Virtualization--'end of Windows as we know it'

The days of gargantuan releases of Microsoft's flagship operating system could soon be over, Gartner believes; but Microsoft isn't too impressed with the argument.

Analyst group Gartner believes that virtualization will allow Microsoft to create a more flexible operating system platform in the future based around modularity.

The claim, which has been rejected by Microsoft, stems from the argument that the current Windows architecture is unsustainable for Microsoft and its customers.

In a research note released this week, Vista Will Be the Last Major Windows Release as We Know It, the analyst group claims that the trend of building ever more functionality into Windows may be reversed thanks to the virtualization technology which will soon be integrated into the operating system.

Microsoft customers need the way Windows is developed and released to change, as deploying the gargantuan operating system is too costly and complex at present. In turn, the vendor needs to accelerate the rate at which it releases and updates Windows to satisfy users who have signed up to its bulk-buy automated upgrade Software Assurance (SA) programme.

The software giant has made some attempts to slim down the OS by rebuilding Windows into a stack of more than 50 discrete layers, says Gartner. This strategy has gone some way to rationalizing the complexity of the operating system but it's not enough, the analyst group warns.

The key technology which will allow for smaller, discrete and more frequent versions of Windows is virtualization, which effectively separates the operating system from the underlying hardware. "Once Windows includes virtualization at its core, we expect OS deployment to change direction from integration to modularization. Microsoft will then use modularity to change the packaging and delivery model for future versions of Windows," the report stated.

However Microsoft is being cagey about whether the strategy laid out by Gartner is the way it plans to go. According to the analyst report: "Microsoft disagrees with this vision of its client operating system. It claims its research has identified significant issues with using hardware virtualization as a means of modularity due to the challenges associated with integrating data across partitions and creating a consistent user experience."

Virtualization generally refers to the ability to run multiple operating systems simultaneously to make a computer more efficient. Intel and AMD have added virtualization hardware support to their latest chips, while market leader VMware is exerting price pressure on Microsoft and the Xen project is giving Linux a major lead over Windows.

Microsoft is working on adding improved virtualization technology, known as hypervisor, to its server software but hasn't released any real information regarding the impact on the client. According to Bob Muglia, senior vice president of Microsoft's server and tools business, virtualization will not come with Vista Server, but as an add-on that will ship within six months of the server release.

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