This New York Times article by Steve Lohr on VMWare and Microsoft today is an interesting read for those interested in understanding the direction where the software business is going over in the near future. While the emphasis of the article is on enterprise virtualization, it is clearly something that would influence every class of users associated with computers – the entire spectrum from consumers to enterprise users. VMware, a leader in the rapidly growing market is unexpectedly running into Microsoft as a competition.The way a virtual machine works is quite interesting – it mimics a computer so that several copies of an operating system can run on one physical machine.So what? As the article explains it allows computing chores to be done on fewer computers,using less electricity and taking up less space, promising a way to control costs at corporate data centers straining to keep up with the ever-increasing demands of the Internet age. That’s where the attractiveness increases manifold times.
Its not that virtualization is such a new thing - afterall virtual-machine software dates to the 1960s, when I.B.M. used the technology to coax greater performance from costly mainframes. The beauty of VMware is that it has brought virtualization benefits to personal computer technology and is becoming a powerful force multiplier of computing power. As a layer of code that resides in between a computer’s hardware and operating system, usurping some tasks, it can potentially undermining the importance of the operating system. This is a space that traditionally been characterized by two things- big players have loathed to get into this space and this is the only space where one can seriously challenge Microsoft’s O/S dominance – this opens up chances to seriously undermine Microsoft and other O/S players hold on the stack. No wonder Steve Ballmer thunders that they would “compete very aggressively with VMware.”
It is an amusing play - O/S players like Apple & Microsoft are trying to attack VMware’s offering with comparative offerings from their respective stable and they think that virtualization is just a bottom- listed feature of their O/S system. Internally they would be terming this as a play akin to the tail wagging the head. That’s reflected in Microsoft’s view that “virtualization is something that should be built into the operating system.” Remember most serious competition to systems always start from the periphery or from proximate spaces. No body can question Microsoft, the market leader in O/S thus far why it did not push this aggressively in the last three years while VMware was building mindshare & market share in this space aggressively.
One thing that Microsoft has lacked is a hypervisor, the lowest level of software that rests on the hardware and partitions the computer so it can cleanly and efficiently run several virtual machines. Microsoft focusing on this space, for obvious reasons can not be taken lightly – I have seen CEO’s sweat when Microsoft decides to intensely focus on competing with their offerings in the PC technology centered system application space. Remember the cases of Netscape, Novell etc.. No wonder, characteristic of its style as per VMware, of late Microsoft has introduced new restrictions on how Microsoft products can be used in virtual machines in new ways, beyond simply dividing a single physical computer into several virtual ones. Microsoft’s bundling strategy has thrown many emerging ideas out of currency and many competitors out of business.
This is an important battle – at stake is the business model of computing itself. Seen from analyst’s perspective – "This next wave of virtual technology, includes software that lets virtual machines move freely across many physical machines, juggling computing chores, so that applications do not crash and Web response times are faster. Another promising new ability is running desktop personal computers as virtual-machine software, hosted and managed securely from a data center."
The reach virtually spans all types of connected devices with processor powers built inside.The challenge for any consumer today is their inability to choose between O/S, various solution stacks inside that would support all commonly available desktop applications and have these run in a efficient manner with no lockins to a specific technology stack – that’s a long felt dream for which answers are not emerging that easily and towards this pursuit any choice offered by various players need to be welcomed and frankly that’s the way to expand market as well. The days of vertical integration need to go for the ecosystem to win the game and benefit the consumers. This is a genuine requirement and it’s an irony that only a business model conflict like this one seen here can potentially take us to such a desired state.