Windows Vista the last of its kind

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Windows Vista the last of its kind

Post by Andrew »

Windows Vista the last of its kind

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

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.

The problem is that the operating system's increasing complexity is making it ever more difficult for
enterprises to implement migrations, and impossible for Microsoft to release regular updates. This, in
turn, stands in the way of Microsoft's efforts to push companies to subscription licensing.

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.

Virtualisation is best known as a way of running multiple server instances on a single hardware
platform, but it can also be used to run individual operating system functions or applications. The
technique isolates the various components from one another, making them easier to manage.
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.

"The combination of the service partition and the ability to deliver horizontal functions in software
appliances provides the key for unbundling the Windows OS," the analysts wrote. Such an
architecture would allow Microsoft to make major development changes to Windows without
worrying about disrupting dependencies across the entire operating system. This, in turn, would
mean the company could release regular updates, and would make backward compatibility easier.

Next-generation Windows-based partitions "could run in parallel to partitions running kernels with
the Vista/NT code base," wrote Gammage, Silver and Smith. They said Microsoft doesn't agree
with this vision, saying it's identified problems with integrating data across partitions and creating a
consistent user experience. "However, we regard these concerns as only partially founded, and
anticipate a key role for virtualisation in the required unbundling of the Windows OS," the analysts

Gartner expects a significant update to Vista in late 2008 or 2009 that will add virtualisation (in the
form of a component called a hypervisor) and a service partition. The hypervisor will allow more
frequent updates, and will make the Software Assurance subscription scheme effectively
mandatory for Windows from around 2010, Gartner said. To date, Microsoft's main effort to simplify
Windows development, in 2004, was to rebuild Windows into a stack of more than 50 layers,
Gartner said.

"Upper layers could have dependencies on lower layers, but lower layers could not be dependent
on upper ones," the analysts wrote. "This would allow it to lockdown lower layers when complete
and worry less about compatibility changes as it worked up the stack." But this redesign is not
enough to ease Microsoft's ongoing development and delivery problems, or the deployment
difficulties of enterprises, Gartner said.

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