Will Apple Bend for Virtualization?

VMware's OS X may lack the one capability developers really want

Recently, I dropped by the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco to check out VMwares public demo of its in-development virtualization software for Apple Computers Mac OS X.

During the demo, held in conjunction with Apples Worldwide Developers Conference, I watched an Intel Mac Mini with 2GB of RAM run Microsoft Windows XP within OS X, more or less the same way VMware Workstation or VMware Player runs Windows within Windows or within Linux. Its performance looked great, including smooth video and Webcam playback from within the virtualized XP instance.

What I didnt see—and what eventual users of VMware for OS X may or may not ever end up seeing, at least while remaining in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act—is a virtualized OS X running within OS X.

For this to happen, VMware will have to figure out, to Apples satisfaction, how to uphold one of Apples sternest commandments: OS X shall not run on non-Apple hardware.

Theres no doubt that running virtual OS X instances—with all the handy-for-testing snapshot and sandbox capabilities that virtualization can offer—would be of significant benefit to the developers assembled at the Worldwide Developers Conference, which was held in San Francisco Aug. 7 through Aug. 11.

Whats more, it would be helpful for potential customers of Apples newly announced Intel Xserve to be able to divvy up that machines horsepower among virtual instances—without, at least, having to switch to an operating system with permission to run virtually.

Fortunately for such forced switchers, Windows Server or Linux (or really any other x86 operating system this side of whatever runs the original Xbox) are quite happy to run on arbitrary hardware, virtual or not.

Beta code for VMwares new offering is due before the end of the year, and Im betting that Apple and VMware will work out a way for VMwares product to verify that its running on Apple hardware before agreeing to fire up a virtual copy of OS X.

What Id rather see—and what would certainly be welcomed by Mac developers in search of the widest-possible audience for their wares—is for Apple to allow OS X and its software ecosystem the chance to run free.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at jason_brooks@ziffdavis.com.

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