Why Apple doesn't need to worry about virtualization of Mac OS X

Despite calls for Apple to allow for virtualization of Mac OS, I don't agree.

There have been many (many!) articles, blogs, podcasts, and tweets over the past several years discussing whether Apple should allow Mac OS X to be virtualized. There have even been rumors that this was going to be allowed (or even that Apple might include some form of virtualization) in the upcoming "Lion" release of Mac OS X (which is due next month), but now that we're getting close to that date, it look like virtualization is going to be part of the story.

But all these calls to virtualize Mac OS X are misguided. So are the calls for Apple to take OS X into the enterprise. And so are the calls asking for Mac VDI. (Well, at least from Apple. I'm fine if other people want to give it a shot.)

First, some background

When we talk about Mac OS X and virtualization, we really need to clarify exactly what we're talking about. Some people just want to be able to run OS X as a virtual machine guest. Others want Apple to create a multi-VM virtualization server based on OS X.

For those who want the Mac OS X to be able to run in a VM, from a pure technical standpoint, that's possible today. (You just basically hackintosh OS X into a VM.) And actually from a legal standpoint, it appears that it's also ok to run OS X in a VM as long as the VM host is running on Apple-branded hardware. There's even talk that the next version of VMware vSphere will officially support OS X (which we assume is only legal if vSphere was running on Apple hardware).

Other people suggest that Apple should allow OS X to be virtualized on any brand of hardware, even suggesting that Apple should sell a special license for this case. But this is a bad idea. Just selling the OS separately to run as a VM... what's the point of that? So people can run it without buying Apple hardware? What's in it for Apple? Then you'd have all these people who can't afford "real" hardware clogging up the Apple support ecosystem because their piece-of-shit machine doesn't paint the graphics as well as a MacBook.

Other folks have suggested that Apple should sell these virtual hardware licenses so Mac OS X can run in a datacenter on real datacenter (e.g. "non-Apple") hardware which could be used to drive massive OS X-based VDI deployments. Again, this would be a colossally bad thing to do. The reasons people use VDI and the reasons they use Macs are not the same reasons. (In fact, they're almost the opposite.) And all of the beautiful graphics that Apple has can't be remoted except with the fastest LANs, so if you're only going to use an OS X-based VDI environment with a fast LAN... really.. what's the point?

Some people have even suggested that the Apple TV could be used as a sort of $99 thin client to front end this whole thing. Unfortunately the people who suggest that are server virtualization people and Mac people. They are not desktop virtualization people who know there's no way in hell you're going to deliver an experience worth a shit to home users via Mac OS X running in some far off datacenter.

The real reason why virtualizing OS X is stupid

But despite all these tangentially stupid reasons Apple could enable virtualization, the mother reason is that Mac OS X is a Desktop OS. (That's "Desktop" with a "Capital D." If you don't know what I mean, read the article I wrote a few months ago about the difference between a "Desktop" and a "desktop.")

Apple shouldn't virtualize the Mac OS X Desktop operating system because they don't need to. Everything they're doing with iCloud and iTunes music everywhere and WiFi sync and the App Store--all of that stuff means that you don't have to resort to shitty 1995-era display remoting technology to deliver "your" Mac experience to you. Your "desktop" is more than an instance of OS X. You can just pick up whatever device you have, be it your iPad or your iPod or your iPhone or your Apple TV (or even an OS X MacBook), and once you sign in, you have your complete desktop (small "d") experience.

In fact I use the whole Apple cloud/iPhone/iPad ecosystem as my example of how the small d desktop is replacing the Big D Desktop. So why would Apple f*** that up on purpose for a desktop OS?

But surely, virtualization will come to the Mac OS X?

I'm sure at some point, Apple will acknowledge that people want to run OS X in a VM. And their current policy of only allowing that as long as the host is running on physical Apple hardware is fine now, and it should be fine then. In fact Apple doesn't really even need to change anything here.

