Why build Hyper-V into Win8? To make XP apps run and push VMware back

Microsoft slipped a slick version of its hypervisor in Windows 8, but hasn't said why

Apparently it's been in there for a while, but it was only this week that WindowsNow.com blogger Robert McLaws discovered the Hyper-V 3.0 client in the alpha-test code for Windows 8 – a possibility Mary Jo Foley wrote about a year ago and was scoffed at.

The version of Hyper-V included in Windows 8 improves previous versions' handling of storage memory and networking and supports the VHDX virtual hard-drive formats and processors with more than four cores. There is a host of other improvements as well. Currently Hyper-V is currently found only in Windows Server 2008 R2.

Isn't building a hypervisor into a desktop operating system (that's also designed to run well on tablets and such) a little overkill?

Hypervisors don't allow a machine to connect to virtualized servers or apps; they allow users to run a second, third or fourth OS and "computer" on top of the one they're using. Even with quad-core processors and high-memory configurations, that's a lot to ask of a desktop system on a regular basis – if the user plans to load the VMs with actual work rather than just adding VMs for the option of booting into either Linux, Windows or MacOSX on the same box?

Yes and no.

Foley suggests running a hypervisor on the client would provide backward compatibility, allowing Microsoft to push the OS architecture ahead dramatically without risking losing customers whose Win7 or XP apps break under Windows 8.

That's one reason Microsoft shipped Virtual PC free in the first place, and is one of the reasons support techs use it.

There are a lot of reasonable use cases, McLaws wrote, though compatibility is the only one he mentioned in details. It will make things easier for developers wanting to emulate smartphones, desktops and tablets without having to use separate machines, he wrote. Features that only appeal to developers generally don't make financial sense as key parts of commercial software, however.

Foley quotes a French web site that posted an analysis of Windows 8 materials Microsoft handed out in 2009, coming up with the possibility that machines running Windows 8 will run only Windows 8, at least in the real world.

Apps, the user's customized environment (viruses, malware, weak passwords, silly wallpaper, inappropriately stored confidential corporate data and pornography) will all run in virtual machines, never touching the core configuration code or corrupting precious Windows systems files that prefer to corrupt themselves.

That would let users mess up their own machines as much as they like without messing up the actual machine itself.

It would be a great idea if – at least right now – provisioning, storing, launching and managing VMs on a desktop weren't already too complicated for most users to handle.

Rather than reducing support requirement, it might increase them.

It would also confuse users who often can't tell the difference between the monitor, the computer, the applications and the "cloud" what they're actually working with, making support calls infinitely longer and even more frustrating than they are now.

My bet is Microsoft pulls Hyper-V from the basic final shipping versions of both home and business editions of Windows 8, but includes it in higher-end editions (the equivalent of Windows 7 Home Ultimate, for example).

Businesses will probably take the version in whih it's standard, if only to try to create a consistent divide between "work" and "home" portions of the same machine.

And, once all those copies of Hyper-V are running on everyone's desktop, what possible reason could there be to go buy desktop virtualization from VMware, Citrix or elsewhere.

Microsoft would put itself back in the game for the virtual desktop by giving away in the operating system all the goodies other vendors rely on for revenue and growth.

I wonder if Microsoft has ever done that before?

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