Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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Windows Desktop Virtualization Gets Easier

This past Thursday, Microsoft announced that Windows (7) Virtual PC (WVPC) and its XP Mode feature would no longer require hardware-assisted virtualization (HAV). That means any PC running Windows 7 Pro, or higher, can now run this software. And that's a great thing because, as I noted in a post almost five month ago, determining whether a given PC you might be planning to buy actually offers HAV can be extremely difficult. That meant even dedicated, sophisticated PC users, with a budget for new hardware, might be blocked from using this technology. And that was just plain silly.

One of the features offered by WVPC, and utilized heavily by XP Mode, is the concept of virtual applications: apps within a guest VM that can actually run within the host's desktop environment. I find this feature so powerful that my February Redmond Review column entertained the notion of a future version of Windows that runs all applications in this manner.

The elimination of the HAV requirement for XP Mode and WVPC was just one of many virtualization-related announcements Microsoft made on Thursday. And, interestingly, most of the others were also desktop-related, rather than server-related. This is a welcome change from the multi-year period in which Microsoft enhanced its server virtualization lineup (in Hyper-V) and let the desktop platform fester. Microsoft now seems to understand desktop virtualization is in high demand and strengthens the Windows franchise. As I explained in the column, even cloud computing can have a desktop spin if desktop virtualization is part of the equation.

One company that knows this well is Citrix, and a closer alliance between Microsoft and Citrix was one of the many announcements from Thursday. In fact, there's a whole Web site dedicated to the alliance.

I'd love to see virtual applications and entire virtual desktops offered as Azure-branded services. This could allow me to run, for example, the full Office client on a variety of desktops I might use, and for large organizations it could easily reduce the expense, burden and duration of the deployment cycle for new versions of Office. Business Intelligence providers, including my own firm, twentysix New York, would find great relief in enabling their customers to run the newest version of Excel, with the latest BI capabilities, instead of having to wait the requisite two to three years it takes for many Fortune 500 customers to upgrade.

Microsoft should do more, and faster. WVPC still does not support 64-bit guest images, even on 64-bit hosts. That needs to be fixed. File access from the guest to the host needs to be improved (right now, it's done through Terminal Services/Remote Desktop file sharing, and it's slow) and VM load times need to be significantly reduced before virtualized apps can become the norm. (I suppose the advance of solid state drive technology will help there.)

I do think these improvements will come, because Microsoft is focused on the virtual desktop now. And that's a smart focus to have.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 03/24/2010

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