As for adding virtualization capabilities to OS X itself. Why should they bother? There are plenty of hypervisor options out there, and all of those projects and products will trip over each other to ensure compatibility with Apple hardware, so really Apple has zero incentive to do anything on their own.

So in the future, yeah, we'll see people running OS X in VMs. And we'll see companies like Citrix and AquaConnect allowing users to connect to remote OS X instances (physical or virtual) with advanced remoting protocols. But this whole idea that Apple needs to get in the enterprise and that virtualization is the way to do it, I say no way!

When plenty of people (well, "me" at least) are predicting that the era of the Desktop (Big D) is dead, Apple should press on as planned and not do anything to drag that 1990s model of computing into the 21st century.

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Apple might care but we should.

I don’t want to sound like appdetective :-P

But I find apple to be conflicted.

One part of the org is working hard for the enterprise, While the other does the exact opposite (consumer focus).

Apple doesn’t:

- Inform its corporate clients of hardware transitions.

- Have set hardware length cycles (ROI...lifecycle management).

Apple does:

- Run very little warehouse stock (to limit EOL machine impact), meaning you can’t stock up to minimise transition disruption.

- Release driver updates sometime AFTER the new hardware is RTM, meaning you can buy hardware but can’t install your Mac SOE for a few weeks.

So yes, yes I would like a hypervisor option.



Agreed.  The carefully crafted "experience" that Apple has built over the last decade would be nullified by dipping too far into the desktop virtualization space.  The tables have already turned in the influence scene....that being the world of consumer technology influencing the enterprise.  As Apple builds out cloud services (next in line would be greater collaboration on iCloud sometime next year), SMB's and mid-market sized organizations will gravitate towards hosted (webified) services that will reduce the demand for Mac desktop virtualization.


Its not really stupid just a wish that will never happen.  Apple makes its money by locking down its OS to an EFI chipset and a very small HCL list.

This is why it has lost market share in the past and will never gain market share in the future.

The ONLY reason it has a decent market share is NOT because its a great desktop- but because its a wonderful and fun CLIENT with a capital C !!!

Thats all iPad is really as well, a CLIENT!!! A fun client with some nice features but, in all, just a client. Eventually it remotes to another OS that can be easily manipulated and controlled - usually a windows OS.

Apple has a cash cow in charging people more money for a brand name and gimmicks than it does for the actual hardware it produces. This is why it has a much higher profit margin, and makes much more of its PC sales than the other companies do.

Their need to virtualize is NOT based on necessity, as it does NEED to be virtualized and would help everyone. Its not virtualizing becuase, at the moment, it has a $$$ interest in not doing so.

As soon, as people get annoyed that OSX is one of the only OSes out there that cannot be virtualized, and it has a loss of market share - then it will virtualized.

But make no mistake, its not doing so for the benefit of a "quality" experience. Its doing so for their " WALLET-SIZE" experience.


I understand what Brian is getting at.

However for me, the need to virtualize OSX is in a type 1 capacity like what XenClient is doing. I just wish XenClient would work on a Mac. (So far after the demo made at Synergy a year or two ago, there's been no sign of them doing that).

He's right in that doing VDI there's really no need to do so; that's probably why Apple hasn't invested any time in it.

But I do think there's a market for using a type 1 hypervisor to virtualize both OSX and Windows on an Apple machine.

This would save on people having to run dual boots, and would work much more natively than a type 2 like VMWare Fusion or Parallels, both of which have flaws that prevent me from using it again.

I have never been a proponent of OSX being used on non-Apple hardware though. This opinion is trying to "Microsoft" a solution to PC owners that aren't Apple owners.


Starting with Lion there will be no distinction between Desktop and Server unlike Snow Leopard.  Lion Server is really now Desktop + Server "App" from the Mac App Store.

We have a demand for virtualized Mac at my university.  Students need to be able to access apps for their projects where ever they are...Windows or Mac.  50% of them are commuter students and can't really benefit from the computer labs when classes are done and can't buy many apps for personal use.  I've noticed that many that use our XenApp farm are Mac users.  I keep getting requests for remote access for Mac apps but I can't right now.  Though I need to see if Aqua Connect has improved.

