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Whither Operating Systems?

Are Operating Systems Becoming Irrelevant?

Operating systems on top of operating systems: Arguably the most disruptive trend in operating systems today is virtualization, a topic we explored in December 2006. Apple's computers now run Windows through virtualization, thanks to Parallels and VMware. Mainframes, such as IBM's z Series and server farms, allocate their computing resources efficiently and support otherwise incompatible applications and operating systems through virtualization. And if you believe Gartner Research, virtualization is the trick that will save Microsoft Windows from collapsing under its own bloated mass.

And the player we intend to watch as all of this virtualization action plays out? XenSource.

Are Operating Systems Unnecessary?

BEA "is cutting out the operating system," an article in The Register says, by using a JVM to talk directly to the hardware and to a VMware hypervisor. So does this mean there is no operating system? Or is the hypervisor, or maybe the JVM, the actual operating system?

A virtualizing hypervisor meets some of the criteria of an operating system, but when its purpose is to support conventional operating systems, calling it an OS would be confusing. As for Java as an OS, that can be close to true: A project documented at www.jbox.dk shows how little you need to add to a JVM to make it perform all the functions of an operating system. Then, too, requirements are different in consumer devices, and here Java has to be counted among the operating system options, even if it isn't truly an operating system—adding to the identity crisis of operating systems this year.

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