How much will Windows 8 advance virtual desktop computing? Based on Microsoft's appealing preview build of the OS, these Hyper-V features will be key.
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Microsoft fans are still talking about the preview of the Windows 8 operating system presented at the BUILD conference last week in Anaheim, Calif. The user interface influenced by the Windows Phone 7 OS is notable as is the strategic shift from being PC-focused toward being tablet-focused. But Windows 8 may also be remarkable for how well it advances virtual desktop computing.
Following the release of Windows 7 in 2009, of which more than 400 million licenses were sold globally as of mid-July, Microsoft needs another home run. One of the ways it hopes to do that is by adding desktop virtualization based on the same Hyper-V platform that enables server virtualization.
According to a recent blog post by Mathew John, a Microsoft program manager on the Hyper-V team, Hyper-V will be included in Windows 8 to enable two or more virtual machines to run on one physical computer. Instead of working directly with the computer's hardware, the operating systems run inside of a virtual machine, which is the same concept behind server virtualization.
In introducing John's post, Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft's Windows Division, issued a caveat: "As with all features, we're discussing the engineering of the work and not the ultimate packaging, as those choices are made much later in the project." True, but there are a few features that we hope make it all the way through the design process and to the general availability release sometime in 2012:
1) Stupid simple to create a VM. In the blog, John includes a short video showing how to install Hyper-V from the OS using the same Windows Features checkbox familiar to end users, then setting up a virtual network switch--wired or wireless--and finally creating the VM. It was accomplished in maybe a dozen clicks.
2) Run other OSes, browsers to test Web application compatibility. While the aforementioned installation is so easy a grandparent could do it, Microsoft still is positioning Hyper-V for Windows 8 largely for software developers or IT administrators. Hyper-V will enable developers to maintain multiple test environments and easily switch between those environments without incurring additional hardware costs. While the physical hardware needs to run a 64-bit version of Windows 8, the virtual machines can be either 32-bit or 64-bit versions.
3) Dynamic memory shared among VMs. Windows 8 with Hyper-V will offer "virtual machine parity" and a common management experience between Windows Server and Windows Client. "Hyper-V's dynamic memory allows memory needed by the VM to be allocated and de-allocated dynamically ... and share unused memory between VMs," John wrote. By Microsoft's present calculations, an end user could run three or four VMs on a machine with 4 GB of RAM, but would need more RAM to run five or more VMs.
4) View inside a VM with either VM Console or the Remote Desktop Connection (RDC). VM Console provides a single monitor 32-bit color view of the VM to watch the boot-up process and otherwise monitor performance. RDC offers a more robust experience in that it can deliver images to multiple monitors and if one of the monitors offers a multipoint touch-enabled interface, then that feature will work as advertised from a VM.
5) Storage on physical or virtual hard disks. Hyper-V for Windows 8 will allow users to add Virtual Hard Disk (VHD) files in the VM or actual disks that would be "passed through to the VM," John wrote. VHDs could also reside on a remote file server for easy access by several people collaborating on the same team.
There is a long road to travel before all the work is done on Windows 8, but the new OS could deliver virtualization to mainstream end users if these features make it through to general availability.
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