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How Microsoft's Acquisition of Connectix Might Affect Mac Users

(March 2003) posted on Tue Mar 25, 2003

Makers of Virtual PC software join Microsoft's Mac business unit


By Jake Widman

I've always liked to say that my computer is 3 machines in one. It's an iMac, but beneath its Bondi blue exterior also beat the hearts of a Windows PC and a Sony Playstation. The latter two transplants come courtesy of Connectix, makers of Virtual PC (VPC)--a machine emulator that lets me run Windows on my Mac--and Virtual Game Station (VGS), which lets me play Playstation games.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but Sony wasn't pleased when the VGS debuted and filed suit in early 1999, alleging that it infringed their copyrights and intellectual property. I bought my copy at the January 1999 Macworld Expo in San Francisco, thinking that I should get it while the getting was good; and, in fact, an injunction eventually halted sales.

But by March 2001, the two companies had settled and agreed to work together on emulation products. Sony acquired the Connectix assets having to do with VGS, and all future development was to take place under the joint agreement. So far, there hasn't been any sign of such development--you can't buy VGS from Connectix any more, and I sure haven't heard of a Sony version. At the same time, since you can now buy a PS One system for fifty bucks, there can't be much of a market for a software emulator.

Meanwhile, Microsoft never had a problem with Virtual PC, probably because every copy had a licensed version of Windows. That's why I called it a machine emulator rather than a Windows emulator: it makes your Mac able to run Windows, it didn't emulate Windows so your Mac can run PC software. As someone who's occasionally had to work with PC programs, I found it an invaluable addition to my Mac, and it's one of the niftiest tools around for working in a cross-platform environment.

But now Microsoft has bought Connectix, or at least the part of it that makes Virtual PC. Lots of Connectix employees are going to work at Microsoft, and Virtual PC supposedly will continue to be developed and supported by Redmond's Macintosh Business Unit. (Virtual PC for the Mac, that is--there's also a Virtual PC for Windows and will be a Virtual Server, which enable the division of one piece of hardware into multiple virtual machines.) The big question is, what are Microsoft's real plans for the Mac product? There are three scenarios being bandied about on Internet discussion boards.

First, Microsoft kills the product. This is based on the idea that every Mac sold is a threat to Microsoft's plan for world domination, and whatever makes a Mac less attractive is in Microsoft's best interest.

This argument overlooks the fact that Microsoft doesn't make hardware; every copy of Virtual PC sold represents another licensed copy of Windows, and Microsoft will probably find it easier to sell Virtual PC to Mac owners than convince them to switch. Virtual PC can also open up new markets for other Microsoft software, such as Visio and Front Page, for which there are no Mac versions available.

But that brings up another idea: if Virtual PC can enable Mac users to use Windows-only software, couldn't Microsoft simply support Virtual PC and stop making the Mac version of Office? "If you need to run Word, just run the Windows version under VPC." Apple has been working to reduce the Mac's reliance on Microsoft software, what with Appleworks' compatibility with Word and the new Keynote presentation software and Safari browser. Has Microsoft decided to take its Mac toys and go home?

If I had to bet, I'd bet that Virtual PC will continue to be supported--that it represents a net gain in sales for Microsoft. I suspect Office Mac will stick around, too, since its demise would be more likely to spur the development of native Mac alternatives (Corel WordPerfect for OS X, anyone?) than persuade Mac owners to buy the Windows version instead.


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