VMware’s Threat to Microsoft

    February 28, 2006

First off, I’m not suggesting VMware is gunning for Microsoft. However, recent developments in their product line aren’t exactly favorable to Microsoft.

Aw, so what? Might as well say that my political opinions aren’t favorable to the Republican Party. George Bush isn’t losing any sleep over that, and I’m sure Microsoft doesn’t give a whole lot of worry to VMware.

But maybe they should.

First, as I’ve noted here before, virtualization is coming at us like a freight train. It’s in the big data centers now, and it’s moving downward. It will be ubiquitous very soon. The reasons are obvious: convenience, failover, recovery, patch testing, and more. Get on the train or get knocked aside by the wind; this is going to happen.

In the data centers, VMware’s ESX server is being heavily deployed. Note that ESX is not a hosted application: it’s an operating system. So while Microsoft Windows OSes may very well be running under it, it doesn’t need Microsoft: Windows is just another hosted OS for it to manage. Of course it doesn’t need Linux either, but that’s not much comfort to the Microsofties.

Of perhaps even more interest is the ability to freely distribute VMware Player applications. There are around forty free bundled applications offered at http://www.vmware.com/vmtn/vm/. Many of these are demos of applications somebody wants you to buy, but quite a few are real applications or operating systems where other apps can be installed. Most are on Linux, a few on BSD, and there are even some hobby OSes available, but you aren’t going to find Windows apps. Part of that is because Windows apps don’t need to offer demos this way, but there’s also the matter of licensing cost: these are running on free operating systems.

Do you remember the 80’s, when small VARS sold systems that ran on Unix boxes (mostly SCO)? Free VMware Player could let that happen again, and it’s so much easier this way.

Consider the VAR who would like to sell a Linux app. He downloads a VMware Player Linux bundle, and it’s ready to run under Windows or VMware server. No configuration, just install the app and be done with it. When it’s time to go with the real system, it could still run as a guest or you could put it on the (once again free) VMware server. No Microsoft required.

Actually, it could be even easier than installing a Microsoft version: your OS is already configured exactly as you want it. No unknowns, no conflicts.

This is all part of VMware’s plan for Partial World Domination. In their ideal world, developers are all running VMware Workstation (not free, but has great features for developers that make it well worth the money). All the small business and home desktops are running apps packaged in VMware Player bundles, some on Microsoft, some on Linux, and some under the VMware server. As the businesses expand their use of VMwarre, they start looking at ESX server. And thus the domination begins..

Eventually, I expect to see operating systems that have been written with the virtual machine as their target platform: why build in all that driver support if you don’t need it? You can be faster and more robust by not supporting real hardware.

There is the issue of who gets to define that virtual machine. Should the definition be an open standard? That’s already under discussion, and it seems that Intel at least is resisting that. Are the virtualization players (VMWare et al.) interested in developing such a standard or will there be the usual squabbling and jockeying for position?

The next few years should be very interesting.

*Originally published at APLawrence.com

A.P. Lawrence provides SCO Unix and Linux consulting services http://www.pcunix.com