Two recent news items regarding virtualization of Mac OS X hit the street recently. The first news item is that in their EULA Apple allowed running several Mac OS X server instances on Apple hardware and the well-known company Parallels (which was bought by SWSoft) announced Parallels Server, the company's hypervisor-powered server virtualization solution, which does exactly that. Parallels Server can run on every x86 server and can virtualize Linux and Windows there, but virtualization of Mac OS X is only allowed on Apple hardware. The second news item was the announcement of a German hacker Alexander Graf at the CCC-congress that he modified the popular open-source emulation software Qemu so it can run an unmodified Mac OS X instance on Linux, but since Qemu is portable, it should work on different platforms (e.g. Windows) as well. In his project description Alexander writes that in the EULA Apple does not mention that Mac OS X is not allowed to be installed in a virtualized environment; that means if somebody installs Linux on Apple hardware and runs a single instance of Mac OS X in Qemu it is perfectly legal. But in the wiki Alexander writes that with his modifications Mac OS X can run on other hardware as well.
Virtualization or emulation as such is nothing new for Apple. Projects like Mac-on-Linux allow running a virtualized Mac OS X on non-Apple PowerPC hardware like the Amiga One or Genesi PowerPC based hardware. But this did not really hurt Apple, because such hardware was too exotic to cause too much headaches in Cupertino.
Another kind of virtualization was even highly welcome at Apple's headquarters: virtualization of other operating systems inside Mac OS X. Several emulators for Windows which emulated x86 on PowerPC, were available, but with the transition to x86, companies like Parallels and VMSoft created virtualized environments that make use of Windows applications as transparent as possible for Mac OS X user.
The other way around, virtualization of Mac OS X itself on any other x86 computer, is a completely different thing. Apple does everything to prevent such scenarios technically and legally. But is it still justified to prevent installing of a (licensed) copy of an OS inside a virtualized environment? Mac OS X is the only OS running on x86, which is coupled to the hardware of the manufacturer. All open and closed source OSes of other manufacturers can be installed on any compatible hardware; only Apple is protecting its Mac OS X. So my call to Apple is: open your OS for other computers, or other people will do it and with the availability of the solutions described above - it never has been simpler. Learn your lessons from the iPhone: you can forbid hacking of the iPhone as much as you want, but if enough people are interested in it and the solution is very simple, lots of people will do it regardless of what is written in EULAs.
Here are some arguments, why Apple should open Mac OS X and only wins from this decision:
- Apple is afraid of all the hardware it has to support, what will disturb the Mac OS X experience for the user, whose hardware combination might not be supported. Well, OpenSolaris showed how to increase supported hardware in quite a short time. Previous versions of Solaris x86 supported only a small subset of hardware, but this changed quite fast. Take the drivers from FreeBSD, it should not be too hard to adapt them for Mac OS X. Spread a compatibility check program, which tells the user before installation, if his hardware is compatible or not. Every sold package of Mac OS X should contain a CD with such a program, which can be tried out without opening the package itself, so if the results are negative, the package can be returned to the dealer unopened. Vista also does not support every hardware on earth and is still successful.
- Apple is afraid that less Apple hardware will be sold. Well, what I can tell from my friends who bought a Mac recently, they did it not because of Mac OS X (they could have done it five years ago as well), but because current hardware offerings from Apple look very slick, they are competitive quality- and performance-wise, the prices are fair and the status of a Mac-owner changed in Germany from freaked-out designer and experienced computer geek to ordinary computer users, who love their iPod and want to have a well-designed computer on their desk. For them it is also good to know that they can use Windows as a fallback solution. So Mac OS X is not a must for them, they would buy Apple hardware anyway.
- Apple is afraid that Microsoft will immediately stop shipping Office for Mac. This is a valid point, but I am not sure if Microsoft can allow this, because this would immediately strengthen the monopoly debate, that Microsoft is preventing competition by discontinuing an important software product only because the competitor is becoming dangerous.
- The spreading of Mac OS X would only increase software sales for Apple. Currently Apple has very good software offerings for professionals and advanced amateurs for media creation. Adobe shows how to earn very good money with comparable products without selling any hardware at all.
- But is there any interest for Mac OS X outside Apple hardware? I think a lot of people would like to try out Mac OS X on their old hardware and if they like it, the probability that their next computer will be a Mac is quite high, isn't it?
- Virtualizing Mac OS X on computers of developers helps them to develop multi-platform software, so more of them can consider implementing their software for Mac OS X as well, without investing in a Mac first.
I am sure there are a lot of other arguments as well, so my first wish for the Jobs' keynote at the coming MacWorld: mr Jobs, please open MacOS X! [ ed. note: this article was written before the keynote]
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