Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

Summary: The time has come for software vendors to deliver virtualization-optimized operating systems.


Currently, you create virtual machines (VMs) using standard operating system (OS) installation media. You use the same Windows DVDs, Linux CDs and DVDs or ISO files for installing VMs that you do for installing physical systems. Sure, a VM can do almost anything a physical system can do but shouldn't we have the option of using a fully-optimized virtual machine OS? An operating system specially formulated to play well on a hypervisor. Be it Windows, Linux, Solaris, Mac OS or some other ill-conceived lump of bits and bytes, a true virtual machine OS is what we want.

Who'll step up to the challenge of delivering the first virtual machine operating system?

It might be years before anyone accepts the gauntlet so I've decided to help out a bit with my own vision of the first virtual operating systems.

Microsoft's Entry: Windows Virtual 2012

Windows Virtual is a standard, stripped-down version of Windows. Think Windows Server 2008 Core but with the graphical interface. The size of a full installation is a mere 5GB/8GB (Server/Desktop) because it has a limited set of drivers, optimized generic graphics, and hooks into all of the major hypervisors. It has an incredibly fast 128-bit journaling filesystem, low memory footprint, and optimizations for multiple vCPUs. It knows on which hypervisor you've installed it and has made the appropriate adjustments.

Windows Virtual is truly a thing of beauty. It's able to participate in domains or as a standalone system. It's a fully-enabled TCP/IP system and the ever-chatty NETBIOS protocol is nowhere in sight.

It arrives equipped for interoperability by default with a full suite of TCP/IP utilities and an optional SSH server. The system also comes standard with unlimited remote terminal services client connections. Microsoft enables this feature in their server and their desktop versions to take full advantage of VDI possibilities with the highest imaginable VM density.

Windows Virtual also arrives with dynamically expanding virtual disks--yes, even the system disk can be dynamically expanded or contracted. And, the best feature of all? Reboots only occur after a major service pack update that involves the kernel. Microsoft has finally figured out how to make their dynamic loading libraries load dynamically.

Another major improvement is that all processing occurs in the background. The only foreground processing is done during an interactive user session. Windows Virtual also sports a volatile, memory-bound pagefile that efficiently and routinely purges itself without reboots or crashes.

Linux Community Entry: Linux Virtual OS 1.0

Sure, Linux already has many of the features described in my science fiction version of Windows above but there's still room for improvement. Canonical will most likely cross the finish line first in the Linux Virtual OS race, bringing us the easiest and most secure version of the Linux virtual operating system.

Standard fare for the Linux Virtual OS are dynamically expanding disks, remote desktop services so that users can use universal clients to connect to Linux and Windows systems. Of course, they'll come standard with an SSH server and a fast, journaling filesystem. The Linux Virtual OS will be fully hypervisor aware, ship with a limited set of hardware drivers and support all of the major hypervisors.

A server installation should install in less than 2GB of space and a desktop system in less than 5GB.

Yes, there's less to say about Linux as a virtual machine OS because it has a shorter path to virtual machine perfection than Windows does.

Apple: Mac Virtual OS XII

Apple has much to gain by allowing its hallowed OS into the virtual realm. Think of all the Mac addicts that would love to use Mac virtual machines with their iPhones and iPads. As smart as such a thing sounds, unfortunately Apple will continue its shortsightedness in this area. Mac Servers and Mac Desktops will likely find space in virtual infrastructures when Cupertino freezes over. It's a nice thought though since everyone could benefit from Mac VDI.

Thus far, only OpenSUSE Linux has made strides toward a virtual-aware OS by including VMware Tools by default. I'm hopeful that their vision will filter into the other distributions in the next year or so.

Topics: Servers, Apple, Virtualization, Software, Operating Systems, Open Source, Linux, Hardware, Emerging Tech, Windows


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • What problem does it solve?

    Generally speaking, I want my guest OS to be feature rich. I will optimize the guest OS based on the workload that it will perform. I am not terribly concerned about optimizing affordable disk space.

    As far as Mac is concerned, they are a hardware company. Given its brief failed foray into the server market. How likely are they even to be interested in selling software? Which market would they target? The enterprise market has no real use for OSX. The consumer market workload is not geared towards viritualization of OSX.
    Your Non Advocate
    • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

      @facebook@... ignoring the potential for lock-in. A lightweight OS guest virtual machine would be great if you didn't have to maintain it separately, manage drivers separately run shared instances to optimize around memory configs. You can put custom fast paths through to the hypervisor for optimized I/O, provide more consistent runtime environments etc. In fact, you might even call it the virtual machine system aka VMS... (irony intended)
      • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

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    • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS


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      • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

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  • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

    When I first read this Blog Headline, I felt for sure that Jason Perlow had penned this article. (Sorry Ken)

    But regarding your opinions on "OS XII". It is fairly easy to virtualize an OS. It quite a difficult task to virtualize hardware.

    The Apple design philosophy ideal is a Software/Hardware synergy experience second to none. IMO, the benefits of a total system integration design approach trumps the benefits from the MS Software/Hardware "a la cart" business model.
    • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS


      Ha, funny. Jason's my hero.
  • Much of this is already here

    At least if you are running Windows Server 2008 R2 VM in the current versions of VMWare. You can already dynamically expand disks as well as hot add CPU's, Memory, and virtual disks.

