VMware to virtualize Google Chrome OS

Like any other x86 operating system, Google's forthcoming Chrome OS will run inside a VMware virtual machine.

There is no guarantee that Google will succeed in its quest to displace Microsoft Windows on the desktop with Chrome OS, a Web-centric operating system Google announced earlier this month. One thing is certain though: When Chrome OS becomes available in the second half of 2010, VMware and other virtualization providers will virtualize it.

For more on Google Chrome:
Google Chrome likely a niche player in Windows enterprise

Google Android OS on netbooks: An intriguing proposition

VMware Inc. itself confirmed that it intends to support Google Chrome OS as one of the many guest operating systems it can virtualize.

"VMware will welcome Google Chrome OS to the family of desktop OSes as another choice for running specialized applications when it's available," said Raj Mallempati, VMware group product manager, desktop business unit, in a statement to SearchServerVirtualization.com.

And that enables more operating system diversity to suit custom applications and could challenge Windows' OS dominance. "As with the server market, applications and the role of the OS are evolving for the desktop. OSes are becoming more specialized to support unique application types -- whether client or Web based," Mallempati added.

The foundation of this discussion is that Google Chrome has to provide stuff that people want to consume.
Jonathan Eunice,
principal IT adviserIlluminata Inc.

Other virtualization providers will likely support Google Chrome OS as a guest. Based on Linux, there are no technical barriers to virtualizing Google Chrome OS, said Jonathan Eunice, principal IT adviser at Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H.

"Everything I know about Chrome OS' foundation suggests that it could [be virtualized] on a good variety of virtualization engines," Eunice said, including platforms based on Xen and KVM. In fact, virtualizing Chrome OS is likely to happen, regardless of whether a virtualization provider wants it to be or not. "VMware's participation is not necessary at all," he said.

To developers and beyond
The virtualization of Google Chrome OS will follow a logical progression, according to Rachel Chalmers, a research director for enterprise infrastructure computing at the New York-based 451 Group. At: first, developers will use Chrome OS virtual machines to test and create apps for the new platform, then by curious consumers, and finally by consumers replacing their current desktop operating system.

In other words, Google Chrome OS VMs will probably show up first in developer-oriented virtualization platforms like VMware Workstation and Sun xVM VirtualBox, followed by more consumer-focused tools like VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop, and then on bare metal client hypervisors from companies like Citrix Systems Inc., VMware and Neocleus.

"Enterprises are starting to take a hard look at client hypervisors," Chalmers said. That way, "they can give you a VM that you can run anywhere -- even in the cloud."

In a final stage, Google Chrome OS VMs may run on the server, in VDI configurations hosted by service providers supporting "millions of users," said Illuminata's Eunice. Compared with Windows, Chrome OS is more "lightweight and doesn't have a lot of licensing encumbrances," he said. As it stands, "you really have to convince Microsoft to let you virtualize a desktop," he said. "They make it really hard, because you're screwing with their bread and butter."

Chrome OS no slam dunk
Of course, all this is predicated on the idea that consumers want what Chrome OS has to offer, said Eunice. "The foundation of this discussion is that Google Chrome has to provide stuff that people want to consume."

And Google's might notwithstanding, market observers are skeptical that the company can pull things off. For one thing, Chrome OS is a long way off: It is promised for the second half of next year. Those who really want a Linux-based Windows alternative might be better served by Canonical Ltd.'s Ubuntu or Intel Corp.'s Moblin. Second, Google has muddied the water, first pushing its Chrome browser then the phone operating system Android. Several PC makers have already said they will bundle -- or consider bundling -- Android on netbook devices.

Many industry players, including some at Microsoft, say it's hard for a company to pursue a multiple-OS strategy.

At the same time, the availability of virtualization technology might smooth over these challenges, much in the way virtualization products such as Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion have given Apple Mac OS a second chance on enterprise desktops. "The world's shifting over to virtual environments so quickly. I don't care what OS you're talking about; it's going to run in a virtual machine," Eunice said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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