From Monoculture to Virtualization

Gartner says even Microsoft can’t support the cost of monoculture:

Vista will be the last version of Windows that exists in its current, monolithic form, according to Gartner.

Instead, the research firm predicts, Microsoft will be forced to migrate Windows to a modular architecture tied together through hardware-supported virtualisation. "The current, integrated architecture of Microsoft Windows is unsustainable – for enterprises and for Microsoft," wrote Gartner analysts Brian Gammage, Michael Silver and David Mitchell Smith.

Windows Vista the last of its kind By Matthew Broersma, Techworld, 25 August 2006

The dinosaur has gotten too big for its environment, so big it’s become too difficult for enterprises to migrate from one release to another, and it’s too hard for Microsoft to release regular updates, or even patches. So what’s an overgrown dinosaur to do?

Have smaller pups:

The answer, according to Gartner, is virtualisation, which is built into newer chips from Intel and AMD, and has become mainstream for x86 servers through the efforts of VMware. "Once Windows includes virtualisation at its core, we expect OS development to change direction from integration to modularisation," the analysts wrote.

Gartner believes Microsoft will use virtualisation to divide the Windows client into a "service partition", controlling system functions such as management and security, and one or more application partitions. Such a path is already being followed in the x86 server world, Gartner said.

That sounds like a step in the direction of the kind of unbundling that the U.S. antitrust suit recommended a decade ago, and that the recent European Union suit is recommending even now.

Once the big dinosaur has produced a bunch of cooperating smaller offspring, that also makes it easier for the functions of some of those smaller fry to be competed with by small furry mammals such as Apple and Linux.

No doubt Microsoft will continue to fight such an outcome, probably as Gartner notes by locking down lower layers (just as it has long done by preventing OEMs from shipping computers that boot anything but Windows), while it continues to develop at higher layers of functionality. Yet such backwards compatibility will keep it slower and more lumbering than the more agile mammals. We shall see whether an option on a portfolio is better risk management than a portfolio of options.