Windows 365 Frontline is the latest addition to the Frontline product line at Microsoft - a new licensing option for shift workers who want productivity, security, and efficiency for their work hours.
But what makes it different from its other license counterparts? It is certainly not the first Windows 365 product in recent years, nor is it the first time we have heard the phrase "Frontline" from Microsoft insiders. So, what is it exactly?
In short, it is the new cloud-based solution to meet the needs of shift and part-time workers. The solution is a combination of Windows 365's application-type and Frontline's business objectives. Here is the breakdown, starting with its name.
First announced in March 2020, Microsoft 365 Frontline licenses were designed for employees who work directly with the public providing or distributing goods and services. The licenses are also referred to as “F3” and “F1”.
Microsoft defines Frontline workers as “employees who are on the go, often on mobile devices, and work directly with customers or the general public”. With this in mind, the Frontline functionality is designed to be portable and quickly accessible.
Unlike Enterprise plans, the Frontline plans (‘F plans’) do not include desktop apps.
Furthermore, because it prioritizes being on-the-go, F plans are limited to devices with screens “smaller than 10.9 inches on Office mobile apps”. In other words, if you have an F plan and need to install mobile apps, it is restricted to tablets up to a certain size and phone devices.
"Today's announcement of Windows 365 is just the beginning of what will be possible as we blur the lines between the device and the cloud."
About a year later, in July 2021, Microsoft announced “Windows 365”: a Windows streaming platform for business users. Released in August 2021, Windows 365 is a cloud-based “personalized Windows experience for various devices”. It delivers Windows features such as apps and settings through Microsoft Cloud, allowing users to remotely access the computer environment. The Windows 365 model was Microsoft’s answer to the expanding hybrid workforce.
Windows 365 differs from its counterpart Windows 11 Enterprise in where it stores data. Everything Tech UK says, “Windows 365 is used in the same way as the traditional Windows operating system, but is accessed and managed via your internet browser or the Microsoft Remote Desktop app – your entire desktop is stored in a secure data centre rather than on your actual device.”
Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft 365, called Windows 365 “the beginning of what will be possible as we blur the lines between the device and the cloud.”
Like other Microsoft collections, several licenses are available for different organizational needs. The types that are available to Windows 365 include: Business, Enterprise, Government, and, as of Spring 2023, Frontline.
Combining Windows 365 and Frontline
Brendan Lee of StarWind Hyperconvergence describes Windows 365 Frontline as “an extension of the idea behind Microsoft 365 F subscriptions. It simplifies and economizes using Cloud PCs for frontline and shift work personnel”. Combining the two product lines together, Windows 365 featured Microsoft capabilities now available on a cloud base.
Microsoft launched Windows 365 Frontline in April 2023. Its purpose is to provide full access to to Cloud PCs, including applications and content, during working hours.
Windows M365 allows up to three users per license. Because of its design, the employer will only need to purchase enough licenses for the number of active users at a given time. Here’s how it looks in action:
An organization has 21 shift workers who need access to a computer during their work hours. There is Team A, who works the morning shift, Team B, who works the evening shift, and Team C in the overnight shift. Every shift is 8 hours. Each team is made out of 7 people, and each team has one Shift Manager who requires a higher-level set of permissions. There is also one Stock Room Supervisor per team.
Instead of buying 21 separate Microsoft licenses that are used 8 hours a day, the organization may opt for the Windows 365 Frontline license. They may purchase 7 of these Windows 365 licenses, 1 of which can be customized for Shift Managers. All three Shift Managers will be able to operate with their customized settings.
Once the shift is over, the user must sign off to “free up” the space to let the next user sign in. In one case, Team A’s Stock Room Supervisor must sign out in order to allow Team B’s Stock Room Supervisor to sign in. Administrators will also be able to manually log off Team A’s employee.
Since Windows 365 Frontline license is intended for shift workers, there are some notable differences from its predecessor Windows 365 licenses (B, E, and G licenses).
The most notable performance distinction of Frontline is that it allows three users in rotation to use one license. To allow this capability, the license is assigned to a group of three users, rather than one. In other words, three Cloud PCs open under one Windows 365 Frontline license. On the other hand, other Windows 365 products allow one user per license.
Windows 365 Frontline Cloud PCs are shut off when not in use. This process is automated, ensuring a Cloud PC is available for use in case the previous employee forgets to log off. Business, Enterprise, and Government PCs remain turned on all day, even when not in use. Cloud PCs can even be configured to install Windows updates outside of working hours, to prevent interruptions throughout shifts. Having administrative capabilities to sign out users or lock the system are particularly useful in cases where a third-party contractor may need to access your data.
There is an option to auto-reset the Cloud PC for workers dealing with highly sensitive data. The data will not be available for the next shift worker to access the Cloud PC. Having this feature is helpful for organizations looking to comply with security policies while remaining productive.
Comparing Frontline in Microsoft 365 and Windows 365 (and Office 365)
Windows 365 was announced during a transformative time in work culture. Its key difference from Microsoft 365 is that it is able to be remotely accessible by workers thanks to its Cloud PC capabilities. This means, shared devices, such as a store tablet, are operational at any location, as opposed to being restricted to a single room.
At the time of writing this article, Frontline options are primarily available in Microsoft 365 and Office 365. However, prices of Windows 365 Frontline have not been released yet.
Microsoft 365 F1
Microsoft 365 F3
Office 365 F3
(Annual subscription—auto renews)
All prices above are for Microsoft 365 and Office 365 F licenses and listed in USD. This table was last updated June 2023.
To further clarify the difference between Office 365 and Microsoft 365, Office 365 is the “suite” of Microsoft programs that are commonly used in the office – PowerPoint, Word, Excel, and OneNote.
Microsoft 365 is an operating system that includes the Office suite. Essentially, Office 365 can be installed in any computing device, including computers running on Linux or Mac. However, Office 365 is best integrated into Microsoft 365.
Microsoft’s website states:
To purchase Windows 365 Frontline, customers must be licensed for Windows 11 Enterprise or Windows 10 Enterprise, Microsoft Intune, and Azure AD P1. These licenses are included in Microsoft 365 F3, Microsoft 365 E3, Microsoft 365 E5, Microsoft 365 A3, Microsoft 365 A5, Microsoft 365 Business Premium, and Microsoft 365 Education Student Use Benefit subscriptions, or they can be purchased separately.
Windows 365 Frontline requires more than just the F license to run properly. As always, Microsoft 365 remains as the all-encompassing tier that offers organizations the flexibility to use F plans if needed.
As of July 5, 2023, Windows 365 Frontline is out of its preview stage and now generally available. Click here for the official full Microsoft blog post.