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This Year, Virtualization Comes Home

According to two major surveys released this week, 2010 is going to be all about using a computer from somewhere else.

Virtualization, as it's called, is the number one priority of corporate technology officers this year, says a Gartner [IT] report released on January 19th. Centrix, a company that sells virtualization services, did a study of their own and (unsurprisingly) concluded the same thing: a third of enterprises are would like to move to desktop virtualization in 2010. (Other research says virtualization rarely achieves its intended ROI, but then factual information often has little sway in the ebb and flow of tech trends.)

Virtualization is a complicated thing -- there are lots and lots of means and ends for using a computer remotely -- and since I've never worked as an IT engineer, I am sure I don't know the half the multifarious uses. But what is clear is that cool stuff that becomes popular in corporate IT departments almost always spills into the consumer market in trickle-down fashion, whether it's the Blackberry [RIMM] or the Thinkpad, and virtualization might be ripe for consumer introduction in 2010.

I say this because so many of the modern corporate virtualization services are so immediately droolworthy to regular computer users. HP's SkyRoom service lets remote workers talk, see and collaborate on projects with shared desktop space, a technology that would be amazing for anyone making movies or music at home or in school. Other companies like NComputing have demonstrated platforms that let nine users work together off of one single PC, and in HD video, for less than a hundred bucks. Schools, startups and college kids would rejoice at that kind of magic.

It couldn't come at a better time. As I've written elsewhere, the panoply of dekstops that knowledge workers deal with today is quickly becoming unmanageable: from work computer to home computer to MobileMe to smartphone to Nook, many of us are managing half a dozen electro-buckets of icons, documents, files, and media. Where did I download that song? Which of the three computers I use has that bookmark? You could lose your damn mind.

The tech looks promising. Modern virtualization software from companies like Dutch firm RES Software is getting very good at serving up a desktop tailored for the device you're using, making the environment feel less shoddy than some current solutions whether it's on a laptop or a phone.

The major consumer-tech companies, Microsoft [MSFT] and Apple [AAPL], are edging closer. In May 2009, Microsoft launched MediaRoom, a software platform aimed at video and TV providers that uses virtualization to stream TV and content to multiple devices in a user's home. Apple has been steadily improving its own Remote Desktop software, aimed at small businesses and home networks, to the point where it can do things like perform Spotlight searches on 10 computers simultaneously. Sun's VirtualBox is a consumer-oriented solution that gives computer nerds the same virtualization options at home as they get in the office. For those of us haunted by many desktops, salvation won't come a moment too soon.

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