Linux fell off the roadmap yesterday when Microsoft announced it had bought Connectix's virtual machine technology, and in characteristic style pitched it as meaning that existing Windows users would now be able to upgrade faster to new versions by running old windows virtually on new Windows.
Products differently-purposed from Connectix's Virtual PC for Windows would therefore seem to us to stand in some considerable peril, particularly as there is at least a suggestion that Microsoft plans to roll the technology into the operating system. Connectix currently runs on two basic host platforms, Mac and windows, and allows you to run various other operating systems on those platforms. Virtual PC for Mac is intended largely to allow Mac users to run windows applications, while the PC variant enables a bunch of other stuff, including Linux - read up on it while you still can - and OS/2.
In addition, the company has Virtual Server in the works, and this is probably one of the more important reasons for Microsoft spending its pennies. Says MS: "Virtual Server addresses customer demand for an application migration solution based on virtualization and supported by Microsoft. In addition, it provides significant cost efficiencies by consolidating multiple Windows NT 4.0 servers and their applications onto a single Windows Server system. The Virtual Server product is undergoing beta testing and is expected to be released before the end of 2003."
We're quite taken with this as a solution to the problem of pesky customers who just won't migrate from NT. Now, instead of stamping around bitching, they install Windows 2000 Server and then install all their old NT server licences on the same huge box. Are we overly suspicious in thinking it might - for mysterious reasons - turn out only to work on the 2003 edition? Whatever, the licensing Ts & Cs should prove interesting, and we look forward to seeing them.
One of the supporting soundbites from Microsoft partners, which the marketing people seem to have given up on and just called Supporting Industry Quotes this time, may be ominous for the non-Windows (i.e. Mac) varieties. "We are pleased that Microsoft is incorporating this capability into its operating system, and we look forward to leveraging it to create additional value for our consolidation clients," says Wayne Carpenter of Unisys. If this is really true, then it becomes first and foremost a Windows technology, and the Mac products move into the legacy department, with their air supplies increasingly vulnerable.
The product roadmap currently offered isn't likely to inspire confidence either. "Microsoft will continue the development of virtual machine solutions from Connectix and will integrate them into the Windows and Mac product portfolios." Which is a 'don't worry' message to Mac users, but we caution them to worry anyway. "During the transition period, Connectix will continue to sell and support Virtal PC for Windows, Virtual PC for Mac and Virtual PC for OS/2 products through its current distribution channel partners. Virtual Server will be available as a preview release on the Microsoft Web site April 15."
The length of the transition period is unspecified, and we think the message to take away is that Connectix has a specific deadline to stop selling these, after which...? It is commendable that Microsoft has relatively recently been able to bring itself to use the O word, but time is a great healer.
No such luck with the L word, but its absence from the roadmap quite possibly doesn't make a whole lot of difference. We can't help noticing that the "Buy Now" panel seems absent from the Connectix for Linux page, and a cursory glance leads us to believe the channel is not exactly stuffed with copies. So we'd conclude that the Connectix-Red Hat deal of a couple of years ago has quietly passed away, and that any Virtual PC users wanting Linux are just having to figure out how to install it themselves.
Pity though, because being able to buy an OS pack to go with the software is obviously a pretty easy way to try out a new OS, and also a pretty good reason for Microsoft not to think it a good idea in the case of Linux.
Does Microsoft's acquisition of virtual machine technology have any other relevance? Well, what about Xbox? Microsoft hasn't managed to displace PS2, and once upon a time Connectix had Sony emulation technology. Of course, in a related take the money and run, Connectix sold the Virtual Game Station to Sony and talked of nebulous joint ventures. We don't know what happened to them, we don't know what if any games technology Connectix still has, or still has Sony's permission to have. But we expect Sony's lawyers are busily poring over dusty old agreements at this very moment... ®