VMWare for Macs may have limited appeal

VMware reports strong initial interest in its virtualization software designed to run on the Mac, but skeptics doubt it will improve Apple’s share of the enterprise market.

About 70,000 people registered for a free download of the software prior to the release of the beta version Dec. 21 and since then, about half of them have proceeded with the download, said Srinivas Krishnamurti, director of product management and market development for VMware.

VMware controls the majority of the market for virtualization software in the x86 server market, but it has never run on a Mac because of Apple’s reliance on the IBM PowerPC chip platform for its computers. With the conversion of Apple to Intel processors, that barrier is removed, Krishnamurti said.

VMware software makes it possible for a Mac user to run Windows or Linux-based software on the same machine.

This should appeal to businesses that have some Macs in their IT infrastructure but also rely on Windows programs, such as the Outlook e-mail program, that don’t run on a Mac.

“There are enterprises that buy a PC for their Mac users so they end up running two machines on each desk,” Krishnamurti said. “Now they don’t have to buy that extra hardware.”

If Macs can run Windows or Linux and the Intel processors are faster than the PowerPC processors Apple used previously, Apple may be able to sell more Macs into the enterprise market, said Schoun Regan, chief executive officer of ITInstruction.com, a company that provides training for Mac users. Regan will be one of the instructors during the MacIT Conference that coincides with the Macworld Conference & Expo Jan. 8 to 12 in San Francisco.

But VMware isn’t the only virtualization option for Macs, Regan said. Parallels already sells a virtualization product for $80 per Mac computer, plus $7 for service, and has been selling to the Mac market for about a year.

Although Parallels has first-mover advantage in the market, VMware’s dominance in the Windows market may overcome Parallels’ lead, said Mike Murray, founder of Episteme.ca, a San Francisco-based Web-based business for IT career planning.

Although the all-Apple IT infrastructure of his tiny startup consists only of two desktop computers, two notebooks and a file server, he eagerly anticipated the VMware beta, regularly checking VMware’s site for the download.

While a Mac devotee, Murray occasionally needs to run Windows programs. “As much as I am a fan of the Mac, it’s still a Windows world.”

Enterprises much larger than Episteme are using virtualization to control IT spending by making more efficient use of their hardware.

Virtualization may make it easier to incorporate Macs into a Windows world, but it still may not improve Apple’s share of the enterprise market, said Mark Margevicius, an analyst with Gartner.

Although Apple remains strong in graphic design, publishing and making animated Hollywood movies, Margevicius said, Apple still hasn’t aggressively pursued the enterprise market.

“That’s still more of a vertical play for them,” he said.

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