Why Microsoft bought Virtual PC

Mac users are a teensy bit concerned about Microsoft acquiring the most interesting assets of one of the last great Mac companies, Connectix. Among other products, Connectix makes Virtual PC — the only thing between many Mac users and a shiny new Wintel box.

Execs from Microsoft’s Macintosh Business unit are being very careful to reassure Mac users that Virtual PC has a future. But Microsoft didn’t buy the Virtual PC line for the Mac product — they bought it for Virtual Server, which will presumably be productized as a feature of some future version of Windows Server.

Virtual Server allows one copy of Windows Server to host many virtual servers. These virtual servers each get their own operating system, including legacy operating systems like Windows NT (30 percent of Windows server customers are still using the 6-year-old OS) and — from Microsoft’s point-of-view — Linux. The important thing about all of this is that Virtual Server allows customers to migrate to the forthcoming Windows XP Server, since Virtual Server essentially makes OS compatibility a non-issue.

This is not good news for VMWare, a business that’s built on what will now be a Windows Server feature. It’s likely that once Microsoft has incorporated Virtual Server, VMWare’s audience will be limited to people who want to run Windows Server on Linux.

As for Apple, Business Week believe that this purchase may push them to productize the open-source Bochs x86 emulator. However, this makes zero sense — an x86 emulator without Windows is pointless, and so Apple would have to sell Windows with each copy of Mac OS X to make this useful.

Instead, Apple should immediately work on .NET compatbility through the open-source Mono project. This would allow the next generation of Windows applications natively on Mac OS without requiring Apple to license a copy of Windows for every machine they sell

Speaking of .NET, this is clearly the future of Virtual PC for Mac OS X. Microsoft already has a Common Language Infrastructure runtime — the standards-based subset of the full .NET runtime — available for Mac OS X, and Virtual PC is the obvious conduit for a commercial version of this. Virtual PC .NET would allow Mac users to run .NET applications at native speeds on Mac OS X.