Sleeping with the Enemy? - 17 Apr 2006

The past week has been an interesting one for fans of OS interoperability. First, Microsoft attended LinuxWorld in Boston and touted its support for Linux in Virtual Server 2005 R2. Then, Apple Computer tore down the electronic walls, so speak, that were keeping Windows from running on Mac hardware: Apple released a beta version of its Boot Camp software, which lets Intel-based Mac users dual boot between Windows XP and Mac OS X on the same machine. Taken at face value, these developments seem to indicate a new era of detente between Microsoft and its OS rivals. However, the more I've explored these changes, the more I realize that they change nothing, especially for businesses.

Linux Support ... for Whom?
Consider Virtual Server and Linux. Microsoft promotes its virtual machine (VM) technology primarily as a great way to consolidate aging servers, letting enterprises take single-purpose servers--especially those running Windows NT 4.0--offline. So how does Linux fit into this equation? Few Windows shops are going to have legacy applications running on Linux today, so presumably anyone wishing to run Linux within a VM environment on Virtual Server will do so for ... what? Testing purposes? Who are the customers for this product who want to run Linux? The stated purpose of Virtual Server doesn't seem to jibe with this new Linux support.

Don't get me wrong. I think Microsoft is wise to start supporting Linux. But it's unclear to me how doing so will benefit the customers it's targeting with Virtual Server. In the future, we might have server hardware platforms that let you run two or more operating environments side-by-side on the same hardware, without the overhead of an application-level interface such as Virtual Server. At that time, Microsoft's decision to support Linux--assuming it does so in such a case--might actually mean something. I'll be talking with Microsoft's Bill Hilf soon to discuss the company's Linux strategy, so I should have more information soon.

Apple Won't Support Windows
Apple's decision to support dual-booting between Windows and Mac OS X was met by immediate jubilation and horror, depending on the crowd. But again, this announcement doesn't really mean much to enterprise customers. That's because Apple is refusing to support Windows on a Mac. Users can download the Boot Camp software, install it, configure their Mac, and then install XP. But if anything goes wrong with Windows, you're on your own.

In my own tests of Boot Camp, the Apple solution appears to work quite well. But the term "no support" should logically send up all kinds of warning signals to IT. You'd have to be a particular kind of crazy to send your employees out the door with unsupported systems, no matter how beautiful that hardware might be. And let's face it, Apple doesn't exactly understand enterprise pricing as it is.

The problem here, of course, is that Apple isn't targeting businesses and likely never will. The company is experiencing a Renaissance thanks to its iPod portable music players and clever marketing. It sells products in shopping malls. It targets teen-agers, women, and college students. And you know what? It's doing quite well, thank you very much. It's just that businesses need not apply.

What It all Means
It's rare to have two significant industry-oriented interoperability events like this occur in one week. It's even rarer, perhaps, for such events to essentially mean nothing to Windows users even though, on the face of things, they seem to affect the Windows world quite a bit. My guess is that corporations will continue to consolidate NT 4.0 servers on Virtual Server and that businesses of all sizes will continue to buy and use PCs not Macs. You know, maybe nothing happened last week at all.

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