local desktops and cloud PC instances from the Task View.
“If I’m working in Windows 11, my Cloud PC is just a click away, I just open the Task View and Windows 365 is shown running and ready to launch,” said Liz Salowitz, a Microsoft principal program lead. “Clicking on the Cloud PC gives me a clear clean way to navigate between the two different work environments. Now I can complete my work without having to launch an app sign-in or think about how to access my cloud PC.”
Likewise, users can just as easily switch back to their local Windows 11 environments, Salowitz explained. Files displayed in the new cloud based Start Menu in Windows 365 will also synchronize with Azure Active Directory-linked Office applications including OneDrive, providing access to them on any device.
“Now you can also pin files, so instead of taking six clicks to get to a frequently used folder or an important file, it only takes one,” Salowitz said.
Significant security improvements will appear in a future Windows 11 update with the release of the Microsoft Pluton security processor. Microsoft revealed development of Pluton four years ago. Pluton is hardware and silicon-assisted features built on zero-trust principles embedded in hardware, including …
… TPM 2.0, identity protection, Direct Memory Access and Memory Integrity protection. So says David Weston, Microsoft’s VP of enterprise and OS security.
Weston described Microsoft Pluton as a security processor with direct integration with the CPU and the operating system. Pluton will appear in Secured-core PCs.
Microsoft’s David Weston
“Pluton is the only security processor which is kept regularly up-to-date with key security and functionality updates coming through Windows Update just like any other Windows component,” Weston noted.
Consequently, Pluton does not require typical manual firmware updates. Pluton is developed by a team that builds other OS security features, including Windows Hello and BitLocker. Hence, Pluton is optimized for the operating system, according to Weston. Pluton also undergoes penetration testing, with a program that provides bug bounties. Weston also demonstrated how Pluton is designed to protect against physical attacks.
Besides Pluton, Microsoft is boosting Windows 11 security with several key new capabilities. One is Smart App Control, which prevents users from running malicious software by blocking unsigned applications by default. Smart App Control goes beyond protections built into browsers or antivirus and anti-malware alone tools, explained Katharine Holdsworth, Microsoft’s principal program manager of enterprise and OS security.
“This is yet another layer of security that is woven directly into the core of the OS at the process level,” Holdsworth explained during a breakout demo. “Using AI, our new Smart App Control only allows processes to run that are predicted to be saved based on the intelligence that we have. And it is continuously updated. Think of it as giving you extra-level protection from wherever you choose to get apps.”
Weston demonstrated a scenario where someone is downloading an app that appears to be Microsoft To Do. But it is actually a malicious app running ransomware, undetected by anti-malware software.
“However, on this device with Smart App Control, the malicious app is blocked because our AI system did not determine it is safe and could not identify the publisher based on its signing certificate,” he said. “This is true zero trust for applications.”
Windows 11 will also offer improved credential security with Microsoft Defender SmartScreen. Noting that Microsoft has blocked 25.6 billion brute force attacks against Azure Active Directory and 35.7 billion phishing emails, SmartScreen will alert users when they are entering their Microsoft credentials into a malicious app or website.
Read more about:VARs/SIs
Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.
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