I used to build boxes. That was what we called the tower portion of the computer systems when 90% of computers like that were all the rage. So, I’m a hardware guy at heart.

But I went 100% mobile in 2008, so I moved to a different hardware form-factor, the laptop.

Again in 2015, I not only bought new hardware for myself, but I moved from a Dell laptop to a MacBook Pro as my daily driver. That said, only a Mac can run both Windows and MacOS, so that’s what I did – I’ve had the best of both worlds.

But now the Mac is getting a little long in the tooth. It still works great for normal use and I’m not giving it up just yet. But I’ve been shopping around for a new machine, looking at the Dell XPS, the Microsoft Surface Book 2 (or forthcoming 3), or even one of those little EliteDesk powerhouses from HP – a box that’s 6.96 x 6.88 x 1.33 in. It’s a tiny little box that you can hook onto the back of your monitor.

But I got to thinking… Why do I need new hardware? I really just want a Windows box around for testing, research, and troubleshooting when working with a client and their own Windows machine. What about a software-based virtual machine?

I’ve already had a virtual machine running directly on the MacBook Pro using Parallels, but running that Windows system alongside the MacOS meant a significant draw on computing resources, so it often caused overheating, especially when I’ve got 20 tabs open in five different browsers on each operating system, while simultaneously running Word, Excel, Outlook, OneNote, Teams, etc.

But there’s another place where I might obtain a spanking new computer – Azure. I might still actually be running a virtual machine on the Mac, but in this case, all the hard work is performed in a data center. The way that you access a virtual machine in Azure is to use a client app called Microsoft Remote Desktop, formerly known as Remote Desktop Connection or the Terminal Services client. There’s a Mac version of Microsoft Remote Desktop, so I can use that client to view my virtual machine in the Azure cloud (data center) with little to no burden on my own hardware resources.

Now I’m addicted. I can’t create enough virtual machines… Seriously, I’ll have to cut it back after the dust settles, but because these hosted machines cost little by the hour – about $0.15 – then I can run this machine or that machine. But because Microsoft licensing only allows for 5 desktop versions of Office to be installed per user, then that’ll be my limit. But this scenario makes for a nice little ‘sandbox’ network. (There’s that ‘box’ word again.)

Yes, there is latency. With any remote or cloud computing situation, we can expect to experience some lag. But in this case, it’s barely noticeable – I often forget that this isn’t a real Windows machine that I’m using (on the Mac). And because the virtual machine resides in a data center with powerful CPUs and tremendously fast internet, that power is gleaned and present within my client view.

Sometimes you just have to think outside of the box.