VMware demos mobile app virtualisation

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Want an iPhone, but really like that Android application? Virtualisation could change the mobile application store landscape, with any phone running any application regardless of the platform.

That's the vision from VMware, which laid out its plans for mobile virtualisation at its VMware conference in San Francisco today.

Earlier this year, VMware showed off a device running two mobile operating systems at once. This time around, the virtualisation firm revealed it had done the same for applications, demonstrating a phone running Windows CE with an Android Visa application directly on the platform - not unlike what its VMware Fusion software does for the desktop.

"From a consumer standpoint, when you buy an app, you're stuck on an island of applications," said director of mobile virtualisation Srinivas Krishnamurti. If you use an iPhone, you're stuck with the App Store, for example.

Running virtual machines on a handset could lead to an "uber store" offering apps that run on any platform, rather than forcing developers to create separate versions for the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and more, Krishnamurti said.

VMware is already in talks with handset manufacturers to put bare-metal hypervisors on phones. He said a number of evaluation were "pretty far along."

When asked to explain the use case such manufacturers were planning, Krishnamurti said: "If I actually mention the use case, it would be obvious who it is." However, he said consumers won't be able to interact with the virtual machine, that it will sit in the background as a service VM, letting the company in question reuse legacy software.

He admitted VMware would have a tough sell pitching the system to Apple, as it has by far the most apps on the market. "Today, it's hard for me to say Apple will jump up and down for this," he said. "I'm not betting my job on Apple."

Still, he said that iPhone's running a VM could offer enterprise applications, which might help Apple's handset gain more traction in that space.

Virtual roadmap

Such a system may be well off in the future, however. Krishnamurti said that the first stop on VMware's mobile virutalisation roadmap is letting users access virtualised data centres over phones. At the moment, that's possible using vCentre, while engineers are working on adding that capability to VMware View.

The next stage is using the mobile phone as a thin client, letting users access their desktop over a handset. Such a system was unveiled yesterday at VMworld, with Wyse's iPhone app PocketCloud offering access to Windows desktops.

The third stage is virtualising the phone itself, which would let users have multiple operating systems, separate work or home virtual machines, or use any app regardless of platform.

Such a system could also help manage performance on phones by throttling CPU, network access and memory for specific applications without affecting the rest of the platform.

Click here for more news from VMworld 2009.