December 28, 2006 10:19 AM PST
New Xen better for desktops
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Xen lets a single computer run multiple operating systems simultaneously, which is useful today as a way to replace servers with one, more efficiently used computer.
On a desktop system, Xen virtualization promises to keep separate zones for test, work, personal and management software. So far, however, that promise has been hampered by a major weakness: the inability to display multiple graphical user interfaces for these "guest" operating systems.
Xen 3.0.4 changes this. By including what's called a virtual frame buffer, Xen's controlling "host" operating system can capture video data written to a specific part of memory and then send it to the display. The technology lets users see virtual machines through a graphical interface, a feat competitors such as EMC's VMware can already accomplish, rather than the text-based command line suitable chiefly for the technically proficient.
Virtualization promises to significantly change how people use computers. But before it can become mainstream, average computer users must be able to deal with it. Xen's user-friendliness is still unproven, Pund-IT analyst Charles King said.
Keir Fraser, a leading Xen developer and an employee of start-up XenSource, announced version 3.0.4 on a mailing list Wednesday. XenSource is trying to commercialize Xen, which also is being included in the newest version of Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server and in the upcoming Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, due February 28.
Fraser also said the new version supports debugging utilities, improves features for running Xen on systems with Itanium or Power processors, and includes a preview version of a Xen management application programming interface, or API.
Xen has other challenges besides ease of use, King said.
"The Xen and XenSource folks are, understandably enough, convinced their baby is absolutely beautiful, and the little critter's numerous godfathers and godmothers seem proud of the tyke, too," he said, but the numerous companies involved in bringing Xen to market raises risks of muddied marketing messages.