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VMware on Mac will do little to ease desktop management pain

VMware Mac product will not impact desktop management or help standardize platforms in heterogeneous shops.

A soon-to-be-released VMware Inc. product may please Mac users, but the virtualization offering will not do much to alleviate the pain IT administrators feel from having to manage multiple desktop platforms. Palo Alto-based VMware has said that a product that gives Mac users the ability to virtualize PC operating systems such as Windows and Linux on Mac OS X will be available later in the year.

The VMware product is not the first that aims to let users run Windows on Macs. Apple Corp. already has software in beta called Boot Camp, which allows Intel-based Macs to run either Windows or the Mac OS. However, Boot Camp does not let you run both systems at the same time. Another product, from a small start-up company called Parallels Inc., based in Herdon, Va., will compete more directly with VMware. The Parallels product uses virtualization technology to allow Windows to operate alongside Mac OS at the same time.

These software offerings come as welcome news for Mac users who would like to run Windows applications on an Apple computer, but they have little business value according to Mark Margevicius, a vice president and research director with Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

"There are some subsets of Mac users that have tools on both platforms, where they actually have a Mac on one side of the desk and a PC on other," he said. "In those types of instances this will assist in a big way. But, honestly, I've got to believe that is less than 1% of workers."

Nor will the VMware product expand Apple's presence in the enterprise, because Mac OS itself will continue to run only on Apple hardware. Apple confirmed it has no plans to sell, support or allow a virtualized version of Mac OS on non-Apple hardware.

That's consistent with Apple's strong proprietary history, Margevicius said. "They have always articulated that Mac is not a PC; it is an Apple platform, which they will own and control."

On the heels of the VMware announcement comes word from Microsoft that the software giant's Virtual PC for Mac, a product that allows Windows to run on Intel-based Macs, will be shelved. In a statement, Microsoft said it "has made the decision not to move forward with a universal version of Virtual PC at this time."

"Developing a high-quality virtualization solution, such as Virtual PC, for the Intel-based Mac is similar to creating a version 1.0 release due to how closely the product integrates with Mac hardware," the statement read.

Underground movement afoot

Virtualizing Mac OS X has been done on the sly among techies already, according to David Marshall, a virtualization analyst and a senior architect at Surgient Inc., which provides virtual lab applications. "Many have claimed to virtualize Mac OS X already on different platforms, but it certainly isn't supported. And I would bet that Apple would do more than just frown on it," he said.

So, for most IT managers, the stress of supporting both PCs and Macs just isn't worth it. John Hornbuckle, a network manager with the Taylor County School district in Perry, Fla., can attest that standardizing platforms and hardware can reduce IT management stress.

"When I was first hired here to oversee the district's technology, we had both Macs and PCs. One of my earliest goals was to change that," Hornbuckle said. "We've phased out virtually all Macs here, thankfully. Supporting multiple platforms was determined to not be cost-effective or necessary, and we became a PC shop a few years back."

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