Slimmed Down Windows Offers Glimpse Into Microsoft's Virtualization Ambitions

In an Oct. 13 presentation at the University Of Illinois, Eric Traut, a distinguished engineer at Microsoft, talked about virtualization and also slipped in details about the project, code-named MinWin.

MinWin isn't the name of a future product line, but instead will serve as a framework for building all future Windows based offerings, including Windows Server, Windows Media Center, and Windows 7, the successor to Vista, according to Traut.

With MinWin, Microsoft is attempting to strip out unnecessary code to ensure that future products are based on a "clean architectural layer," Traut said in the presentation.

"A lot of people think of Windows as this really large, bloated operating system. But at its core, the components that make up the OS are pretty streamlined," Traut said.

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The effort appears to be working: MinWin's source code base takes up about 25 megabytes on disk, compared to 4 gigabytes on disk for Windows Vista, Traut said.

Ron Herardian, president of Global System Services, a Mountain View, Calif., solution provider, says Vista's enormous footprint and poor performance, combined with competition from the smaller, faster kernel of Linux, are both factors influencing the project.

"If an IT customer can run 20 Linux application environments on a single virtual machine host, and only 10 Windows environments, that wouldn't be good for Microsoft," said Herardian.

But to a greater extent, Herardian believes Microsoft's move to downsize the Windows code base reflects its steadfast goal of catching up to competitors in the virtualization market.

Microsoft's virtualization portfolio lacks a server virtualization product to compete with entrenched offerings like VMware's ESX Server, but expects to fill that gap with the Viridian hypervisor, which is slated to arrive in the second half of next year, six months after the release of Windows Server 2008.

"Microsoft has to know that Windows Server 2008 virtualization is starting far behind the competition. MinWin is one part of their effort to get into the virtualization game and to make Windows more competitive in the virtualization arena," said Herardian.

"To maximize the number of Windows instances that can be run on a single virtual machine host, such as a VMware ESX or Windows Server 2008 machine, Windows has to be smaller and more efficient," Herardian added.

The ability to fit an operating system into a small 25 MB footprint using limited RAM would be a major advantage in the virtualization space, says Rand Morimoto, president of Convergent Computing, an Oakland, Calif.-based Microsoft Gold partner.

"This would also enable print servers on a USB chip, or domain controllers for an enterprise on a chip in a router," Morimoto said. "It's all about ways that we can eliminate a 'server' in the field and instead consolidate to little chips."