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Virtualization changes everything

I think Cringley might have nailed it with this column: Apple's Plan to Provide the Best Darned Windows Experience Anywhere . Oddly, the week before Cringley said BootCamp was unimportant, but I think he's starting to put the pieces together.

The pieces are Vista, Virtualization, and Security. First, security: Microsoft's recent admission that wipe out and start over is really best practice is nothing new to those of us from the Unix world: that's always been our advice when a system compromise is suspected or discovered.

Virtualization fits into this because it can make that process relatively painless. Set up your OS and apps as they should be, clean, pristine, ready to run, but in a VM. Before you do anything else, clone that VM. Anytime you apply patches, clone it again after bench-testing to be sure nothing broke. Now if anything goes haywire, you can start over in minutes: up to date with a working OS. Put your current data files back, and you are ready to go.

Perhaps more importantly, the ability to isolate VM's makes it less likely that you'll have a problem anyway. We already have single purpose VMware instances: secure browsers, firewall appliances and so on. I think that trend will increase (and we may even see simpler OSEs to run these aps; OSes designed to run specifically in a VM environment).

And then there is Vista. Very late, very large, and very scary. Scary for people planning to upgrade, and scary for Microsoft because if they screw up, if they release a bloated pile of insecure code that falls apart in the big bad world, they will have done incalculable damage to themselves. But is Vista in a Mac OS X VM scary for Apple? Nope. Quite the opposite, in fact? It's nothing but good news. If, as Cringely and I suggest, Apple can run XP and Vista as VM's (and of course it already can run XP), that's a potent mix. Cringely says:

If Apple's intent is to do virtualization, then why bother with
this dual boot version of Boot Camp? My best guess is to throw off
Microsoft until it is too late. Not that I think Microsoft will
even care as long as they get their money, but Apple can be sneaky
this way.

Earlier, I wondered Is Apple playing Poker with Microsoft?. Seems Cringley may think the same thing.

Cringely sums it up rather well:

So Apple will at least offer the option for users to run a virtualized
version of Windows Vista atop OS X, which brings with it two HUGE
advantages. First, the bad guys and script kiddies will have to
get through OS X security before they even have a chance at cracking
Vista security. Second, by running a virtual version of Windows
Vista loaded from a read-only partition, Microsoft's recommended
method of dealing with malware (periodically wipe the OS and
application from your disk and load them anew) can be done in
seconds instead of hours and can be done daily instead of monthly
or quarterly or yearly.

By running Windows Vista this way, Apple can offer the most secure
version of Vista available with the lowest Total Cost of Ownership,
which could lead to a leadership change in business computing. Down
with Dell and HP and up with Apple.

Those other companies could do much the same thing, not using OS
X, but possibly Linux or some other Unix variant. But it won't be
the same, at least not at first. Apple, as a company that has made
operating systems longer than Microsoft has, brings to this fight
a huge technical advantage.

Well, maybe, but the real technical advantage is virtualization. Aside from everything mentioned so far, there's another giant reason that you and everyone else is going to love running VM's: backward compatiblity.

Backward Compatiblity

Apple gave it up for OS X. Microsoft wishes they could give it up for Vista. It's a big nasty problem, but VM's solve it. Need to run RedHat 9 for an old app? No problem. Windows 98? No problem. DOS? Again, no problem.

If Apple's plan is to dominate virtualization, what they need to add is Virtual OS X. That unfetters them to do whatever the heck they want: come out with a pure hypervisor product, introduce an OS XX that won't run a single OS X app: it doesn't matter if the legacy OSes can run in VM's. Of course Linux can do the same thing, but they are missing one important piece: legal license to run Mac OSes.

Only Apple has that.

Linux has the almost the same advantage as Apple in the backward compatibility area: VM's free them to advance without having to constantly look back. But Microsoft? No. Microsoft is stuck in the compatibility tar pit much more deeply, first because it is part of their corporate culture to be compatible, but secondly because of their current market domination: there's just too much Microsoft out there to be tossed out with the bath water.

If I were Bill Gates, I'd drop everything else and concentrate on a full hypervisor. If I could convince EMC to sell VMware, maybe that would be the best choice. I'd make Windows 98 and all old DOses easily available to run in that environment. When I had that all done, then I'd come back to Vista, but strip it down so that it ONLY ran in my VM hypervisor.

I don't think Bill is planning anything like that. They are aware of virtualization, but I think it's like TCP/IP and the Internet were for them: they aren't going to "get it" until very late in the game. If Apple already "gets it", and is working toward that goal, Microsoft may be left far behind.

If Apple doesn't pull this off, Linux surely will. I think RedHat "gets it". Apple has the advantage of having 100% licensing control for its own OSes, and still has a larger market share (desktops) than Linux, but that may not be enough. Microsoft's disadvantage in this game is its size and strong need for compatibility (coupled with annoyng security and regulatory distractions).

Virtualization is going to change our world.

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© Anthony Lawrence

Sat Jul 2 22:03:35 2011: 9593   TonyLawr


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