Let the Virtual Joust Begin!

Arthur Cole

Virtualization has made some strange bedfellows now that the walls between the various hardware and software platforms are coming down. Now it looks to have spawned the next great rivalry, one that could compare to Intel/AMD or IBM/HP.


It all seemed to come to a head this week at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference as VMware and Parallels unveiled new virtualization platforms and showed previews of even greater stuff to come.


The week kicked off with two new virtual desktop products from VMware: the VMware Player 2 and the Fusion for Mac. The Player 2 offers both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems and applications for virtual appliances running on Windows or Linux. A key advancement here is Virtual SMP (symmetrical multiprocessing), which allows virtual machines to kick up their performance by accessing multiple CPUs.


Fusion for Mac lets you run Mac, Windows, Linux, NetWare and Solaris apps all at once, without having to reboot for each launch. A system called Unity even lets you place Windows onto the Mac OS, as long as you're running an Intel-based machine. There's also an automated BootCamp integration feature for running OS X next to XP or Vista.


At the moment, the Fusion product poses the greatest threat to Parallel's newest release, Desktop for Mac 3.0. In the first major upgrade since its introduction last summer, the company loaded in more than 50 new tools, including 3D graphics acceleration, Vista BootCamp support, and the ability to access Windows virtual hard drives from the Mac OS.


But Parallels wasn't finished just yet. By the end of the week, it was previewing the upcoming Parallels Server system aimed at the Apple Xserve. Basically, it's the server version of the desktop product, letting enterprises run OS X, Windows Exchange and Apache for Linux all at once. The company also vows to have open APIs for third-party developers.


According to Wired magazine, which sat down with Parallel's top PR guy, Ben Rudolph, VMware is the top competitor in the field by virtue of its ties to the Windows community. However, with Microsoft scaling back features in Viridian, the timing probably is right for a smaller competitor to make some headway.

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