Virtualization no silver bullet for Macs or mobile

As employees bring non-Windows devices into the business, vendors tell IT to impose Windows via virtualization -- and miss the point

In 2006, Apple's Intel-based Macs opened the door to running Windows via desktop virtualization; suddenly users could have their personal Macs and business PCs in one box. It's a big reason, I believe, that Mac market share has continued to grow faster than overall PC market share for the last five years. The shift to Intel and the accompanying ability to run Windows gave people the security blanket they needed to make the switch.

A couple years ago, remembering that history, virtualization vendors were talking about doing the same for mobile devices, hoping for a "have your cake and eat it too" scenario. The mobile platform vendors showed little interest, so the concept faded except for the notion of running Windows apps on an iPad using a Citrix Receiver, VMware vSphere Client, or similar virtual desktop client. But now it's back, as the triumph of BYOD has given vendors a new selling point: "Don't worry about those locked-down OSes and the effort it takes to go native on them. Just convert them into Windows PCs through virtualization, at least for your corporate data and services."

In this view, virtualization is IT's silver bullet to render impotent the consumerization-of-IT trend, or at least to keep the bulk of it outside the corporate firewall.

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EMC VMware, Citrix Systems, and Wyse are all making noises again about virtualization on mobile to run Windows on iOS and Android devices. MokaFive is also aggressively selling its managed virtualization product, mainly for running Windows on Macs. They don't mean user-oriented virtualization, such as the user-managed Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion desktop virtualization apps for Mac OS X, the OnLive Desktop cloud service for iPads that lets you run a Windows Office cloud instance on an iPad, or the large variety of remote desktop apps and virtual network computer (VNC) apps for the iPad and Android for running Windows or Mac OS X desktops on a tablet.

What the vendors are now pushing is not the use of virtualization to supplement mobile devices and Macs with support for legacy Windows apps that are otherwise unusable on the bring-your-own and choose-your-own platform favorites. Instead, they're promoting the notion that IT can push aside that native OS and make those alien devices into panes of glass into their Windows monocultures. In that case, just make the Mac user install a Boot Camp partition for Windows and boot into it; you then have a Windows PC you can manage like all your others.

Virtualization as the enforcer of the Windows monoculture
Like most areas of contention within consumerization, the issue isn't a simple one -- it's not a matter of whether virtualization is good or bad. The real question is whether IT is looking for a silver-bullet approach to essentially neutralize the point of the consumerization phenomenon, which is to let users use the tools they find most comfortable and effective for them. That's not what the vendors and receptive IT managers are discussing.

The notion trying to gain currency encourages bypassing iOS, Android, Mac OS X, and Linux on a user's device and forcing them into a Windows-only environment for all corporate use. A common selling point is disallowing all connection between the personal (non-Windows) and business (Windows) contexts, not on extending Windows with native capabilities or vice versa.

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