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Operating Systems Virtualization Technology

Hot Multi-OS Switching — Why Isn't It Everywhere? 239

First time accepted submitter recrudescence writes "Slashdot readers might remember the Touchbook announcement from Always Innovating stirring up a lot of excitement in the Slashdot community back in 2009 (almost a year before the iPad was announced and essentially killed this off, and way before the Asus Transformer, which is essentially the same idea). The company's new product seems to support Hot multi-OS switching, supposedly with a minimal performance penalty. What seems strange to me is, why haven't other developers jumped in on this already? Macs, for instance, made a huge campaign of their products' new ability to finally support Microsoft Windows, yet (disregarding emulation options) they're still limited to booting to a single working system at any time."
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Hot Multi-OS Switching — Why Isn't It Everywhere?

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  • By hot (Score:5, Funny)

    by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @10:28AM (#37583166)

    Do you mean a pirated copy?

    • Re:By hot (Score:5, Funny)

      by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @01:25PM (#37583994)
      No. They mean sexy - like you'd see on the TV show "Operating Systems Gone Wild". Usually shot in an anonymous server room, the hardware gets a little over-clocked and the OS ends up showing everyone its interfaces and device drivers... Sure there's some sloppy coding and the occasional core dump - usually with systems that can't handle their inputs. Pretty crazy stuff.
  • Virtualization (Score:4, Informative)

    by Florian Weimer ( 88405 ) <fw@deneb.enyo.de> on Sunday October 02, 2011 @10:30AM (#37583172) Homepage

    People have been doing this for ages, it's called virtualization. There are even modes which seamlessly integrate application windows running under different operating systems, and to share folders. So this allegedly new technology appears to be a step backwards.

    • How did this article make it to the front page? Better bring back Rob Malda or it's curtains for slashdot.

    • by cob666 ( 656740 )
      Until just a few months ago I could do everything I needed on my computer running Windows. As I'm a Windows developer that was OK. But I recently had to expand into iOS development for a couple of clients and it's just brutal trying to get a Mac OS VM to run under Windows so I'm now using a Macbook Pro with Windows running under Parallels for all the Windows apps that aren't available or don't have Mac OS alternatives (such as my genealogy software and of course Visual Studio).
      • That's why I picked a Macintosh as my primary system. It is the best way to (legally and within licensing terms) get a single machine that runs anything.

        It does seem a shame that I have to pick the most locked-down system in order to get the least locked-down environment, but there it is.

        FYI, I don't play games on my system, so I don't need Windows as a native OS.
        • that's a weird statement. The only reason you need a mac to "run anything" is to run software that requires... a mac. So how exactly does that make mac's good? (disclaimer: i love osx)
    • All of the different "Operating Systems" they were able to run were different blends of Linux, running the 2.6.32 kernel. It seems like what they're doing is less virtualization, and more isolation. You get the bare install that just provides a basic X server and selection screen. You then have several other distributions that you basically just chroot into. You have multiple live userlands that you can swap into, but they are all running the same instance of the kernel. It's basically everything FreeB
    • Virtualization only virtualizes the CPU and the RAM.
      The rest of the hardware is still emulated, which is why it's so slow.

    • I was wondering this as well. The poster seems to discount visualization all together.
  • I don't see any claims in their page that sounds any different than using VMs to run a bunch of operating systems at the same time, other than that they seem to have set it up with hotkeys to switch between full-screen VM displays. What am I missing? Or is this just another attempt to rebrand old technology as something new?

    • It sounds exactly like the ARM port of Xen that Samsung demoed at the XenSummit in 2007. Basically, the thing that made it different from normal virtualisation was the driver model that allowed each guest to have exclusive access to devices for a time. You could switch between multiple operating systems, but when each was active it would have direct access to the display, audio and input devices, but shared access to things like the network and storage.

      That said, they list four operating systems that ru

  • > All OS are running on the 2.6.32 Linux kernel, and got several optimizations to take benefits of the advanced instructions available in the chipset.
    > Note that you will not be able to install Windows OS or Mac OS on the Touch Book or the Smart Book.

    Yes, you can do some cool things with linux. Including switching out the userspace pretty quickly. That's all that this looks like. The kernel isn't changing, from the looks of it.

    • In that case, I already have that on my several-year-old N900! I have a nice Debian chroot integrated into the environment, with a full X desktop, and I can access it just like a native application(which, in most respects it is).

    • Can someone fill me in as to how this is better than virtualization? And how the iPad killed it off? Because Apple or Asus or whoever coming out with a single OS tablet has very little impact on the future development of this multi-OS system.
      • It's almost entirely unrelated to virtualization. This is more like highlighting the fact that you can switch browsers by hitting alt+tab, only they built the alt+tab button into the hardware.

