Will Apple ever fully liberalize Mac OS X virtualization?

Issue is 'something that customers need to take to Apple,' says one vendor

Over the past two years, running Windows and Windows apps virtually on Apple hardware has become a popular way for consumers to dump their PCs in favor of Mac gear.

Microsoft's liberal attitude, while hurting hardware partners such as HP and Dell, has also enabled the spread of Windows to Apple's previously-inaccessible hardware.

In contrast, Apple has only grudgingly allowed Mac OS X to be run on virtual machines. The regular client version of Leopard cannot be run virtually, whether on Apple's hardware or not.

Only the server version of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard can be turned into a virtual machine, or guest. That must be on Mac hardware, though desktops, laptops or servers are all allowed. The VMs must also run on top of the base Leopard server OS.

The implications of these limitations on price are huge. It costs a minimum of US$499 -- the retail price for Apple's smallest 10-pack of OS X Server Leopard licenses -- to run Leopard virtually today. Meanwhile, a 5-pack of regular Leopard licenses retails for US$129.

Pete Kazanjy, marketing manager for VMware's Fusion Mac-Windows virtualization software, says that from a technical standpoint, there's "no difference" between the client and server versions of Leopard.

Users have not been stopped by the barriers to circumventing Apple's license.

A small vendor, DiscCloud, released software last month it claims can be used to legally enable non-Apple PC servers to host Leopard-client virtual machines.

"It's on a lot of peoples' minds," said Kazanjy. "Apple has built its business model of pairing really wonderful hardware with their wonderful software. They are really leery of letting things slide in there."

"We've heard requests from our customers" to virtualize the Leopard client, said Ray Chew, senior product manager at Parallels, which earlier this year released the first software to enable Leopard Server to be virtualized. "We have to tell them you can't do anything against Apple's EULA [End User License Agreement.]"

An independent technology analyst, Laura DiDio, recently completed a survey of 700 businesses and found 23 percent were virtualizing Windows on at least some of their Macs. She said she heard from several respondents who were interested in virtualizing the Mac OS X client, mostly for software testing purposes.

She said one respondent wasn't letting the higher cost of virtualizing Leopard Server stop its plans of streaming out Leopard virtual desktops from Mac servers to 4,000 Mac client computers.

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Eric Lai

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