Scott's Weblog The weblog of an IT pro specializing in virtualization, networking, open source, and cloud computing

Apple and Virtualization

Ever since the announcement that Apple was transitioning its entire product line to Intel-based processors, there has been one thing primarily on my mind as the “I-really-want-this” item. Sure, now that the first Intel-based Macs have been announced and specs published, I’m looking forward to fast dual-core CPUs, higher FSB speeds, etc. But there is still this one thing that I’m really, really hoping to see: virtualization.

We all know and love Microsoft’s Virtual PC for the Mac, which allows PowerPC-based Macs to run Microsoft Windows (which, of course, does not run natively on the PowerPC, despite its Windows NT roots—keep in mind that the PowerPC was one of the four architectures targeted by Windows NT in its early releases). Because Windows only runs in x86-compatible CPUs, Virtual PC has to perform processor emulation, and that really kills performance. Even so, it’s the only way to run those few legacy Windows applications that can’t be replaced by a native Mac OS X application. (You can run Linux this way, too, but Microsoft doesn’t support it.)

Ah, but now the Macs are running on Intel-based processors, so the need for processor emulation has suddenly disappeared. This opens the door not only for Microsoft (with Virtual PC) but also for VMware (with VMware Workstation and/or VMware Player) to bring full virtualization (including virtualization of hardware and the base OS) to the Macintosh world. This would, in turn, mean the ability to run Linux, BSD, Windows, or Mac OS X on a gorgeous dual-core laptop, with only minor performance impacts for non-Apple operating systems.

And this scenario doesn’t even take into account the very likely possibility that Intel will add hardware virtualization support to the Core Solo and Core Duo processors in the near future.

This scenario is not mine alone; this recent article theorizes that Apple has the ability to double their marketshare through support for virtualization (building on many of the same points I mentioned above—thanks to virtualization.info for the pointer to the article!). Think about it: if you could run your choice of operating system (even multiple operating systems simultaneously) on a laptop designed by Apple, wouldn’t you? After all, you won’t be able to run Mac OS X on any other hardware besides Apple’s.

It’s a sweet scenario. I can hardly wait.

Be social and share this post!