        It's more complex than that (because every one of those will have a different libc, and android doesn't use the same libc, never mind the rest of the libraries), but functionally that's what userspace switching is. The same kernel (OS) keeps running...

    • Yes, you can do some cool things with linux. Including switching out the userspace pretty quickly. That's all that this looks like. The kernel isn't changing, from the looks of it.

      Yeah, Xen will be able to do this pretty soon, but the required features to make this worth doing (e.g. PCI hotplug) are just getting integrated now. Check back in a year - it wouldn't surprise me to see a slick GUI to switch over to Windows to play games or run a science instrument or whatever kids use it for these days.

  • I use it on my Desktop, my Notebook, and my Netbook.

    Simply having Chrome installed does nearly everything I would want out of a Chromebook, granted my netbook requires a little more overhead by loading up the full version of KDE, but really, the resume from lid being shut on my Acer Aspire One is really awesome and competes with anything a Chromebook can do. (Seriously, boot it up in the morning and it's good for days without charging with the lid shut, and an impressive number of hours lid open)

    I have pla

    • "Kubuntu does just about everything I need it to do"

      The very same claim can be made for Mac, Windows, BSD, or any other operating system you might care to name. They ALL do "just about everything". That doesn't change the fact that sometimes, one OS has advantages over another. I like Ubuntu. I installed an Ubuntu distro to the wife's computer almost 3 years ago now, and it's still running strong. She won't ALLOW me to update, upgrade, or otherwise alter her machine. And, my most elderly machine is st

    • by blackfrancis75 ( 911664 ) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @01:06PM (#37583896)
      Your reply is "I personally am happy with my OS"?
      Uh.. we're really happy for you (I guess) but miss the point much?
      • Not really, I got that point, perhaps you missed mine?

        I'm just pointing out that sometimes there isn't as much of a need to switch between OS's as some believe.

        Chrome OS belongs in low end cheap netbooks - there I said it. Right now the Chromebooks are overpriced for what they are, but they are incredibly handy devices. For web browsing and doing what they do they fit a rather large nitch incredibly well, I could easily see how they're the perfect device for many people, and even in my case my netbook is

  • When I'm running an instance of VM, the other OS is still ultimately in charge. The VM I'm emulating cannot directly access the hardware without getting permission from the host OS. Proof: Windows XP will allow me to play Doom 95 with a joystick (Windows 7, for some reason, won't allow the game to have direct access to the joystick so it doesn't work). I installed VMWare and put an instance of Windows XP on it. Did I get my joystick back? No, because Windows 7 is still in charge.

    • There has been some work(typically only supported on rather new server hardware) on giving VMs direct access to selected chunks of hardware. It is still controlled by the virtualization system, for security reasons; but if access is granted, that particular PCIe device effectively hangs directly off the virtualized OS, rather than the host one.

      Probably Not going to be coming to joystick ports anytime soon; but is considered a feature of interest for things like high speed NICs, GPUs, and other such devic
      • Probably Not going to be coming to joystick ports anytime soon; but is considered a feature of interest for things like high speed NICs, GPUs, and other such devices

        With the IOMMU virtualization in current Intel and AMD chips, any PCI device can be slaved to a VM. The trick is that things like joystick ports aren't usually their own device, but rather hang off of a PCI bridge that can't handle single-root virtualization, but is part of an aggregate root device that can. So, you wouldn't always be able to pick and choose just one device.

        In Linux, use "lspci -vt" to see the device tree. Any device that is just one level off the root can generally be slaved to a to a V

    • Windows XP mode works with some USB stuff and it's not 100% pass though but it only has a carp low video chip set for windows xp mode.

  • Macs, for instance, made a huge campaign of their products' new ability to finally support Microsoft Windows

    New? Finally? Apple's Boot Camp utility has been installing MS Windows and Apple supplied drivers on Mac hardware since 2006.

    • Manual mod +1 pedantic.

      I don't think the summary writer was referring to their new ability to run Windows in 2011. Instead, I believe the reference was to the fact that, at the time of release, Mac computers could "finally" support Windows, the "finally" implicitly describing the sentiment in 2006 when Boot Camp was first released.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by shitzu ( 931108 )

      Macs, for instance, made a huge campaign of their products' new ability to finally support Microsoft Windows

      New? Finally? Apple's Boot Camp utility has been installing MS Windows and Apple supplied drivers on Mac hardware since 2006.

      In the past tense.

