VMware hacks at thinning wall between Macs, PCs. And between Macs.

VMware Fusion 4.1 lets users run latest versions of MacOS, Windows, on same hardware

This is why virtualization counts for normal people.

On Thursday, VMware released an update to VMware Fusion, a $50 virtualization product that runs on MacOS desktops to run Windows and some Mac OS versions within virtual machines.

The update, VMware Fusion 4.1 makes it easier to run the Leopard and Snow Leopard versions of Mac OS X in virtual machines as well as older versions.

The previous version, 4.0, could run more than 200 operating systems, according to VMware, but included native support for Mac OSX only through OSX Lion.

Being able to run virtual versions of MacOSX desktops on any machine eliminates, for the first time in a directly accessible way, the difference between being a Mac user and being a PC user. Also the difference between a Mac OSX Leopard user and one running Snow Leopard.

It won't cause anyone to switch; it won't reduce the religious war that has devolved into more of a meme than a feud. It won't eliminate the comparatively few remaining compatibility problems between Mac software, file formats and access methods and those of the rest of the world.

It's not even a revolutionary improvement in Mac/PC interaction. VMware's desktop virtualization product VMware View shipped a MacOS client version with offline support in 2010 – meaning it was possible to install both Windows and MacOS virtual machines on the same PC and allow both to store data on the local hard drive so both were usable whether the user was connected to back-end virtualization servers or not.

VMware Fusion was actually designed to do the opposite – allow Windows software to run on Mac hardware.

In that way it's actually an improvement for integration of several versions of MacOS, not as a way to integrate Windows more effectively.

But it gives departments and users that depend on Macs in a Windows world more choice of Mac operating systems and more flexibility in the hardware and applications they choose as well.

It is designed to run more than one OS at a time on one Mac, or switch from one version of Mac OS to another – or Mac OS to Windows and back -- without rebooting.

It will make standardization simpler for departments that run MacOS as their main platform but still need to run Windows apps – sometimes resorting to giving Mac users a separate machine on which to run Windows.

It will also make it easier to run Macs across virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) networks, in which each user's "desktop" is actually a virtual machine devoted only to them, running on a data center server that supplies better security, storage and – in best-case situations – more power and speed than aging desktop hardware.

Being able to virtualize Leopard and Snow Leopard on existing Macs won't start an avalanche in desktop virtualization even among Mac users.

It will push the concept of virtual desktops to the front of discussions about using the MacOS in big companies, where Mac users in the past have often had to defend their choice of operating system and the additional cost of supporting them.

Those discussions, and the insistence from end users that they be allowed to use the tools they want to do their jobs, turned corporate computing on its head after the iPhone came out, then the iPad.

Fusion's support for the most recent Mac OSes won't have anywhere near that kind of impact, or generate the kind of change demand for those two products did.

It will make the arguments a little easier for Mac users defending their OS choice against efforts to cut costs and standardize.

From the point of view of end users, at least, it will also take one more big step toward the point that the user's choice of operating system is irrelevant because all the apps, hardware and networks will work anyway, albeit all at differing levels of virtualization or cloudification.

Eventually, it's possible end users won't have any idea – or need to know – what operating system they use at all. Mac vs. PC will become a choice of what skin a user prefers, not a religious war.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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