Windows on Mac OS X: Virtualization Turf War Heats Up

By John Rizzo  |  Posted 2006-08-15

Windows on Mac OS X: Virtualization Turf War Heats Up

While Mac OS X Leopard was the focus of Apples Worldwide Developers Conference early in August, the event served as the backdrop for major moves in the platforms virtualization market. For a moment, three vendors were standing, but as the cheers of the Mac faithful at the keynote address faded, one took a dive.

For ages the lone developer of Mac virtualization software, Microsoft unexpectedly announced that it would stop developing Virtual PC for Mac. This move coincided with VMwares entry into the Mac market and startup Parallel Software Internationals defense of its turf with an announcement of a major upgrade.

Virtualization giant VMware announced that by the end of the year, it would jump into the ring with a beta that would be able to run Windows Vista.

Parallels, a small company based in Herndon, Va., and less than a year old, announced that it would beat VMware to the punch and ship a Vista-ready, final release version of Parallels Desktop before VMware delivered its beta.

Click here to read more about Parallels Desktop for Mac virtualization software.

At WWDC, however VMware had the goods, previewing pre-beta VMware code running Windows Vista Beta and AutoCAD on a Mac Book Pro. The company said that the Linux and Windows versions of VMware formed the core of the Mac version.

"Vista 3D is something weve already done," said Srinivas Krishnamurti, director of product management for Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware. "Weve been running Vista since April of 2005."

The vendors both promised a capability that has been mostly missing with the older Virtual PC for Mac: full support for USB 2.0, a standard feature of Macs. VMware and Parallels promised support in future releases. However, VMware showed off Windows XP running a Web cam, something that has been nearly impossible in Virtual PC, which has always had spotty USB support.

"We test hundreds of USB devices. We have the framework in place to support these devices," Krishnamurti said.

Click here to read an eWEEK Labs review of VMware Server 1.0.

For its part, Parallels choose WWDC to release a minor upgrade that improved support of USB devices now—including Web cams and Windows Mobile 5 devices—with a promise of full USB 2.0 later this year.

"Were trying to make USB really seamless," said Parallels Marketing Manager Ben Rudolph.

For each of VMwares announced features, Parallels matched it with one of its own. For example, VMwares demo included support for symmetric multiprocessing, supporting both cores in the Core Duo processor. At the same time, Parallels new update lets users choose whether they want to enhance performance on Mac OS X or Windows by changing a setting of a hard drive cache.

Parallels and VMware look to be taking some different approaches to feature sets and thereby addressing different market segments.

Like Microsoft did with Virtual PC for Mac, Parallels is focusing on user-level features that revolve around integrating the Windows and Mac OS X environment. The first version lets Mac users select Windows applications from the Mac menu bar.

The Parallels update supports full mapping of the Mac keyboard and allows the Mac CD Eject key to work from within Windows.

As the WWDC continued in San Francisco, down in Silicon Valley, memory makers heard the latest news on how flash will speed up Windows Vista. Click here to read more.

Meanwhile, VMware offers a different model for using virtualization. VMwares focus has been to deliver virtual machines preinstalled with software suites for testing or for easy deployment by IS departments. VMware aims to bring this concept to Mac users.

"At our VMTN [VMware Technology Network] Web site, Mac users will have access to the 250 virtual appliances with preinstalled Windows applications packaged as virtual machines," said Krishnamurti.

However, VMwares user model appears to break down on the Mac. On Windows, the virtual machines are running native, bread-and-butter Windows applications that users run every day.

But its difficult to see how this model can work for the Mac since VMware cant run Mac OS X in a virtual machine. Mac users wont be able to load pre-installed Mac OS X virtual machines with preinstalled applications.

Krishnamurti would not comment on whether a future version would support Mac OS X as a guest operating system on Intel-based Macs. VMware would also not comment on whether the issue was technical or a prohibition from Apple. The Mac OS X license does not permit running the operating system on non-Apple hardware.

Next Page: Microsoft gives up a market.

Microsoft gives up a


Even with VMware and Parallels dueling for feature supremacy, most Microsoft watchers did not expect Microsoft to give up a market to competition. For years, Virtual PC was the undisputed leader for running Windows on PowerPC Macs, with Mac OS X integration features that other solutions still dont have.

The tight integration with the previous Mac regime may have been Virtual PCs undoing. Microsoft gave as a reason for dropping Virtual PC the large scope of porting the PowerPC code, "due to how closely the product integrates with Mac hardware."

Processor dependencies have caused problems for Virtual PC before. Virtual PC would not run on PowerPC G5 Macs when Apple first introduced the processor. It took a major upgrade to get Virtual PC running with the new processor—a type of processor migration that Microsoft is no longer willing to make.

"The existing code base would need to be largely rewritten for the new environment," said Scott Erickson, director of product management and marketing at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash. "We felt that the time it would take to bring VPC to Intel especially in light of other options, was too great."

But like Parallels and VMware, Microsoft wouldnt have to rely on its PowerPC code since it has Intel code in the form of Virtual PC for Windows.

Rudolph said that it took Parallels only 3 months to move their Linux and Windows versions of Parallels Workstation over to the Mac Intel platform.

"The Mac OS X back end is very developer-friendly," said Rudolph.

However, Microsoft said it ruled out a port of its Intel code.

"We did look at that option, but it would have been as much as a significant rewrite of the code base as migrating the PowerPC code," said Sheridan Jones, lead marketing manager for Microsofts Mac Business Unit.

In Microsofts official WWDC announcement on Virtual PC, the company said that the effort required to move Virtual PC to Intel Macs was "similar to creating a Version 1.0 release." When questioned, Microsoft said that it was not stating that it would never create a new application for the Mac platform.

"No, I wouldnt say that," said Jones. "For Virtual PC, we recognized for a long time that Mac users need to access Windows files occasionally. But there are now solutions available from Apple and other vendors."

Jones indicated that Microsofts work on Office proves this point.

"Moving Office to Intel is a major undertaking in the same way that moving Virtual PC would have been. Its a big, big job," she said.

Yet, with Office, as with Virtual PC, Microsoft does have Intel code at its disposal that it could rely on.

"We definitely work with the Windows Office team," said Jones. "But we dont port the code directly from Windows Office. We have a unique version for Mac customers."

For users, one of the advantages of Virtual PC is that it is the only virtualization solution that comes with Windows preinstalled, which saves the user from the Windows installation procedure. Microsoft said it would not rule out this possibility with other virtualization solutions.

"Microsofts OEM policies are very public and any vendor can apply to be an OEM," said Erickson. "At this time, Apple, Parallels, and VMware are not Microsoft OEMs."

For the time being, though, Microsoft is happy to sell Mac users shrink-wrapped copies of Windows XP.

The company said in its WWDC statement: "Solutions offered by Apple and other vendors, combined with a fully packaged retail copy of Windows, will satisfy this need."

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