Windows 7's XP Mode combines the company's desktop and presentation virtualization technologies to serve up applications that won't run properly on Windows 7 from a virtual XP SP3 instance. By tapping desktop-based virtualization as a bridge for Windows software compatibility gaps, organizations could achieve a smooth transition from Windows to a competing platform.
Last month, Microsoft announced that Windows 7 will include an XP Mode,
which combines the company's desktop and presentation virtualization
technologies to serve up applications that won't run properly on Windows 7 from
a virtual XP SP3 instance.
When I heard about XP Mode, I was immediately struck by the marketing
benefits that the feature can provide for non-Windows platforms. That's because
tapping desktop-based virtualization as a bridge for Windows software
compatibility gaps is one of the keys to achieving a smooth transition from
Windows to a competing platform.
When someone asks me about moving away from Windows to Linux or the Mac, I
tell them that they'll most likely find native Mac or Linux replacements for
their Windows applications, but that it may be necessary to run a copy of
Windows in a virtual machine for certain applications.
I keep a Windows VM on my Linux notebook for things like product testing and
attending GoToMeeting conferences. (Microsoft's own Live Meeting is, by
comparison, very Linux-friendly.) The Windows VM approach to platform-switching
can work pretty well, but this tactic does have various wrinkles.
First, you need a licensed copy of Windows and enough RAM
to devote to the Windows guest without starving your host OS. Also, you'll need
the same sort of security software and patching policies you would apply to a
regular Windows instance. Finally, depending on the type of application you're
dealing with, performance might be an issue, and applications that require
direct access to hardware resources might not work at all.
Now that Microsoft is pushing virtualization as a crutch for migrating from
XP to Windows 7, it may occur to many that upgrading from XP to 7 wouldn't
prove significantly more painful than moving from XP to OS X or Linux-particularly
since XP Mode on Windows 7 shares most of the same wrinkles that mar XP on
Linux or Mac setups.
More importantly, though, XP Mode will introduce the idea and the practice
of running multiple, reasonably isolated OS instances on a single machine to a
broader pool of users. As more people embrace the practice, I expect to see
Microsoft and other vendors work out more of its kinks and, eventually, offer
new classes of products aimed specifically at enabling these Russian doll desktop
Despite the possibly beneficial side effects of XP Mode for alternative
platforms, I believe that Microsoft and Windows are best-positioned to take
advantage of the rise of the virtual desktop machines.
As eWEEK Labs has discussed recently
, the lines between personal and company
devices and computing environments are now more blurry than ever. As I see it,
the best way to provide both individual users and large organizations with the
control they require to satisfy their needs is to provide multiple virtualized
environments on a single piece of hardware.
Given its advantages around available applications, integrated identity and
desktop management capabilities, and mind and market share among businesses,
Windows seems to be the clear option for delivering the managed corporate
desktop element of these mixed environments.
XP Mode could be a first step toward colonizing the virtual desktop
territories, but for something like this to really take off, Microsoft will
have to begin approaching VMs as a first-class "hardware" platform
and look toward stripping out bits that aren't required in these environments.
Also, we'll have to see more advances in bare-metal desktop and notebook
hypervisor technologies, like those demonstrated by Citrix in the form of its
Maybe desktop platform diversity and Microsoft monoculture can live side by
side, after all. If nothing else, Microsoft would probably be less touchy about
mounting "I'm a Mac" choruses if managed Windows instances lurked beneath
more of Apple's matte aluminum covers.
Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.