We also don't want to deal with massive Mac Pros taking up precious rack space.  Why not certify a tier 1 server vender?  Good old buddy IBM? Oracle's Sun servers have a Xserve'esque look to them.

I do see Brian's point that the cloud makes virtualiztion pointless but people still need to use the Desktop until we fully transition over to the desktop mindset.


Apple won't virtualize Mac OS X, it has nothing to do with remote desktop display issues, little to do with desktops and everything to do with OS X being a legacy platform.

Apple's server hardware was killed a couple of years ago. The server edition of OX S has been devalued to a commodity along side the desktop version of OS X and at WWDC Apple put OS X and the whole iMac and MacBook line on notice. Relegating the hardware to being just another device that iCloud will replicate stuff to (even suggesting that Windows 7 an acceptable desktop OS), and downgrading OS X to being a glorified app, only installable from the Mac App Store.

Apple's future is tied to iOS and the devices that run it.  Why invest in anything that will enable anyone to prolong the life of a product that is no longer part of where Apple is going.


I think this is one of the worst blog entries you've had.  First of all, why not virtualize it?  So what if EVERY feature isn't perfect?  Yes, this is how Apple works - they control all sides so they can "guarantee" a consistent user experience, etc - so I know its not likely to run on my PC any time soon.  But thats Apple's motivation, not mine.

I'm an IT guy and from time to time I support  some Mac users. So I've got to buy a whole mac, carry it around all the time, etc, just so I can help them out on occasion?  Ok, so I can go buy some old refurb and leave it plugged in at home and use logmein - but  wait, you just got done saying that the remote mac experience is too limited to be of use.

Next, all I hear from a lot of really smart sources is how everything will be virtual....the my laptop will run a hypervisor and launch Win7 for example.  So if the concept is ok for everything else, why not the Mac.

Yes, there will be support headaches for things that just don't work well enough.  But if Citrix (and others) can figure out how to give a pretty darn good experience of the windows platform over a vpn connection (or similar), there isn't any reason we can't get the same for a mac.  We don't need 100% of everything to work, just like we don't need it on the PC remotely.

Lastly, we've got fusion and parallels so you can run Windows stuff on the mac, why not something that can run Mac on Windows????

Apple will probably always be closed.  Apple is no different now than in the early 80s.  The same thing that made the IBM PC so dominant in the market, including at home (so you can't say its an ibm business monopoly) was the 3rd-party open standard.   Its the same thing that makes things so frustrating on windows7.  Apple by comparison only ever does it there way.  Apple vs Android is the same thing.  Can you get a keyboard-based iphone, no.  But ios 4 runs on a 3gs.



There's nothing to stop you from virtualizing your Mac if you want to do that to make support easier (providing you can run it on Apple hardware), but that doesn't mean that Apple is going to do much to help you.




Agree that Apple is pressing on with enabling the new world. Why are we still talking about layer cake and app-virt?


(I realize this post is old, but I don't think that forgives its short shortsightedness)  Where is the profit?  In the licensing.  

I work for a Fortune 100 company that has been predominately a Microsoft and Linux shop, producing web based tools (and OS specific apps) for many other fortune 100 companies (and thousands of smaller companies)  Recently, we've been getting requests from a lot of our clients to want to use our products on iOS tablets.  Except the only legal Emulator is restricted (much like OS X itself) to run on OS X.  We already have Large Scale VM centers running from Microsoft and linux.  Because they will run on ordinary hardware.  

Now, in order to include Mac in this mix, we have to purchase a large scale HArdware system to manage the virtualization/automation with MAc hardware, despite the fact we already have large scale automation environments that are capable of running this?  

Naturally we do our testing on actual iOS tablets, but to increase that to automation and start getting efficient, we have this to purchase this additional huge ridiculous system.  just for iOS 6 web testing.

We are on the verge of just saying use android or Windows tablets, we can efficiently validate those.  Now where is the money for Mac going to come from?