What is an OS?

Gee nearly 2 months since my last post (note to self: post more!)

This article by Diane Green of VMware made me think again about how you actually define what constitutes an operating system. (This also goes back to a question I asked Mendel Rosenblum at TSX in Orlando).

Looking at Wikipedia an operating system is defined thus “An operating system (OS) is a computer program that manages the hardware and software resources of a computer. At the foundation of all system software, the OS performs basic tasks such as controlling and allocating memory, prioritizing system requests, controlling input and output devices, facilitating networking, and managing files. It also may provide a graphical user interface for higher level functions.”. Well when you bring ESX server into the equation that pretty much defines the fucntions of ESX server so no matter what marketing wants us to believe all we do with virtualization is introduce a different operating system. Now, don’t get me wrong in the right circumstances virtualization is a fantastic tool, but we have to make sure it is the right circumstances. You can’t get away from the fact that somewhere you are going to have an OS that hides the hardware issues from the application be that ESX server, Linux, or Windows.

All that is happening is that ESX server is going to have to pick up the problems of presenting a common interface to the machine hardware, so if appliances take off in a big way VMware have to pick up the problem of supporting all those hardware variants. In this case the underlying ‘operating system’ used by the appliance vendor just becomes a big function library for the vendor to use in creating their appliance.

So when you hear that the operating system doesn’t matter anymore, it depends on which operating system you are talking about.


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