Microsoft: We Have No Plans To Remove Linux Support From Virtual PC For Mac [Corrected]

[Edit - 3/3/2003: We incorrectly said in our original article that Connectix had signed a bundling deal with RedHat one week before the Microsoft acquisition of Connectixis Virtual product line was announced. While the RedHat deal was announced in mid-February, it was February of 2000, and not this year. We apologize for any confusion we may have created regarding this issue, and have corrected the story below to remove references to the RedHat deal of 2000. - Editor]

After the announced sale of Connectixis Virtual product line to Microsoft (Virtual PC (VPC) for Mac, VPC for Windows, and Virtual Server), there has been no small amount of angst amongst Mac users concerning the fate of VPC for Mac. Questions about whether or not Microsoft would kill the Mac version of Virtual PC, or limit its usefulness by removing support for Linux, have been raised by a large number of TMO readers.

Microsoftis stated opposition to Open Sourced software (OSS) has also figured prominently in the discussion. The company has been campaigning against called OSS for years, going so far as to call it "un-American," bad for business, and a threat to Intellectual Property.

With all that as a backdrop, the concern for Linux support under a Microsoft-branded Virtual PC for the Mac seems well founded. According to a statement given by Microsoft to TMO, however, those concerns are unfounded. Tim McDonough, director of Marketing and Business Development for Microsoftis Macintosh Business Unit, told us point blank that "Microsoft has no current plans to remove Linux support within Virtual PC for Mac." While not a promise of Linux support forever, it is the first indication of Microsoftis plans for this aspect of Virtual PC for the Mac since the acquisition was announced.

What may be more to the point, however, is the nature of the Windows version of VPC. VPC for Windows allows users to run multiple versions of Windows on the same machine. Virtual PC emulates a basic Intel hardware configuration that allows Mac users (or Windows users) to install a working copy of Windows, or any one of some 29 operating systems that run on Intel hardware, on their Mac or PC.

For the Mac, this means being able to run specialized non-Mac software without having to buy a PC. On the PC, this means that users can run multiple versions of Windows on their machine, again, without having to buy another PC.

One of the biggest markets for Connectix on the Windows side has been help and support desks. Using VPC, for Mac or Windows, allows a help desk technician to literally mimic almost any set up a customer may have in order to walk them through their trouble. This includes Linux, and many flavors of Unix, making VPC a valuable tool to these help desk operations.

That makes the ability to support Linux a valuable part of VPCis potential, and the support market is enormous. More importantly, it makes sure that Windows and Microsoft are involved in the process of running Linux, something the company could not do if people were either forgoing Windows, or buying a standalone PC to do so.

The same argument holds true for VPC for Mac in general. That product allows Microsoft to sell a copy of Windows to someone who would otherwise not have a use for Windows. That makes good business sense for Microsoft in a number of ways. When we asked if the company was committed to future development of VPC for Mac, Mr. McDonough simply said: "We will continue to develop the Mac product," though he declined to tell us when customers might see a Microsoft branded version of the software. Also allaying fears in the Mac community, Mr. McDonough says that the Mac Business Unit of Microsoft will have a free hand in developing the Mac version of the product, theoretically removing the product from the political machinations of the rest of Big Redmondis operations.

Considering the different issues involved, Linux is actually very important to VPCis future in both the Windows and the Mac platform, just as VPC for the Mac is itself important to Microsoft. Kurt Schmucker, Vice President of Mac Products at Connectix, told TMO "I think itis a win for everyone." That might sound like little more than corporate fluff-speak, but he may well be right.