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Will Steve Jobs Deal a Blow to Mac Virtualization Vendors?

That's the question that Wired wants to figure out.  WWDC is right around the corner, so I'm sure time will tell.  And soon.  Does it make sense for Apple to build its own virtualization platform?  Sure, why not.  Microsoft could have realistically done nothing and let third parties continue to develop virtualization platforms on its OS, but they didn't.  Instead, they purchased Connectix and are now working on their next version - Windows Server Virtualization.  So why would Apple be content with third-party virtualization on its platform?  The argument that virtualization platforms are hard to create might have been valid in 2000, but in 2007 with what we know and the help from AMD-V and Intel-VT, I think the barrier to entry into this market isn't quite the barrier it used to be.  And besides, do you think Apple is just now starting to think about and code this project?  I would bet they have been working on this for some time now. 

The Mac community is all abuzz over Windows.

In the past week, three key products which enable Apple users to run Mac OS X and Windows on the same machine have received upgrades: VMWare Fusion, Parallels Desktop for the Mac, and Apple Boot Camp.

It's no surprise that all three products got a boost just days before Steve Jobs' keynote address at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference. The event is the biggest day of the year for Mac software developers. It's also where the Apple CEO will announce the full set of features to be included in the new Mac OS X "Leopard" 10.5 operating system.

While most of the developers and Mac devotees in attendance will no doubt be clapping and wailing with glee at every new feature debuted during Monday's keynote address, a handful of people in the room will be quaking in their boots, praying that one thing in particular remains unspoken.

As far as Parallels and VMWare are concerned, those dirty words are "Virtualization in Boot Camp." If they are uttered during the Stevenote, the companies' young products are as good as dead.

Of the three multi-OS managers, Parallels is the most complete. VMWare Fusion's latest beta, which has many of the same features, is close behind. Both offerings let Mac users run Windows apps seamlessly on the Mac OS Desktop -- Parallels calls it "Coherence" and VMWare calls it "Unity," but the fact that both companies tout that functionality as their software's main selling point clearly shows the direction multi-OS management on the Mac is heading: total virtualization of the desktop.

So far, Apple doesn't offer virtualization in Boot Camp. The most recent upgrade to the partition manager adds experimental support for Vista, better driver support and some stability enhancements. But no Windows-on-the-Mac-desktop functionality, only the ability to boot your Mac into an alternate operating system of your choice. As Parallels and VMWare are busy satisfying the vast audience for this stuff, do you think Apple is just standing by and watching? Don't bet on it.

Sure, Apple is playing nice right now -- the company even endorses Parallels' product on its website. But that doesn't mean it isn't getting ready to steamroller right over Parallels Desktop for Mac when Leopard's October release date comes around.

Parallels' Ben Rudolph says he's not worried about Apple moving into virtualization.

"This seems very unlikely to me," Rudolph writes on the company's product blog, "because unlike creating a 'normal' application, virtualization is built on core, proprietary technology, and its not very easy to build that technology from scratch."

Sorry, Ben. All of your arguments are valid, but they don't rule anything out. Apple knows it's missing out on multi-OS management's killer feature by leaving virtualization out of Boot Camp, so there's a good chance they've been working on it just as long as you have.

Even though it would flatten the hopes of the competition, it would be a win for users. Boot Camp is on track to be a standard feature of Leopard. What reason could Apple possibly come up with to not give users what they want by building virtualization into every Mac out of the box?

Read or comment on the original, here.

Published Sunday, June 10, 2007 9:10 AM by David Marshall
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