  • Is this really that impressive? I looked through his website and couldn't find a straight answer(I guess if I dug through the code I could probably find it but not really willing to do that :P), how does he do this? It looks as if all he is doing is suspending the current OS state to disk(probably by using an SSD which gives you that instant on capability) and then unfreezing one of the other OSs. I assume you can only run programs on one OS at the same time(in the demo video he didn't show otherwise, in
  • *sigh* (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pushing-robot ( 1037830 ) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @11:29AM (#37583432)

    Inconsistent design is generally considered a bad thing.

    For non-techies, switching operating systems is akin to learning a foreign language. You're lucky to get a typical Windows user to even try Linux or OS X long enough to become minimally proficient. Software like VMWare utterly baffles most people, and expecting them switch between OSes with different file structures and interface paradigms every time they start an app is an accident waiting to happen.

    "Why can't program X see my USB stick?"
    "Why won't program Y print to my printer?"
    "Where did all my files go? I can't even find the C drive!"
    "Why isn't my headset working?"
    "Why do I need Windows Updates on my Mac?" ...

    • I think using Virtual Box in seamless mode is a much more entertaining way to confuse and baffle them.

      I've also had a we bit of fun putting all of the tools from Cygwin into the normal path on windows and using primarily *NIX commands in a DOS terminal to do my normal command line stuff. This is for your baffling your more experienced Windows users.

    • by Locutus ( 9039 )
      nailed it! So many non-techies are never taught concepts and just remember icons and the menu names/labels they need to click to do something. With a userbase so ignorant of what they are doing even giving them the option to run the greatest OS which ever existed( fictional ) they would oppose it because it was different from what they "learned".

    • On the other hand, it is almost essential for IT. There is a market to satisfy IT people.
  • I wouldn't dismiss "emulation" so blithely. Macs can, of course, run VMware or VirtualBox and run Linux, Solaris or Windows (or other things) inside those partitions. I have a Mac running all those three. The performance is mostly native, certainly for the things I'm using it for. The days of having to use VirtualPC to run a software x86 are long gone.
  • They still offer the Touchbook for sale [alwaysinnovating.com]. And there's even a second generation. But for my money, the Acer Iconia 6120 is seriously cool.
  • What is the technical reason or reasons why you cannot hibernate one OS (suspend it to disk), then restore another previously hibernating OS? Couldn't you have a number of OSs ready to run simply constrained by disk space?
    • by kasperd ( 592156 ) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @01:57PM (#37584150) Homepage Journal

      What is the technical reason or reasons why you cannot hibernate one OS (suspend it to disk), then restore another previously hibernating OS?

      Some people figured out how to use rEFIt do that with Linux and Mac OS X. But too many people used this without understanding what they were doing, and the rEFIt author was annoyed with having to support that, so he fixed rEFIt such that it would no longer permit this.

      The main reason it cannot work is the file systems. If you have the same file system mounted read/write in both systems you are going to corrupt it. Read only access would be fine except from two problems.

      Some journalling file systems cannot be mounted read only. If you tried to do this with ext3 (that's the journalling file system I have the most experience with), the ext3 driver will not respect the request to mount the file system read only. What will happen is that the first system will leave the file system in a busy state. The next one that was supposed to only mount it read only will see that the file system was not cleanly unmounted and will mount it read/write, then clean up the file system, and then remount it read only.

      So, even if you thought you had configured it correctly, the OS instance that was only allowed to read still wrote something. Then you switch back to the one that is allowed to write, and since it doesn't know that something has changed the disk contents behind its back (and it wouldn't have been able to deal with it, even if it had known about it), the next write is potentially going to corrupt the file system.

      The other problem is that even if you can mount the file system completely read only, the file system driver still doesn't expect the contents to change underneath it, so once you have been in the OS instance that is allowed to change it, and then switch back, bad things may happen.

      To some extent you can get around the problems by unmounting file systems before hibernating and mounting them again when restoring. But if the file system was busy and couldn't be unmounted, you will be in trouble. In particular stuff like /, /usr, and /home are likely to always be busy.

      The safest approach would be to not access any file system from both systems. But that makes sharing data between them hard. If you were virtualizing and had both running at the same time, you could use networking file systems. But that isn't going to work when they are not running at the same time since one is always hibernated.

      You have a bit of the same problems with USB attached file systems. I guess those are unmounted when the system is hibernated, but I don't know what systems do if the USB stick is busy at hibernation time. You can probably mess up things badly if you put a USB file system into a situation that is almost impossible to handle.

      If you have a USB stick with no important data on it, then you can make the following experiment.

