Apple’s Virtualization Master Plan

Reader Mista Carruth threw in some good trash after I took out the garbage on Parallels’ fantastic new beta of their Macintosh VM. Apple continues to deny that they’ll introduce a virtualization scheme at the OS level. Of course, that means nothing. No doubt Apple has a master plan, and perhaps this is it.

With apologies to Evergrey, and a tip of the hat to their fantastic music, here is my take on “The Masterplan”.

My quest for answers
The truth of what lies behind
The search is over
And I’m in shock of what I’ve found
We are all a part of
Forced to live within
A conspiracy for ages
The masterplan

Apple’s introduction of Mac OS X for Intel revealed Rosetta, a method for transparently emulating the PowerPC architecture (unlike the old Classic environment which was far from transparent). Germane (and I don’t mean Jackson) to this article is that Rosetta is not an Apple product; It’s a 3rd party bridge that suits Apple’s current transition plans. Apple’s full-body hug with Parallels may be the same sort of “bridging”.

But back to the question at hand. Will Apple embed a virtualization scheme within Mac OS X, either of their own design or by purchasing a company like Parallels?

I had a talk with Phil Schiller at the opening of the 5th Avenue Apple Store, and I asked him the question, â??will Apple include a virtualization solution in [the next version of Mac OS X] Leopard.â?? He said â??absolutely not, the R&D would be prohibitive and weâ??re not going to do it. Our solution is dual boot.â?? â?? Needham and Company analyst Charles Wolf in MacWorld

Remember, in the early days of Rhapsody development (after their acquisition of NeXT), Apple discussed Red Box, Blue Box and Yellow Box application environments, all within the OS. Yellow Box was the new “native” environment for true Rhapsody apps. Blue Box was the environment in which older existing Mac apps would run, and Red Box was the environment where Windows apps would run. Rhapody morphed into the Mac OS X by fusing Yellow Box and Blue Box (via Carbon API), maintaining Yellow Box (via Cocoa API), and maintaining Blue Box (via Toolbox API). The one component missing? Red Box.

Red Box had substantial development cycles applied to it at Apple, only to disappear from the radar for quite some time. This submersion of technology is a long-held Apple tradition. Rumored to exist in 2002, another technology fundamental to Apple’s future, called Marklar (the codename for OS X on Intel) disappeared and then didn’t resurface in the popular media until a month before Jobs made the historic Intel announcement. RedBox could still be in Apple skunkworks, with the firstborn of its offspring being BootCamp. Let’s face it, BootCamp is not a very big technical achievement; dual booting x86 systems (between NT, XP, Linux, Solaris and FreeBSD) has been around for years.

The real promise of RedBox was the ability to run Microsoft APIs (such as DirectX) directly within OS X, without requiring the overhead of the full Windows installation, thereby providing Mac OS X users the ability to launch and run any application, including games, without regard to the OS, at full native-system performance levels.

This is fundamentally different than either BootCamp or Parallels (even in their new “Coherence” model, which essentially makes Windows appear to be better integrated into Mac OS X).

And yet, this technology quietly slipped under the waves. We shouldn’t discount the reality that Red Box running on Intel is far and away easier to accomplish now that Apple is off the PowerPC platform. My money is on RedBox as Apple’s master plan; think about it for a minute…

What better way to gain on your competition than to undermine them at the root of their strength? We’re all focusing on virtual machines, third party software, and dual boot. Perhaps all that’s a red herring (in grand Apple style). Maybe Apple is focusing on literally building a replacement for Windows, not just an alternative.

It’s a trivial thing for Apple, once capable of running all software from within the Mac OS interface, to offer Mac OS as a replacement for Windows.

2 thoughts on “Apple’s Virtualization Master Plan

  1. Interesting, to say the least. I have never been all that familiar with the early days of Apple, so hearing about the NeXT solution and the various “boxes” proved to be an enlightening read. As for replacing Windows…isn’t that what OS X is? Cannibalism isn’t the best vehicle for expanding market share. But you are right when you say, “Itâ??s a trivial thing for Apple, once capable of running all software from within the Mac OS interface, to offer Mac OS as a replacement for Windows.” Either way, I suppose this isn’t quite the death knell for Parallels…but, I do think that the company will have a very limited second-life if Apple integrates virtualization.

  2. Pingback: Application Agnosticism - - The weblog of an IT pro specializing in virtualization, storage, and servers

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