Setting up a new development PC can take time. We’ve all experienced it: My latest device arrived in February and I’m sure that everything I need isn’t there yet, even with a long list of apps and tools that I’ve used to guide installations. The list gets longer with each new project and each new technology, too.
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Developers need to be fast and flexible, and that usually requires the latest hardware with all the bells and whistles. Every little bit of power makes it easier to deliver bug-free code that does exactly what’s needed. But no matter how fast the PC, it takes time to install and configure a project toolchain, from IDE to project libraries and Git.
How can we ensure that developers are ready to start work as soon as they’re assigned to a project? Microsoft and its GitHub subsidiary have been thinking about this problem for some time, and we’re now at a point where two key trends are meeting: the ability to containerize the tools and services we want and the capabilities of remote desktop installs.
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Hosted on Azure, managed by Windows 365
Build 2022 saw Microsoft announce Microsoft Dev Box, a way to build development environments in Azure-hosted Windows virtual machines so that developers can quickly open a preconfigured system and get to work without having to change the underlying PC. Dev Box builds on tools Microsoft has developed to manage business desktops in the cloud, including Windows 365 and the various components of its Endpoint Manager system management tools.
Microsoft’s existing managed Windows 365 cloud PC service is its virtual desktop platform, offering hosted Windows 10 and Windows 11 installations that can be managed through the same Intune cloud device management platform as on-premises and mobile hardware, along with the rest of the Endpoint Manager suite. Putting Windows in the cloud is the first step to delivering tools such as Dev Box, as you’re now able to configure and provision virtual desktop images that can be spun up on demand.
With Windows 365 already supporting remote and hybrid work, it makes a lot of sense to deliver task-specific environments that can be used on any PC or tablet, with familiar productivity software and custom line-of-business tools, and then to extend it to support developers. New Windows features will allow devices to boot to a Windows 365 environment or quickly switch to it using the same tools you use for Windows’ built-in virtual desktop tools. With fast broadband and modern remoting tools, latency is kept to a minimum, making a remote virtual desktop indistinguishable from a local one.
For now, however, you’re limited to using a separate Remote Desktop tool to access Windows 365 and Windows Dev Box environments. This is a new version of the familiar Remote Desktop bundled with Windows that’s only able to connect to managed cloud environments. It’s somewhat confusing: It’s not in the Windows Store but has the same icon and name. If you’re using Remote Desktop to manage your development servers and work with Azure resources, you’ll end up needing two different versions for now.