Microsoft clears Vista Home for virtualization

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On Monday Microsoft loosened some of its licensing terms related to virtualization, making it less expensive for Mac users to run Windows Vista legally using programs such as Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion.

Users who purchase the Home Basic and Home Premium editions of Windows Vista can now legally run those OSes in a virtualized environment, Microsoft said. The company also announced new licensing rates for corporate users.

Virtualization technologies separate the software on a computer from its underlying hardware, allowing it to be deployed in more flexible ways. Virtualization can allow multiple operating systems to run on one computer, for example, or allow application workloads to be shifted between computers more easily to improve hardware utilization.

The technology has been around for decades but was popularized in server environments recently by VMware and others. The technology became popular on the Mac when Apple switched to Intel processors, allowing Macs to run Windows at near-native speeds.

Previously, only the $399 Ultimate edition of Vista could legally be run in a virtual machine. This new announcement makes the $199 Home Basic and $239 Home Premium versions fair game. In June 2007 Microsoft appeared to be poised to loosen its licensing restrictions, but reversed course and maintained the status quo. (Mac users have been technically able to run Vista Home on a Mac using Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion, but only in violation of Microsoft's end-user licensing agreement.)

"This move is a good thing for Mac users, since they now have a cost-effective way to access Windows Vista and its massive software library," said Benjamin Rudolph, Director of Corporate Communications for Parallels Desktop publisher SWSoft. "It also makes it even easier for Mac users to keep using OS X, but still integrate with a Windows-centric office. This shows that Microsoft is committed to the virtualization market."

The announcement came as Microsoft laid out plans to become a bigger force in the market for virtualization software, stepping up its assault on established leaders such as VMware.

Microsoft's plans include the acquisition of a start-up company, Calista Technologies, whose graphics technology is designed to improve the end-user experience for people who access their Windows desktop remotely from a server, Microsoft said.

Finally, Microsoft extended its partnership with Citrix Systems to make that company's Xen virtualization software work better with Microsoft's server and desktop software, it said.

[Updated 4:37 p.m. PT with Parallels comment and added detail. Updated 1/22 at 9:53 a.m. PT to clarify legality of Boot Camp versus Parallels and VMWare. Macworld's Jason Snell contributed to this report.]

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