Virtualization and the Mac: Still a One-Way Street

Arthur Cole

Is virtualization a net positive or a net negative for Macs in the enterprise?


On the surface, it would seem that Apple could only benefit from the ability for users to boot up Windows alongside their OS X environments, if only to help overcome the fear that many Windows users have about immersing themselves in a Mac universe. But it hasn't necessarily worked out that way, according to Forbes' Brian Caulfield. Mac users may disagree (and many do, judging by the feedback he's gotten so far) but the fact is that Macs have only seen the slightest uptick in enterprise deployments over the past year, still hovering at less than 2 percent of the overall enterprise PC infrastructure.


Part of the problem, Caulfield argues, is that Apple insists it will remain an integrated hardware/software provider in an age when the links between those two computing levels has been severed for good. Microsoft was able to eat Apple's lunch in the 80s and 90s because it recognized that de-coupling hardware from software was good business, if not necessarily good engineering. Now, with virtualization separating even the operating system from underlying hardware, Apple is compounding the problem by allowing its OS to run only on Apple hardware.


It has no objections, of course, to bringing Windows onto the Mac, as evidenced by its acquiescence to VMware's Fusion software, recently upgraded for the Snow Leopard iteration of OS X. The newest Fusion 3 offers hosts for Windows 7, with added support for OpenGL 2.1 and DirectV 9.0 graphics. A key upgrade is a new migration tool that makes it easier to move Windows snapshots to Mac virtual machines, even over wireless networks. But woe to anyone who wants to enable the reverse.


A company called Psystar is making a last-ditch effort to stay afloat in the face of bankruptcy proceedings and an extended copyright suit from Apple over the company's Mac cloning system. The Darwin Universal Boot Loader, which allows you to launch Mac OS inside a PC, is now available for license to hardware manufacturers. No one has bitten yet as far as I can tell, which isn't surprising since the legal battle is still playing out in U.S. District Court. If anything, Apple certainly has maintained its consistency. Mac OS and Mac-licensed applications running on Mac hardware are the surest way to a smooth computing environment, rarely producing the kinds of conflicts and boot errors you see in Wintel platforms.


But the fact is, Windows still holds the lion's share of the enterprise, and it is a risk of capital to start integrating Mac hardware at this point. With hardware margins growing razor thin as the value proposition shifts toward software, Apple needs to decide whether it can continue to stunt its OS deployments for the sake of its hardware.

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