With details beginning to appear about Windows 8, we’ve been giving some thought as to how this future operating system (OS) release will affect our customers, our products and our vision of the journey to the Post-PC era.
On the basis of what’s been seen and described so far, we know Windows 8 intends to:
- Embed (support for) a version of the Hyper-V hypervisor
- Run on both x86 and ARM platforms
- Provide a new user-interface, Metro, designed primarily for touch screen devices
- Implement a new and proprietary application framework for tablets, Metro and HTML5
These points together tell us that Windows 8 will be a multi-faceted OS. The different machine architectures, combined with the new user interface (UI) and application framework imply incompatibilities between the Windows 8 versions. This means applications will initially run on the ARM version or the x86 version, but not both. Moreover, new applications that embrace the new user interface mechanisms, such as Metro UI and touch gestures, are unlikely to translate well to traditional desktops and vice versa. Windows 7 and earlier applications that were built on older Windows frameworks will remain tied to x86 and so will not be available natively on tablet form factors.
Most of the public demonstrations have focused on the capabilities of the Metro UI, which uses hardware-accelerated graphics – this is Microsoft’s latest tablet OS. Less noticed, but of equal importance is the new application framework for Windows 8, called WindowsRT. While this makes use of HTML5 and is the application interface to the Metro UI, it is not an open framework. WindowsRT is Microsoft’s intended successor to earlier, deprecated frameworks such as Win32, .Net and Silverlight. We believe WindowsRT will only run on Windows and that, unlike Silverlight, it will not be redistributable. In other words, any application written to the new framework will not be open and will not be able run on non-Microsoft platforms. This indicates that tablets running Windows 8 will not be compatible with the native (and so-called hybrid) applications designed for Android or iPad tablets: Windows 8 will bring another entrant into the universe of diverse and incompatible tablets.
Windows 8 and virtualization
The inclusion of Hyper-V is to support backward compatibility with older versions of the Windows OS. Windows 8 appears to run in physical mode or as the parent partition within Hyper-V. In the latter case, another Windows OS can run as a guest virtual machine. The parent and guest virtual machines share a common user interface (which we assume will be seamless, like the Unity capability in VMware Fusion). Although the integration of Hyper-V has attracted some attention, it’s objective appears little different to that of XP Mode in Windows 7.
How does this fit with VMware’s vision for the future of end-user computing?
Windows 8 clearly intends to lay Microsoft’s foundations for transition to the post-PC era. It’s encapsulation of existing and previous generation Windows (legacy) applications is entirely consistent with the first phase (“simplify and improve”) of VMware’s end-user computing (EUC) journey. The Metro UI, WindowsRT framework, support for mobile devices and the shift towards HTML5 point towards a new generation of applications. This broadly aligns with the developmental direction of VMware’s End-User Computing product portfolio.
However, there are key differences between our approaches. Firstly we believe that, wherever possible, legacy and new EUC elements should be effectively separated to ensure that each can be managed in the most effective manner. VMware View provides a more established and more robust way to encapsulate, deliver and manage a legacy Windows environment. ThinApp and our future AppBlast technologies provide further isolation and optimal delivery of Windows applications to newer platforms. What’s more, unlike the Windows 8 approach, these VMware technologies can do so for all forms of devices. Attempting to host the legacy and the new elements as a single environment introduces additional complexities and so dilutes the advantages of simplification: Whereas we see the first phase of the EUC journey as delivering “better desktops”, this would be a “less-better” desktop, simply due to the number of moving parts.
Putting this into simple language, we believe it is better to leave the “legacy application baggage” behind, whereas Windows 8 will be taking it with it: our EUC journey will be easier and, in most cases, faster to complete.
The Windows 8 view of HTML5 also differs from ours in that we are focussed on exploiting open standards to enable the broadest scope for consistent function across infrastructure, platforms and devices. With Windows 8, Microsoft appears to be building a new proprietary framework and platform for its applications. Applications utilizing this type of framework will be tied to the Windows 8 platform.
What about Windows 8 with VMware View?
View is our platform for preserving and maintaining existing Windows application assets. We have optimized View to do this across a broad range of access devices, with minimum operational overhead and minimum additional complexity. But View is not necessarily ideal for delivery of next-generation mobile and touch screen applications that are designed for local execution, such as the ones Windows 8 will showcase with the Metro interface and WindowsRT framework. These new Windows applications will expect to run natively on Windows 8 client devices. However, unless you foresee a future where Windows 8 is the only platform of note and supplants Apple iPads and Macs and Android tablets, this will not be adequate.
For a future with a broad mixture of clients devices, a platform that offers choice, application-level control and minimal integration complexity will be best suited. In particular, it must deliver the right mode of access for a given application to a particular client device. Not only is Horizon Application Manager a better architectural approach, it also works across the broadest possible range of mobile devices, OSs and browsers – but then we all know that the mobile worlds is much more than Windows: it is Android, iPad and iPhone etc.
In the weeks and months ahead, the release of advance information about Windows 8 may give rise to new doubts and uncertainties about its impact on current end-user computing investments and future plans. We will update our comments to provide more guidance as needed. For now, our position is (hopefully) clear: Windows 8 provides further validation of our vision of the journey to the Post-PC era and better end-user computing. What’s more, it re-enforces why VMware is so well positioned to support this journey: because we are not part of the problems we are trying to help you solve.
By Brian Gammage and Scott Davis, chief technology officer at VMware End-User Computing