Windows 8 will include the ability to run other OSes in virtualized containers. Previously, Microsoft’s virtualization hosting software, called Hyper-V, could only be installed on machines running Windows Server. Now, Microsoft promises users who needed to run virtual machines on their Windows 7 desktop computers no longer have to depend on third-party software, such as Oracle’s Virtual Box or VMware Workstation.
“In building Windows 8 we worked to enable Hyper-V … to function on the client OS as well,” wrote Mathew John, Microsoft program manager on the Hyper-V team. “In brief, Hyper-V lets you run more than one 32-bit or 64-bit x86 operating system at the same time on the same computer. Instead of working directly with the computer’s hardware, the operating systems run inside of a virtual machine (VM).”
Microsoft sees this new functionality as being initially beneficial for developers and administrators. Developers could test their programs within a virtual environment without worrying about crashing their own OSes. Administrators could standardize their virtual machine infrastructure on Hyper-V, Microsoft suggested.
The virtualization feature will only work on x86 machines and will require hardware running 64-bit processors, though the hosting software itself can run 32-bit applications and OSes. A machine with 4GB of RAM can host up to four virtual machines, and running five or more virtual machines will require more memory.
Hyper-V will offer desktop users many benefits long enjoyed on the server side. They can move a running virtual machine from one disk drive to another, without interruption. They deploy Windows’ Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) for advanced tasks such as displaying a virtual machine across multiple screens. Users can also take snapshots of a running virtual machine, to capture its environment at that time for archiving or analysis.
On the other hand, some Windows features will not work in a virtualized environment, John warned. BitLocker won’t function correctly, because it relies on a direct connection to the machine’s TPM (Trusted Platform Module). Applications that use the system’s GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) to process data may not work in a virtualized environment. Extremely low-latency applications, such as sound mixers, may not do well in this environment, either.
This announcement is the latest in a number of technical previews that Microsoft has posted about its next generation desktop OS, which is still under development and widely expected to ship in 2012. Windows 8 will have a ribbonized toolbar for the Explorer file manager. It will support a touch interface for tablets and come with an App Store.
More details will be revealed during Build conference.