The next version of Windows will come with Hyper-V, making it the first desktop OS to include the virtualization technology.
Windows 8 will include Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization tool in an effort to attract developers, IT pros, and other users who need to run, test, or support virtual environments.
Describing the move in the latest edition of the "Building Windows 8" blog, Mathew John, a program manager on Microsoft's Hyper-V team, noted that Hyper-V has previously been available only in recent server-based editions of Windows, making Windows 8 the first client OS to include the feature.
Virtualization tools such as Hyper-V allow users to run multiple operating systems and environments on the same machine. That's helpful for developers and other individuals for testing purposes. But it's also increasingly used by IT administrators who need to set up and support virtualized PCs.
"Hyper-V enables developers to easily maintain multiple test environments and provides a simple mechanism to quickly switch between these environments without incurring additional hardware costs," John explained. "For example, we release pre-configured virtual machines containing old versions of Internet Explorer to support Web developers. The IT administrator gets the additional benefit of virtual machine parity and a common management experience across Hyper-V in Windows Server and Windows Client. We also know that many of you use virtualization to try out new things without risking changes to the PC you are actively using."
To run the new Windows 8 Hyper-V, users will need a 64-bit processor, which has been available on PCs for a number of years, the 64-bit version of Windows 8, and at least 4 gigabytes of RAM. But the requirements go a bit beyond that.
Hyper-V also demands a 64-bit system that has Second Level Address Translation (SLAT), a feature that helps with memory management.
"SLAT is a feature present in the current generation of 64-bit processors by Intel and AMD," John explained. And by current, John means Intel's Core i3, i5, and i7 processors and AMD's Barcelona processor, all of which have been available on PCs just over the past few years.
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Windows 7 offers its own virtualization tool called Virtual PC. Combined with Windows XP mode, this feature was set up to let users run XP-based applications that weren't compatible with Windows 7.
To run XP mode, PCs initially needed to support virtualization at the hardware level. But after complaints that many chips didn't offer this support, Microsoft updated the feature to remove the hardware requirement.
Since Hyper-V was designed as a robust server-based virtualization tool, it offers several advantages over Windows Virtual PC. Hyper-V can support non-Microsoft operating systems such as Linux. It can allocate memory dynamically as needed by a virtualized environment. It also allows for multiple "snapshots" of a virtual machine, helpful in case the user needs to return to a previous instance of the virtual enviroment.
Including Hyper-V in Windows 8 is also a shot across the bow of VMware, Microsoft's major rival in the growing virtualization market.