The Migration Dilemma Resolved
by Mario Miyojim, for the Opinion Section

Open-source software has grown steadily as an alternative to proprietary software. However, current Windows-dependent users have pointed out difficult hurdles that prevent them from migrating: Windows-only professional applications and games. In such instances, dual-booting may not be practical, besides being annoying.

Last month I was thinking that the Portland project would be a middle-term solution. Based on this and other research I thought there may be a beneficial interim method that can solve the problem: to run Windows as a virtual machine under GNU/Linux, while taking time to develop definitive multiplatform applications.

Advantages of the Proposed Strategy

This recommended setup could be implemented right away without changing the normal daily business operations. Such a transient situation can continue unchanged for years in every small office, home office, or corporation. It can actually stay indefinitely, even after Microsoft discontinues support for Windows XP, unless MS decides to charge additional license fees for legacy software. If the latter case occurs, then one can use Portland to definitively port the Windows-only application into a multiplatform one. Otherwise, there is no need to change, because software does not deteriorate.

This transition method will save significant time and money for professionals who utilize PCs as worktools, because it provides also reliability, durability and low cost of maintenance. The Microsoft business model, instead, forces customers to renew licenses, update applications, renew training of personnel, and buy new hardware, every three to five years; new versions of MS OSs tend to be more expensive, heavier on the hardware, and have bugs added to the ones existing since Windows NT4. It would be desirable to have computers lasting 10 or more years with planned replacement of hardware parts that wear out in a shorter time, such as hard disks, fans, mice, and batteries. Such longevity is attainable through the proposed modus operandi.

My proposal can be implemented by any entity that depends on a Windows-only application and desires to avoid the near future shock represented by the Windows Vista operating system and the accompanying Office 2007 or the Internet Explorer 7.

This is an infallible recipe to remove one's business from its dependence on Microsoft. Graphics professionals will be able to continue using Adobe applications and, in the spare time, learn how to work with the Gimp. They can compare playback of digital movies or music between Windows and GNU/Linux.

Drawbacks of Virtual Machines

Slowdown may occur due to running two or more operating systems at the same time. It may not be so noticeable if only one person will use the machine, since computers usually idle most of the time. In the case of two or more simultaneous users, then adding memory might be required. If one of the simultaneous users is a gamer, a more powerful, or a multiple, CPU might be required for the server.

How to Utilize the New Setup

There are two candidates for the role of virtual machine hypervisor: VMWare and Xen. VMWare is better known, and can be installed from repositories of several GNU/Linux distributions. Xen appears effective, but there might be some restrictions related to its utilization by Microsoft on Windows Vista.

Individuals at home with a single PC with 512 MB or more RAM and 1400 or more bogomips (700 MHz?) can run a hypervisor on a GNU/Linux distribution such as Ubuntu or Fedora Core, with a Windows XP virtual machine comfortably. These numbers are just estimations for my subjective level of comfort. They may be higher or lower, for different people.

In case you have already separate machines at home, one with Windows and another with GNU/Linux, you might choose one of the machines as a virtual machine host, and leave the other one mostly powered off to save energy and use it when necessary. If you have one powerful PC and various lower than 1000 bogomips outdated PCs, then you could set up a single server running the hypervisor and the others as thin clients and/or thick clients. One can use various combinations, according to the local needs, with the available components and the hypervisor: an outdated PC as a thin client and another machine as a thick client under the same server, for example; the server can be used as the main workstation of the home.

In case a Windows game must be on while other activities are carried out under GNU/Linux, the Windows virtual machine could be installed on a single powerful domestic workstation. Otherwise, dual-booting or separate machines could be more convenient, at least temporarily. Perhaps game developers will become interested in porting their best games to a multiplatform setting, then the problem will be definitively solved for gamers.

In a work setting (office, shop, school, government agency), one would typically install a VM hypervisor on servers for Windows-only applications and on the client machines also, in case the thin client approach is not applicable. In this manner, during the transition period, training on open-source applications can be carried out using those clients without disrupting the normal activities. For activities that do not require Windows-only applications, the workstations or clients could work with GNU/Linux only, in which case overall efficiency will be improved. There may be cases where DOS, Windows 98 or Windows NT could be revived as virtual machines, if there is a legacy application that works better in earlier environments.

VM Is Old and Proven Technology

Virtualization is a time proven technology, devised around 1968 by IBM to solve an OS migration problem on mainframes, and that virtual machine hypervisor became an operating system called VM. There is no question that it is a solid manner of coping with the multiplicity of existing operating systems for PCs or other kinds of computers.

Upgrading to Windows Vista Not Beneficial or Needed

The danger of upgrading to Windows Vista can be well appreciated by taking a look at A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection.
Government agencies, such as the FAA, have limited budgets, because much money has been already spent by the Pentagon, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The FAA has 30,000 computers that would need to be upgraded with Vista, hardware and software, estimated: (hardware ($600) + Vista ($100) + MS Office ($100) ) x 30,000 = $24 million, plus cost of adapting the applications to the OS. Using my proposal, no adaptations will be required, because the OS and hardware will remain the same. The only cost will be the corporate price for the hypervisor, which will be a few thousand dollars, in the case of Xen. It may not need to change the computer structure in the next 10 years.

If one does a search about Windows Vista sales, security exploits, features and user reviews, one will find various, often funny or revolting articles with comments. Some say Windows Vista is Windows Me reedited and that it is broken by design. It will take time to become a decent OS, if ever.

Small Offices Are Changing Already

I know a man who owns an accounting office in a small town, in which office the main computer application is a Windows-only program. He is now in the process of setting up the accounting server to run under Windows XP running under VMWare, which runs under Ubuntu Linux. The existing Windows 98 terminals will become Linux Xubuntu clients, or run Windows 98 under VMWare under Xubuntu, whichever is viable.
This change was decided upon after he asked around and found a report on the web from someone who had implemented such a setup at home, successfully.

The town accountant believes that this is an immediately implementable, long-term solution for the survival of his struggling business, which would not survive a migration to Windows Vista, due to the latter's very high up front cost. When his accounting office becomes functional under the new arrangement, he intends to share the know-how with other businesses, so they will be able to cope with the latest Microsoft threat.


I hope that the government agencies at least have the same idea as exposed here for the sake of taxpayers: to install a virtual machine hypervisor on existing PCs under GNU/Linux, and run Windows as a virtual machine, without changing the Windows-only applications they depend on.

Such action can signficantly free them from the cyclic hardware and software upgrade imposed by the Microsoft business model on users who instead want their computers to last reliably and longer, while undergoing a few short interruptions for maintenance a year. This can bring freedom and productive computing immediately to nearly any workplace or home, provide open-source software to the desktop, and make Windows far less an issue over time. If a substantive enough number of people implemented this first phase migration solution, the active install base of GNU/Linux may reach double digits by the end of 2008, while benefitting many who now have access and use of Linux.

This opinion piece should not be construed as factual information. It contains the opinions and personal experiences of the author at the time of publication and where applicable includes the references to other texts for further research. However, the opinions and personal experiences that have been posted do not necessarily express the opinions of Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. IBM is the registered trademark of International Business Machines. Microsoft, Microsoft Windows are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation both in the United States and Internationally. MS is used in certain cases to further denote Microsoft Corporation. RedHat is the registered trademark for RedHat Inc. All other trademarks or registered trademarks in this opinion piece belong to their respective owners.

Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. Microsoft, Windows Vista, Vista are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United Statest and Internationally. All other trademarks or registered trademarks in this opinion piece belong to their respective owners.