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Intel sees virtualization as key to child-proof PCs

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IDF Spring 05 A pair of Intel's finest code pushers took the stage this week at the Intel Developer Forum to explain the merits of virtualization technology. In this particular case, the staffers looked to hype reasons why business users and consumers might like to have PCs that run different types of operating systems or might like to carve up PCs into different partitions. Intel, you see, if awful proud of some "hooks" it has come up with that make it easier for software makers to create partitions and the like.

"(Virtualization) is kind of like a swiss army knife," said Greg Bryant, a director of marketing in Intel's digital enterprise group. "It can be used for a lot of things."

It's true enough that virtualization has become very popular in the server market. VMware, in particular, has earned heaps of praise for being able to run multiple OSes on the same server. The case for similar technology on the desktop is less clear.

Connectix - now owned by Microsoft - does make a VirtualPC product that lets Mac users run Windows software and lets Windows users run old applications on their new computers.

Intel expects to see some business users build on these concepts. Companies might, for example, set up one partition that can run only approved software. Users can install iTunes or Doom or whatever unsafe software they like in another partition. Software makers might also create a type of "service operating system" that could be accessed no matter what has happened to the main copy of Windows or Linux.

"This lets you isolate the systems and recover if there is a malicious attack," Bryant said.

What do consumers get?

Well, they can partition off the operating system into "for adult" and "for children" compartments.

"I really don't want my kids messing with the Quicken files we use to pay our bills," said Bill Leszinske, a director of marketing in Intel's desktop group. Leszinske would return to this bad child theme again and again.

PC makers might also try and fine tune their systems to handle certain functions better. Why go through the time and trouble of booting Windows when you just want to play a DVD? Here comes the instant-on DVD partition, Leszinske said.

While the Intel marketeers did provide a couple of useful suggestions, they didn't have answers for some of the more difficult questions posed by the IDF crowd. Things like, "Do we really need separate partitions for our evil children? Doesn't a separate login do the trick today?" "What happens when Microsoft wants us to pay for four licenses for our four partitions?" "Do we install Norton four times?" "How about Service Pack 3?"

"There are some of the tough things we have to get to," Leszinske said.

So far, this type of technology seems much more useful in the server world. It's not at all clear that consumers need to do lots of PC carving. That is unless you have really crap kids, apparently.

But whether or not Intel is ready to answer some of these "tough" questions, it is ready to release the technology. Expect to see virtualization appearing in a PC near you later this year. It will pop up in the new Itanium due out by year end as well and then in Xeons and mobile chips in 2005. ®

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