Microsoft's refusal to support Internet Explorer as a virtualized application has IT pros up in arms, but the combination of "MinWin" and a Hyper-V client hypervisor in Windows 8 could remove the licensing roadblocks that form the core of Microsoft objections.
Microsoft's MinWin is a stripped-down version of Windows that consists of only the basic components of the operating system. Microsoft's argument against virtualizing Internet Explorer (IE) with application virtualization tools, such as Spoon and VMware ThinApp, is that IE is an OS component. Microsoft's separation-of-software rules say it cannot be abstracted from the OS.
Microsoft supports IE virtualization as long as the Web browser runs with Windows, which it can do in Windows XP Mode, with Microsoft Virtual PC or using the Med-V and App-V tools. The problem with those choices is that administrators don't want to have to manage a full instance of a Windows OS. It taxes their infrastructure and slows down their workflow.
For the first time in my life, I really feel like Windows is in trouble.
"As of now, there's no way to create a reasonably sized Windows desktop on the fly," said Dave Bartoletti, a senior virtualization analyst at The Taneja Group, an analyst firm in San Francisco. "But people can put a version of Unix on the desktop or use the cloud instead. So if Microsoft offered a way to do that with MinWin, it would be a good defensive move."
That could happen in Windows 8. Microsoft France's technical and security director, Bernard Ourghanlian, mentioned in a French publication this summer that Hyper-V 3.0 will run as a client hypervisor on the desktop along with the MinWin version of windows The Hyper-V client hypervisor will also integrate with App-V in Windows 8 to let users run Windows XP, Vista, 7 and incompatible apps on one PC, according to the report.
Microsoft wouldn't confirm or deny that information or comment on Windows 8, but the possibility of MinWin and a client hypervisor for a simple way to virtualize IE and legacy applications has some IT pros salivating.
"We all want Hyper-V on the desktop, for so many reasons," said Mark Minasi, a Windows expert and author. "It's on our Windows 8 wish list."
A Hyper-V client hypervisor
Combining a client version of Hyper-V -- which OS jockeys like Minasi call "Hyper-C" -- with MinWin would be useful for developers, because it would give them a way to create Windows-based desktop virtual appliances without taxing IT resources.
For instance, Minasi said he uses VMware Workstation for all of his OS testing because the virtual machines (VMs) let him isolate the test environment on his desktop. As a Windows guy, he wants to see the Hyper-V client and MinWin become a reality. "Wouldn't it be great to spin off MinWin and IE in its own universe and run an instance of Windows that is safe and that doesn't require 2 GB of RAM?" he said.
There are plenty of other opportunities for a Hyper-V client with MinWin as well. For instance, IT shops that are concerned about end users infecting the corporate network by picking up malware on the Web could provide end users with a Web browser appliance that runs MinWin and IE. And developers could use a MinWin-IE virtual machine to test legacy applications or run IE6 apps on a Windows 7 machine.
From a competitive standpoint, it makes sense for Microsoft to develop a client hypervisor because other companies are selling products that abstract Windows from PCs, such as Citrix' bare-metal client hypervisor, XenClient 1.0. Having its own client hypervisor would give Microsoft a way to stay in control of its Windows OS.
But Microsoft and Citrix are close partners and normally don't step on each other's toes when it comes to virtual desktop products. One possibility is that a client hypervisor from Microsoft would be Type 2, which lives above the operating system. That would serve as an alternative to Citrix's hypervisor, round out their collective portfolio and give Microsoft a way to directly compete against VMware, which offers a Type 2 client hypervisor in View 4.5.
But Microsoft hasn't confirmed information about a Hyper-V client hypervisor.
Why Microsoft and IT pros need MinWin
Whether or not Microsoft creates a Hyper-V client hypervisor, MinWin is under development. It is something Microsoft has to deliver to stay competitive in a market where virtual desktops and cloud computing are chipping away at the need for locally installed operating systems.
"For the first time in my life, I really feel like Windows is in trouble," Minasi said. "When I fly, I use my iPad, and my laptop sits in a bag.... The side effect of cloud is, in theory, that the desktop becomes less important."
That said, there still needs to be an operating system of some kind on desktops, and Microsoft needs an OS with a small footprint to stay competitive, Minasi said.
For instance, there are versions of Windows for mobile devices, home and business desktops, and various servers. MinWin's modularity will give Microsoft's developers an easier way to adapt Windows to new delivery models.
"[Microsoft] doesn't want to reinvent the wheel every time the need to put Windows on something new, so it benefits them to have a modularized version of it," Minasi said.
In addition to the benefits for Microsoft, the idea of MinWin appeals to virtual desktop administrators because fans of a layered approach could use the compartmentalized OS building their VDI environments.
Though MinWin sounds promising, it's been in the works for years and may be in the works for many more, because Microsoft must untangle all of the dependencies that have been built into Windows, Minasi added.
But, the Windows Server Core roles in Windows Server 2008 are the result of the MinWin efforts put forth so far, so it's possible a version of MinWin would be ready for Windows 8.
The difference between Server Core and a true MinWin is that Server Core can't dial up to a full OS mode. With MinWin, IT pros will be able to build up the operating system layer by layer to get it to where they want it to be.
Senior News Writer Beth Pariseau contributed to this report.