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VMworld Update: This story has been updated with additional statements from Maritz and additional commentary to flesh out and clarify Maritz's comments.

VMware CEO Paul Maritz has questioned the relevance of the operating system.

According to data lifted from research outfit IDC, more applications were deployed on virtual servers than physical in 2009. This, Maritz says, is a clear indication that operating systems such as Windows and Linux are no longer as important as they once were – though in citing those IDC numbers, the VMware man didn't separate the bare-metal hypervisors from those that run atop an OS.

"This is a tipping point in our industry," Maritz said this morning during his keynote speech at VMware's annual VMworld conference in San Francisco. "One of the implications is that more and more, traditional operating systems no longer see the hardware. This task of mediating access the hardware in the data center is largely being taken over by a new layer of software: virtualization."

Virtualization is not just taking over processing resources, he said, but storage and networking resources as well.

He was careful to say that the operating system is by no means "dead." But he repeatedly returned to the notion that the operating system — and in particular Windows — is being pushed aside. The traditional operating system is not only less relevant when it comes to orchestrating server hardware, but also when it comes to providing "services" to applications.

Of course, there's still an OS in the mix, but Maritz said that more and more, "the role of providing abstracted services to your applications is going to be through [other means]," including application development platforms such as VMware's own SpringSource.

"This is just another example of where the traditional operating system is becoming just one of several components that need to fit into your [infrastructure]," he said.

He also pointed out that end users are increasingly moving to applications that run as online services, not local tools, and that the end user operating system is less likely to be Windows. Increasingly, we're using devices — from the Apple iPad to various other handhelds — that run something other than Microsoft's once-ubiquitous operating system.

Today, VMware and Maritz hailed the arrival of what they call "The New Infrastructure" — data center infrastructure in which just about everything is virtualized, including processing, storage, and networking resources as well as security. This New Infrastructure sounds an awful lot like, well, Vmware's product portfolio. But Maritz says that VMware is simply responding to changes in the IT industry as a whole.

VMware, he said more than once, is moving with the tide.

The New Infrastructure, he said, will be served up not only from public net services but also by private data centers. And VMware aims to underpin both, trumpeting the so-called "hybrid" cloud where you can build applications that span the public and the private. "It's important to figure out a way to move workloads out of the data center and onto public services, but it's as important to move it back," he said. "This is going to happen with or without VMware. This is the tide."

This, Maritz explained, is why VMware has been acquiring development tool outfits such as SpringSource and RabbitMQ. These tools, he said, as they adopt fledgling standards, will allow companies to build applications that can be deployed across multiple clouds. "They can provide a portability layer that allows you to take an application and run it in hybrid cloud environments," he said.

As end-user applications are increasing delivered via the net, Maritz explained, VMware also wants to provide "new mechanisms" for providing users with access to applications. Today, the company unveiled a fledgling technology now known as Project Horizon, which will provide a kind of unified access to online application services.

In short, the message from Maritz seemed to be that the everywhere Windows is on the decline, VMware is on the rise. ®

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