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Your future desktop

© January 2009 Anthony Lawrence

The report of Citrix and Intel developing an open source Xen desktop hypervisor reminded me of "The unimportance of Linux OS and why you don't care" from a few years back. The future looks a bit more clear now - here's what I think we'll see.

Of course your personal machine will be powerful and have plenty of local storage but its primary OS will be a hypervisor. Everything else will run as a virtual machine under that hypervisor. The hypervisor will provide services, shared memory and messaging between those VM's that you want to communicate with each other and will isolate the rest to whatever degree you set. The only difference between that and what we have now is that there will be no host OS running something like VMware - the hypervisor is the primary operating system. You can have all that now.

What the future will change is more virtualization: virtual memory, virtual storage. You'll never run out of disk space because any needs beyond local storage will be brought from services like Amazon S3 or Google's G-Drive, all completely transparent to you. Because just about everything will be using the same technology, drives such as your remote website now become as local as you want them to be - again all transparent to you. You won't care that your data is redundantly stored all over the world. You won't care that if someone in China visits your public website they get served from machines close to them - you won't care about any of that because as far as you are concerned, everything you do is local.

The VM's change too. As they evolve toward being primarily containers for applications rather than general purpose operating systems, they lose features they don't need. Your OpenOffice.org install of the future almost certainly will use a Linux OS as its base, but that Linux will be stripped of everything that OpenOffice.org doesn't need for itself. Yes, you need a bash shell somewhere, but it doesn't have to be part of the OpenOffice.org VM, does it?

Of course you would probably have shared storage for those two apps. The OpenOffice.org might only need networking to update itself or it might pass all such needs to another VM that can do such things. In many ways, the whole meta-OS driven by the hypervisor moves more toward the original Unix concept of small tools that work together.

A browser VM might have no shared storage at all and might be required to pass any downloads through a gauntlet of security VM's, one of which might be deliberately configured as a honey pot being carefully watched by the hypervisor to see if the downloads pose any risk to your "real" VM's. In this way the war against attackers becomes more proactive - we invite them to attack false targets and thereby discover the threat.

Not everyone sees this as I do. For example, Hypervisor Vs. LinuxBased seems to come down on the side of running VM's off a Linux kernel base (KVM, for example). However, even they note this:

For end users the functionality will probably be more important than what the underlying technology is. As long as the virtualization technology in question is efficient, easily manageable and available on the system by default it will do the job. End users will be interested in the Linux virtualization technology comparison table and also in the comparative benchmarks.

In the end, chances are that whatever technology makes it into the upstream (kernel.org) kernel and fulfills all of a user's technical needs will be the one that gets used. Practical availability trumps theoretical advantages every time.

That's certainly true. I think hypervisor OSes are our future but even if it does go Linux with KVM or similar, the end result will be the same: appliance VM 's stripped of unneeded features and finely designed and tuned for the appliance's specific needs.

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Inexpensive and informative Apple related e-books:

iOS 8: A Take Control Crash Course

Take Control of Parallels Desktop 12

Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course

Take Control of Pages

Take Control of the Mac Command Line with Terminal, Second Edition

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