    Unlimited terminal services? That is a licensing issue and has nothing to do with the OS being virtualized or not. Microsoft could do this tomorrow if they chose to. Most of the other features you spoke of like TCP/IP utilities, SSH, ect also have nothing to do with virtualization.

    So I'm not really sure what the point of this discussion is.
    • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS


      I am saying that I'd like to have OSs specifically designed for virtualization as guests and then I added some features that I'd like to see.
  • Personally I don't see the virtue in having a virtual O/S

    With Linux, kvm shimmed with VirtIO and managed with Virt-Manager, both developed by Red Hat, eases the necessity to cobble together command-line syntax using kvm or qemu-kvm.

    I am prototyping a vm farm to move Microsoft Fat clients into a Linux kvm server and have users reach their desktops over ltsp thin clients.

    They loose zero functionality, I gain due diligence on HIPAA compliancy and make their Windows images immutable so as to avoid any possibility of infection.

    Users only use their Windows VM on their Ubuntu Desktop for Apps that currently cannot be replicated in Linux which at this point is only a few use cases.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate

      Yep, good plan. I wrote that up as an article for Sys Admin magazine in November 2002: Linux as a Windows Terminal Server Client. The problem is that your Windows VMs are still fat Windows systems, just moved to a virtual environment. I want an optimized guest OS for virtualization that takes up less space and consumes fewer resources across the board to increase VM density.
    • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate
      yes you are rihgt
      <a href="http://www.yabanci-diziler.com/">yabanci dizi izle</a>
    • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~-~ Your Linux Advocate
      Well, Parallels already does this sort of thing for Windows too. And, yes, I use Zones and love it. I'm sure that one of my rants about <a href="http://www.lasercartridgeplus.com/micr-toner.html">MICR Toner</a>
      just that is available somewhere on the Net.
  • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

    Apple won't allow their OS to be virtualized. And Microsoft will come up with another edition so called Windows 8 Virtualization edition which should only cost about $250 for a single user license.
    • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS


      Pretty much my opinion as well.
  • Guests you mean?

    You don't seem to make it clear whether you are talking about a guest OS or a host OS but I think you mean guests.

    I think a fully virtual host OS is a more interesting topic. Something that essentially replaces BIOS/EFI with a hypervisor would be fabulous place to start on all types of computer but especially laptops.

    Citrix XenClient is an excellent example of a first attempt at a host-based hypervisor for workstations. XenClient officially supports Windows 7 guests but works well with recent Ubuntu versions.

    But step away from the boxed-in mentality of virtualizing an entire OS and consider virtualizing entire apps using a virtual environment similar to NaCl. Ultimately, most of my virtualization ends up being "take the OS, strip it down, install one app and its support components, create an image." Why not detach the app from needing a host OS in its memory space and encapsulate it within a VM. What I'd like to see is for Microsoft to provide some bits to allow an entire app, such as MS Office, to be boxed into a VM all by itself with no traditional OS in that VM. Microsoft could then just provide a "MS Office 2012" VM image instead of an install DVD or twelve. Apple can already do this if they wanted in some sense because the way OpenStep was designed is similar to that line of thinking. Citrix is desperately trying to figure out how to do exactly this with Windows apps (see XenApp).
    • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS


      OK app virtualization is a different animal. As you stated, both Citrix and Microsoft have great app virtualization tools in XenApp and App-V, respectively. And, quite frankly, I find application virtualization a better paradigm for enterprises. With App-V, I am able to provide an immutable image of Microsoft Office to a large enterprise audience, with limited maintenance overhead.
      Your Non Advocate
      • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

        @facebook@... Well, I don't think it should be a different animal. It only is now because we're working within the context of legacy systems and software. Targeting newly developed applications to some future specific version of a VM container would make it possible for applications to always behave predictably and would insulate them from the effects of the outside world to a great extent.

        Application virtualization seems like a better fit for Enterprises because there it is nearly essential. Small companies tend not to have the experience or funding for such things. Which tells me only that the solutions are too expensive at the entry level and they are too complicated to setup. Without application virtualization, once you get beyond the small company stage you start finding yourself spending all of your time and money keeping dozens or hundreds of Rube Goldberg devices running at all. It starts becoming very useful and more affordable at the medium company stage and if you've gotten to become a large company without it you're probably feeling some major pain.
      • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS


        Still not following you. Are you alluding to, essentially a Microsoft Office virtual machine on bare metal with just enough operating system to boot? I think that is too much of a compromise between integration and efficiency. Although it may be efficient, it is hardly useful for companies that require a large software stack. Microsoft Office + Microsoft Lync + Catia + ..... I need these tools to work together, not disparate devices or non-connected memory spaces.
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: Wanted: A Virtual Machine OS

        @facebook@... Again, you're looking at (Windows) applications and how they are designed today. Requiring Office and Lync and Catia to run within the same memory space, if true, is an artifact of the environment in which they are running. There really is no technical reason for this other than it was convenient and possibly more efficient at the time.