Related link: http://www.colinux.org
CoLinux has been ported to linux. This, combined with some much needed stabilization in their 0.6.0 release means it’s closing in on being a decent free VMWare clone in terms of platform support… well, if you only want to run Linux VMs.
While that’s an interesting development, a more compelling one is the prototyped coLinux running as a Windows service. As a server-based software developer, headless VMs have long been a top feature request of mine for VMWare Workstation. A headless VM would be great for running fire-and-forget types of server applications, where the UI isn’t a very important consideration. VMWare probably won’t go this route with Workstation because it would overlap too much with their server edition. And I hold out no hope for VirtualPC, because headless Windows is just too much of an oxymoron (datacenter notwithstanding). So colinux is boldly going where it’s commercial competitors fear to tread.
What’s the significance of this colinux milestone? I think the potential of embedding a Linux brain + 10Gig or so of assorted free software into any Windows computer is staggering. LiveCDs like Knoppix are an excellent way to mess around with alternative OS’s, but running a coLinux instance as a headless service has a much better chance of breaking through the novelty barrier and becoming part of someone’s routine. you install the service, and stop thinking about it. If you need to run an app you don’t have, you check your coLinux instance (via web page/vnc applet/etc) to see if it’s already installed for you, or is apt-get-able etc. like Lindows Click-n-Run. I run the excellent gramps geneology program from my Windows box in just this way: starting an X session from cygwin and connecting to a RedHat VM. There’s definitely some desktop gluing for authentication/clipboard/file sharing that would be involved to make it friendly to non-unix users, but I think it’s an easier approach towards large-scale platform advocacy than the alternatives. Even without the glue, in some instances the lack of desktop integration could even be a feature: one of the many Windows specific email-based virii would have a difficult time doing anything destructive to your box if you read your email using Evolution on a colinux VM as a nonpriveleged user.
The packaging folks have done all the hard work to make this useful … let the 95% of computer users who run Windows take advantage of their labor and you have the makings of an inflection point that could happen much sooner than the widespread desktop Linux rip-and-replace that most big companies are betting on.
Can colinux raise the profile of free software in the Windows world?
Is the only good virtual machine a fine-grained one like the CLR or JVM?