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Critical Issue with Virtual PC?

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By GregTitus
March 4, 2003

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I keep wondering what MS will do with Virtual PC now that they own it. It occurs to me that the thing that they could do that would on the surface appear to improve it, but would actually make it worse, would be to eliminate the hardware emulation layer and make it so the XP code (they would leave Win 95/98/etc behind) is directly interpreted to Mac OSX. This would probably improve speed and responsiveness for many situations. However, it would mean that instead of simply putting a new Windows OS onto the existing virtual hardware you would have to get a revision of the entire Virtual PC, which would necessarily lag the development of Windows.

Yep, I think you've put your finger on exactly what is going to happen. And it's no bad thing, in my opinion. (Which is why I haven't really worried about the acquisition much.)

The advantages:
1) Better 'seamless' running of Windows apps. (Much like Apple has achieved with Classic.)
2) Faster emulation. (Because instead of emulating the whole Windows OS and converting all its instructions from x86 to ppc as it goes, they'll be able to just emulate the actual app, and all "OS" code will be native ppc.)

The disadvantages:
1) Every time MS comes out with a new version of Windows, there will be a somewhat later new version of Virtual PC. You'll be required to buy the upgrade of Virtual PC in order to run the new Windows.
2) It is very likely that Virtual PC will no longer support running other OSes, like Linux.

But are either of those things really a major issue for the vast majority of users that just need to run one or two Windows apps? I don't think so.

Microsoft is in the perfect position to do what Apple is terribly placed to do: emulate Windows at a higher level. The major difference is that Microsoft has the Windows code to work from, and that Microsoft will use making VPC better to try to make OS X irrelevant (by convincing software developers that their Windows version will run just fine).

This is Microsoft's attempt to make Apple just a commodity hardware vendor on the hybrid Sony/Transmeta model I wrote about earlier. (Actually it is all a side-effect of MS wanting the VPC for Windows technology - but I think MS sees the Mac side as a nice bonus.)

So from my point of view, this VPC move is Microsoft aiming at doing exactly what some of the posters here want Apple to do. :-) Microsoft is going to blur the line between Mac and Windows as much as they can. This is potentially much more effective than raising the wall between Macs and Windows by cancelling VPC altogether. After all, a higher wall keeps the Mac users in as well as the Windows users out.

So why don't I think this is a bad thing? Simply because (a) I don't trust that Microsoft will do it very well, and (b) it puts control in the hands of Apple instead of Microsoft. Apple can expose as much or as little access to OS X internals as they desire, and can thus keep Windows applications running on the Mac from being truly seamless. (Although this would be dangerous. It's essentially the same scenario as Microsoft creating gratuitous Java incompatibilities in order to keep their OS from becoming irrelevant.)

-- Greg

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