      • Put it in one machine and start a program that will fill up all space on the USB stick by writing a single large file.
      • Before the program has filled up more than a few percent, hibernate the system.
      • Move the USB stick to a different machine.
      • Start filling up the USB stick the same way by writing a single large file to a different directory on the USB stick.
      • Hibernate the second system.
      • Move USB stick back to the first system.

      Continue in this way by alternating which machine gets to write until the media is full. Notice that at no point do you move the USB stick while the system is running, you only move it while both machines are hibernated. My guess is that you will find that management of free space gets messed up badly, and the two files will be claiming to own the same physical areas of the media.

      Removable file systems tend not to be busy all the time and not likely to get into such bad situations unless you put them into challenging situations like I described. But there are file systems that you expect to be mounted and busy all the time while the system is running. On those the risk of such problems is much higher.

  • What seems strange to me is, why haven't other developers jumped in on this already?

    Perhaps because its a feature nobody actually wants? It looks cool, but what are the practical uses? TFA refers to switching between ChromeOS, Ubuntu and Android - why? Last time I looked, ChromeOS was basically a gateway onto Google's web apps, which are available in any browser. Meanwhile I don't want to run Android/iOS apps on another OS - the point of a mobile operating system is that both the OS and the Apps are designed for mobile/touchscreen use: if I'm using a device capable of running a desktop OS

    • the point of a mobile operating system is that both the OS and the Apps are designed for mobile/touchscreen use: if I'm using a device capable of running a desktop OS then I'd also like to run full-fat desktop applications.

      Unless the specific application that you want to use is exclusive to mobile phones, such as a bank's check deposit application that uses a mobile phone's built-in camera, or any of several casual games.

      Most decent mobile applications are designed on the assumption that you'll sync them with your desktop when available.

      iOS 5 is in fact going the other way, reducing its dependency on iTunes software. It appears Apple is opening the door to allow people to own only an iPad and not a Mac or a PC running Windows.

  • by vinn ( 4370 ) on Sunday October 02, 2011 @12:48PM (#37583804) Homepage Journal

    Here's the thing - multi-OS is confusing for people. No one is clammering for it because no one is going to get a device and then figure out how to load another OS on it. Think about it - how many people do you know (outside of your circle of geeks) that has a clue you can even load another OS? No manufacturer is going to preload two OS's. And, the geek community really isn't large enough to support sales of consumer devices.

    People seem to be perfectly content having multiple devices. I don't know anyone who really uses Bootcamp, but I know quite a few Mac users that also have a Windows laptop laying around in case they need to use it, or the occasional VM. (Most Mac users I know seem perfectly content telling their PC brethren "I can't open that" and making them resend it in another format rather than try to figure out why their overpriced, shiny toy can't do something.) In the tablet world, there's not a lot of interoperability needed because there always seems to be An App For That.

    • Agree. TFS dismisses emulation options, but really how much of a quantum leap would it be not to have to run Parallells?
    • Having working in support for a medium sized software company that only releases Windows software, I can tell you there are quite a few people that use Macs and want to use Windows as well.
  • Among geeks, there is a substantial percentage who think it's cool to run multiple operating systems. There's an even smaller sub-set for whom it's truly useful. Among normal, everyday users, though, the percentage of users who want or need this is very, very tiny. Just managing ONE operating system is complicated for most non-geeks. They don't WANT to further complicate their tech lives by adding more operating systems. For some reason, it seems to be very difficult for geeks to understand that not everyon
  • Why would anyone care? Remnants of Microsoft Hegemony remain be their relevance is decreasing. I keep a version of Windows around on the off change that it will come in handy for the MS diehards but I find that is increasingly unnecessary. It is similar to AOL once people realize there are viable alternatives and enough people adopt standards having multiple devices and OS's in the work place is less of a challenge. The old ways die slowly (as they should) since there is no real reason for the adoption of n
  • Not everyone needs to use more than one OS at a time, in fact I bet the percentage of people who *do* need to use more than one OS at a time is less than the percentage of Linux users in the world. And we all know how much support linux users get. If you want it you gotta build it.
  • the demand just isn't there. the 1% of customers who want this feature are not worth the development expense.
  • OS limitations.

    I think the closest we have seen in the 20+ years I've been using and playing with computers is when certain Linux distributions were released to overlay MS Windows. Windows didn't like it much and there was some tinkering to be done to account for that, but it was doable then. Why it hasn't persisted into something more mainstream could be due to Corporate Greed, where companies like Microsoft want their OS to dominate uber alles...

    tl;dr: Can it be done? Yes. Has it been done? Yes. Do

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