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May 20, 2008 12:00 AM

Virtualized apps, from Seattle startup with Microsoft pedigree

Posted by Brier Dudley

Long before virtualization was the hottest thing going in enterprise software, software engineer Kenji Obata started a little company called Xenocode to earn some pizza money while in graduate school.

He had worked on SQL Server at Microsoft, starting as an intern in 1996, but left to get his Ph.D. from Berkeley in 2001.

Then his little side business took off, particularly a product virtualizing Microsoft's .Net framework, which is now used by more than 100,000 developers. He moved the venture to Seattle in 2006 after hiring several former co-workers from Microsoft.

"Pizza money turned into rent money and soon rent money was more than I was making at Microsoft," he said.

Today Xenocode's going after the bigger market of business IT shops with an application virtualization product that the 10-person, Pioneer Square company is launching today.

Xenocode's Virtual Application Studio works similarly to the .Net product, as a self-contained, lightweight virtualized machine upon which the applications are run.

(The .Net product in effect attaches the runtime to applications so they can run without having to install the appropriate version).

The application studio uses a 500 kilobyte microkernel that runs applications but doesn't hog system resources, Obata said. It's small enough that it can be loaded with applications on a USB memory stick for plug-and-play deployment of a virtual desktop.

A business using Windows Vista, for instance, could use the system to run older applications that are incompatible with the new operating system.

Obata, 30, said it's still early days for virtualized applications, but he's confident the company's onto something big.

"I think it's going to become a pretty standard way of distributing software,'' he said.

Apparently investors agree.

Obata said his phone has been ringing off the hook since details of the new product leaked out, giving him plenty of options to get funding, expand the business and develop a new sales channel besides its Web storefront.

"I'll probably have three messages from VCs on my phone when I get out of here,'' he said over lunch on Monday.

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