Over the weekend, Eric Lai wrote in PCWORLD that Microsoft had decided not to remove restrictions on consumers virtualizing its Vista operating system. The reason given by Lai is that DRM may not work with a virtualized OS.
When a user creates a VM, the virtualization software takes a snapshot of the PC's hardware and then creates an exact copy of how that works in memory, according to DeGroot.
This ability to perfectly simulate the way the original PC ran (albeit more slowly than the original) is why VMs are such a useful tool. But a VM, once created, can be copied hundreds or thousands of times and ported over to radically different PCs without triggering the antipiracy and DRM schemes of most software or multimedia files, including Vista's. Those schemes raise red flags only if they realize they've been moved to another computer, DeGroot said.
Analysts say what probably happened behind the scenes is that Microsoft or one of its media partners decided at the last moment that encouraging consumers to use virtualization would, at least symbolically, be at odds with its attempts to enforce DRM.
I'm not so sure that DRM has much to do with Microsoft's decision. In the 32 bit versions of Vista, I believe that device drivers don't have to be signed. In 64 bit Vista they do. Nearly all consumers will run the 32 bit versions, at least for the foreseeable future. Microsoft's backpedaling on driver signing has left a hole. How big is a matter of opinion. But in principle, one could replace drivers relating to media processing and subvert the protected video path and other security elements.
Commenting Monday on Lai's article, Ken Fisher notes:
Microsoft has built its empire on the backs of Windows and Microsoft Office. Windows is the real workhorse, as it's the foundation of the PC market. Microsoft, I suspect, is terrified of a world in which standard, Joe-Consumer Windows can be virtualized and made to play second fiddle to Mac OS X, or even (say) Ubuntu Linux. No longer does Joe Consumer view the computing world as Windows versus all. Instead it begins to look like Windows versus Windows + alternative OSes. This not only opens consumer choice but also increases the chances of users realizing that they might be able to get their needs met without a Windows OS taking the lead. For the longest time, Microsoft and its advocates have been able to say: "with a PC, you get the most choice of software and peripherals." Now a case could be made that the most choice is to be found on a Mac or Linux box virtualizing Windows on the side. The big impediment to this world is the cost of Windows, but an OEM price on the low-end of Windows could eliminate that impediment quickly.