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When does virtual become normal?

I was reading Checking out Virtual Machines this morning. It's not very well written, but it brought me back to some ideas that have been rumbling around in the back of my head for some time.

First, aside from weather forecasting and a few other military and heavy commercial applications, computer hardware is getting very close to the "fast enough" stage. For some individual users, it passed that point some time ago: speeding up the hardware won't speed up anything they are doing.

That point is arguable: hard drives really aren't as fast as we would like, but bear with me just a moment, because you'd have to agree that it is getting close, and that a lot of horsepower goes unused at many a desk.

Enter the virtual machine. If you've ever used software like VMware or Virtual PC, you know that this is an area where fast hardware makes the difference between a pleasant experience and an unbearable one. But you also know (or should know) the tremendous advantages running virtual OSes have over the "normal" way we run our machines. VM's let you isolate OSes in their own little world if you want it that way, or you can let them share resources with other OS instances. VM's can "roll-back" unwanted changes much more easily than real operating systems, and it's also much easier to protect them from those unwanted changes to start with. The root user on a Linux system I have running under virtual PC on my Mac is only root in the areas I let it have that authority: it isn't root on my entire machine. Likewise, viruses that sneak into my virtual XP machine have no affect on anything outside of that instance, and if I suspect that one has gotten by the scanners, I can just roll back to a time before it came into the machine.

With faster hardware, I'd like to reach the point where everything I do is inside a virtual machine instance, and the only time I'd use the "real" OS would be to configure or control those instances. That would be an ideal environment for me, and it would be quite useful for IT support staff if user's desktops worked that way too.

Inexpensive hardware isn't quite fast enough today to do this, but the day is coming.



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