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Virtual Desktop vs. PC OS Standoff Looms

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted March 21, 2012


"If I had a billion dollars in the bank I'd take them to court tomorrow ... I'll appear in court and shout and scream 'antitrust, anticompetitive behavior.'"

Have a guess who the "them" in question is.

There are no prizes for getting the right answer -- it's Microsoft, a company that's no stranger to these type of accusations.

Microsoft has clearly got the goat of the person who uttered those words, and that person is Guise Bule -- the CEO of a company called tuCloud, a California-based firm that offers virtual desktops from the public cloud.

Here's why he's incandescent with rage: tuCloud, like many other companies, wants to offer virtual desktops running Windows 7. However, based on Microsoft's licensing terms, Windows 7 desktops can be hosted only in the public cloud if they are run on separate server virtualization hardware for each customer, and if the customer buys Windows 7 licenses for the desktops from Microsoft. That's the rules -- the terms that everyone has to stick to to create a level playing field that fosters competition. Except in Bule's opinion the playing field is very far from level.

That's because gaming company OnLive has recently announced a desktop-as-a-service offering for iPads Bule doesn't believe complies with Microsoft's rules at all, but which Microsoft seems content to allow. OnLive's CEO is a former Microsoft executive -- draw whatever conclusions you like from that, and indeed Bule does. Even analysts at Gartner agree something appears not quite right in a research note titled "OnLive Links iPad Users to MS Office, but With Potential Licensing Risks."

"Organizations and end users should note that OnLive Desktop Plus may present Microsoft licensing risks for organizations if consumers install the product on company iPads or use it to edit company documents from personal devices. Neither Microsoft nor OnLive has provided clear guidance on how users of these DaaS products must comply with Microsoft licensing requirements."

Now maybe OnLive's offering does comply with Microsoft's licensing requirements somehow, but as yet neither company is explaining how, which hardly makes for a level playing field, either.

But Bule aims to find out by launching a proxy war, using a new company called DesktopsOnDemand to do battle with Microsoft. Essentially, the plan is for the company to launch a service identical to OnLive's, based on VMware's vSphere hypervisor, and then wait and see what happens. "Unless I receive a lawyer's letter from Microsoft clarifying their position and threatening legal action, I will build a service to match OnLive's and compete directly with them in the form of DesktopsOnDemand," Bule told Ars Technica this week. "Any other business that launches that platform will get sued by Microsoft, which is kind of what we're hoping because we want to have that conversation with them in court. This (i.e., DesktopsOnDemand) is not a serious business by any means."

But, really, this whole business is a serious matter. Much as how the music industry and the movie industry were slow to realize that you can't uninvent the Internet, the software industry has been slow to accept that you can't uninvent virtualization technology and cloud computing. Thus, if customers want desktops provided from the public cloud, then that is what they'll get, one way or another.

Software companies (or music or movie companies) that desperately cling to their existing licensing models instead of providing what customers want in the light of new technology are bound to fail eventually. If Microsoft won't make remote Windows 7 desktops practical and affordable, then customers will find something else instead.

So who knows what's going on with Microsoft and OnLive? Perhaps it's the first sign that Microsoft has finally begun to understand that virtualization technology changes everything, and it can't expect to license its products as if the technology didn't exist. Heck, Microsoft even sells virtualization technology in the form of Hyper-V. Talk about trying to have your cake and eat it too!

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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