Microsoft has serious plans to do away with Windows

It's one thing to have a skunkworks operating system project, Midori, that could conceivably replace Windows. It's another to actually have plans on how to switch users from Windows to Midori. Guess what? Microsoft actually does have such plans.

According to David Worthington, Microsoft isn't only building a Windows replacement operating system, its "carefully conceptualizing a way to move millions of users away from the existing Windows codebase and onto Midori, a legacy-free operating system."

The plans, which are far from being finalized, indicate the Microsoft is really running scared of Mac OS and Linux on the desktop. "Midori's legacy-free objective [is] a preemptive strike against non-Microsoft operating systems, enabling the company to compete head-on by enticing customers to replace Windows with Midori instead of a non-Microsoft OS," wrote Worthington.

I know many of you still have trouble with the idea that the Mac or the Linux desktop could possibly challenge Windows. Microsoft disagrees. Look at the numbers.

Context, a European business and consumer technology research firm has just reported that pre-installed Linux was sold on 2.8% of all PCs bought in the UK in June 2008. Doesn't sound like much? In January 2007, desktop Linux's marketshare was 0.1%. As for Apple, in its last quarter the company sold more Macs than in any previous quarter and its sales marketshare in the States is now up to 14%.

This isn't the 90s anymore. In the aftermath of the Vista sales flop, Windows is no longer an automatic choice.

Microsoft knows that and seems to be seriously considering a future without it. Specifically, Microsoft seems to be considering three different paths. In the first, Midori would run under Windows. This doesn't sound terribly practical and Microsoft appears to realize this. The second plan is "the development of an executive for Midori that is based on and would run in parallel with the Windows executive." This would amount to little more than an augmentation to Windows.

The final plan, and the one that strikes me as the most interesting and easiest to develop, is to actually create Midori as a legacy-free new operating system and use a built-in hypervisor to run Windows in a virtual machine. This could work. Virtualization is quickly becoming mainstream as people realize that not only can you really run multiple operating systems efficiently on a single machine, but it can really save you money.

For Microsoft, it would also have the advantage of ensuring near 100% fidelity of the Windows experience for users and their applications. Underneath the hood, the engine would be running Midori, but end-users would still see their familiar Windows applications.

Of course, you can already do that today. For example, I use VirtualBox to run Windows XP SP3 on my Linux systems. Windows, I might add, runs with a lot more stability on top of Linux and VirtualBox than it does on native hardware. Red Hat, with its KVM plans, foresees running everything and anything on top of Linux-based virtual machines.

Will Microsoft actually make the jump? As I said before, I think a lot depends on the management. Ballmer doesn't inspire me with any confidence. If he were a GM executive I can see him insisting that the company invest more in the Hummer because of its profit margins while ignoring that with the price of gas no one is buying them anymore. For those who don't follow the car industry, GM is now trying desperately to sell its Hummer division.

Even if Microsoft does pull the trigger, I can't see Midori showing up until 2013. By that time, it may be too late to stem Microsoft's decline. Still, I find it interesting that Microsoft is even considering a radical operating system shift. This really isn't Bill Gates' Microsoft.

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