VMware sizes up the Mac market

On Monday virtualization software maker VMware revealed plans to enter the Mac market. But at this early stage, the company’s plans offer more questions than answers.

VMware first came to the attention of PC users in the late ’90s as it began offering virtualization products aimed at enterprise and business users who needed to run alternative operating systems and application software without using a different computer altogether. VMWare is now bringing that same technology to the Mac, though the company is being intentionally vague about which products will make the Mac cut.

In fact, VMware’s appearance in San Francisco this week was simply an introduction to Mac users—the company’s chance to say “hi,” and hear (at least from Mac developers) what Mac users are looking for in a virtualization product that lets them run Windows and other X86-based operating systems on their Macs without having to reboot first.

True virtualization products are still a novelty on the Mac, thanks to the advent of Intel-based Macs in January and the more recent release of Parallels Desktop for Macintosh. VMware and other companies are hoping to capitalize on this in the coming months—one could argue that virtualization is truly a “killer app” for the Intel Mac. Some pundits have even pointed to virtualization as a way for Apple to double its market share quickly, grabbing customers who might have otherwise opted for a PC simply for the convenience of running software they can’t use on a Mac.

At a hotel suite near the Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday afternoon, VMware representatives showed off a proof of concept of VMware operating on Intel-based Macs, though they were careful to note that what they were showing wasn’t anything even close to a finished product. It was truly rough around the edges, but it worked well enough for the demo-givers to say, “Behold. VMware, on the Mac!”

It’ll be much closer to the end of the year before Mac users see an offering from VMware, even in beta release—hopefully sometime in November. The company is already accepting applications and had received more than 10,000 by lunchtime on Monday, according to a spokesperson.

One thing that distinguishes VMware from other virtualization software developers is the breadth of its product line —the company has data-center management products as well as products aimed at developers and tech professionals, enterprise users, and home users. VMware’s biggest potential Mac competitor, Parallels, already has a Desktop product aimed at home and business users, and will follow up with a server product that will be in beta by year’s end.

Which products VMware specifically plans for the Mac remains an open question. How much users can expect to pay for a VMWare product, what it will do and what it won’t do are also open questions. That’s part of why VMware came to San Francisco this week.

VMware group product manager Srinivas Krishnamurti told Macworld that his company has been pleasantly surprised with the level of interest Mac developers visiting the company’s suite have shown in seeing VMware’s server products come to the platform. The interest no doubt is sparked at least in part from Apple’s introduction Monday of an Intel Xeon-based Xserve, which the company expects to ship in October.

So, the virtualization market for the Mac grows a bit denser this week—even if VMware doesn’t have a product to ship right now, it’s a hefty presence in the marketplace, and it’s sure to make things interesting in the months to come. Microsoft’s decision to kill Virtual PC undoubtedly has some Intel Mac users scrambling for solutions.

For what it’s worth, Parallels isn’t sitting still either—it just released a new beta of its Desktop product on Tuesday and is actively working on another version that will be released later this year with features like graphics acceleration.

Whodathunkit? Apple transitions the Mac to Intel chips, and within a few months one of the biggest growing sectors of the marketplace is in software that lets you run Windows on the Mac. But if it brings more people to the platform, all the better.

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