James O'Neill's Blog

April 18, 2006

The Virtual Mac – a little idle speculation

Filed under: Apple,Virtualization,Windows Vista — jamesone111 @ 2:14 pm

Apple’s “Boot camp” software has created a big stir, hasn’t it?

Apple is a leader in industrial design: which is why my wife has an iPod Nano – the iPods have a magic to their design which no-one else seems able to match. The number of things which borrow from the original iMac design shows how other designers admire it. I’ve just bought a new Samsung TV and I didn’t consider Dell’s offering but I’d look at an Apple TV. As well as design, Apple has brand kudos that Samsung, Dell and (yes) Microsoft lack, so the idea of Windows on Apple hardware is seductive.

Some comments have suggested that Boot Camp is the start of unbundling the Mac OS from Apple hardware. As I see it (and remember a blog IS a personal view not a company one), this would give Apple two problems. Firstly could they be the Bang and Olfusen of PCs – selling good designs at a premium? I’d love a B&O television but I bought a Samsung. How many people would covert an Apple PC but actually buy a Dell or whatever their retailer has on special offer ?

Secondly, if they sold the Mac OS separately; who would buy a “Dell Mac”? Mac users – at the expense of Apple hardware sales. The “Anyone but Microsoft” brigade might buy one as a nicer alternative to a Linux desktop. Corporate customers? 6 years in Microsoft Consulting Services have shown me the difficulty of making changes. Anti-Microsoft people say this makes us complacent – but they just don’t get it. Our biggest competitor is old versions – customers don’t blindly upgrade – indeed I saw customers refuse to run the latest service pack never mind the latest OS; so I don’t see corporate customers stampeding to a new OS.

In any case, does Apple want to support all the graphics cards, network cards, sound, motherboard chipsets etc used in PCs ? Microsoft has been doing it for 20 years and 3rd party drivers are still the biggest cause of crashes. To me this looks like an expensive way for Apple to deprive itself of hardware revenue.
So, for now at least, Boot camp is as far is goes. My wife would love a Mac at home but doesn’t want to spend the money. I need Windows, and neither of us want to booting a seperate OS (especially as we have come to expect fast user switching on XP).
If we had a Mac, we’d be better off with Virtual PC , which doesn’t run on Intel Macs (or some equivalent which does) That made me stop and think.
I discovered Virtual PC Express will be part of Vista Enterprise. Full Virtual PC allows as many machines as can run in the host’s available memory, but requires a license for each. The Express edition allows only one Virtual Machine and is for Software Assurance customers who get rights to run a copy second of copy of their OS (or a downgrade of it) on a licensed PC. In this way they get a “parachute” for software which isn’t supported on the new OS.

Now… Virtual PC emulates fixed hardware – like Intel Macs do. Mac OS under Virtual PC (express or otherwise)? Given a suitable (licensed) extension to Virtual PC it might just work, it’s incremental business, not cannibalization, for Apple. The odds are that it will never happen, but if it does, you saw it here first.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.


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