Microsoft Flip-Flops on Vista Virtualization

Microsoft will stick by its earlier decision not to allow customers to install cheaper versions of Windows Vista on virtualized machines.

Microsofts Windows Vista team is eating crow after flip-flopping on its on-again, off-again decision to allow cheaper versions of Vista to be used in virtualized machines.

The company was all set to announce June 20 that the lower-cost Vista Home Basic ($199) and Vista Home Premium ($249) versions could be used in virtual machines, and that it had lifted its prohibition on the use of information rights management, digital rights management and its BitLocker data encryption service in a virtual machine.

In fact, a spokesperson for the Vista team went as far as to tell eWEEK in a prebriefing earlier this week that greater awareness of the potential security issues around virtualization and customer pressure on the company to offer greater choice were the primary motivators for the decision to allow the virtualization of all Vista SKUs.

Things had changed over the past six months, he said, as there was now an increasing awareness of the security issues associated with hardware virtualization and OEMs were shipping machines with hardware virtualization turned off to decrease the attack surface for the vast majority of customers who did not currently use virtualization.

/zimages/5/28571.gifSome 40 million copies of Vista were sold in the first 100 days following its release. Click here to read more.

"We are also responding to virtualization enthusiast, partner, press and analyst feedback. We still believe that security is an issue, just as we did before, but the feedback we received was that end users should be able to make educated choices on security rather than Microsoft making those choices for them via the End User License Agreement [EULA]," the spokesperson said.

But then something happened that resulted in a 180-degree turnaround in Microsofts position, with a company spokesperson telling eWEEK late on June 19 that "Microsoft has reassessed the Windows virtualization policy and decided that we will maintain the original policy announced last fall."

That means that only the high-end Business ($299) and Ultimate ($399) versions of Vista will continue to be enabled for virtualization—which essentially lets a single machine run multiple operating systems, creating greater flexibility, efficiency and utilization.

When Microsoft announced its decision last fall, it said that it believed this was "the best balance" between customer choice and security given that security risks exist in virtualized environments, where hardware virtualization technology could be exploitable by malware.

/zimages/5/28571.gifVMwares latest virtualization software supports Vista. Click here to read more.

"Helping protect machines in this scenario requires some deep technical know-how and, therefore, is something that IT pros and advanced enthusiasts are likely better equipped to manage than general consumers," the company said at that time. "As a result, we initially only enabled the Business and Ultimate SKUs and not Home Basic and Home Premium."

Among those critical of the current decision is Ben Rudolph, the director of corporate communications at Parallel, an SWsoft company, who has noted in a blog post that this strategy could hold back those users who embrace cutting-edge technologies such as virtualization.

"This means they wont upgrade to Vista and that Microsoft has effectively lost an upgrade customer in the case of Windows PCs, or an entirely new customer with Mac and Linux users," he said.

Also, now that Apple Macs use the same Intel chips as Windows-based PCs, Mac customers can use virtualization to move between the Mac OS X operating system and Windows.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about why Microsoft changed Vistas licensing to cover new deployment models.

This effectively shuts the door to Vista on an entire market of Mac users who would never normally use Windows, and it also makes it more difficult for enterprises around the globe to upgrade to Vista, he said.

But perhaps those numbers are simply not compelling enough for Microsoft, a possibility suggested by the Vista spokesperson, who told eWEEK before the reversal that "consumer virtualization remains a niche business opportunity relative to the broader Windows customer base."

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