Will Apple Do the Unthinkable with Mac OS X Server?

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“When you are through changing, you are through.”

—Bruce Barton

From time to time, someone suggests that Apple license Mac OS X (client) to PC makers for mass market customers. The idea is that Mac OS is so superior to Windows that customers would migrate to it droves. Regrettably, that would, of course, undermine the growing market for Macs, and as those SAI sand charts punctuate, Apple is a hardware company. However, licensing Mac OS X Server on non-Apple hardware in the enterprise makes sense now, and only now, and here’s why.


Licensing Mac OS X Server in a data center, behind closed doors, on industry standard servers is not a bad idea. It’s not accessible to regular employees who might pirate the OS. Moreover, a sufficiently rigorous licensing should be achievable on an enterprise basis. This would be almost identical to what Steve Jobs did at NeXT when he axed his hardware that wasn’t selling well and focused on NeXTStep as a software platform.

Apple would make some money from licensing, maybe do a better job of wiggling its way into some data centers, and it certainly would give Apple an extra degree of freedom related to the hardware in its own data centers. Outside Apple, in the competitive market, the Mac OS X Server licensing fees are stupendously good and undermine the competition’s OS on the same hardware. I suspect that a company that embraced this Mac OS X Server on modern server hardware would be one of the smaller ones, trying to go toe-to-toe with the big guys who have a vested interest in keeping their customers tied to expensive, legacy products. The upshot is that now that Apple has decided to kill its own Xserve, new thinking is possible. (It may have been the other way around.)

Motivation and Wild Guesses

Last Friday, Alex Grossman, an ex-Apple server executive and now the CEO of ActiveStorage, published a letter that lamented the demise of the Xserve, his baby at Apple, but also alluded to some exciting prospects for the future. Recall that when Mr. Grossman and a few of his team members at Apple left to form ActiveStorage, they developed a next generation RAID 5 system, based on the Xserve/RAID. That RAID product was cancelled by Apple in 2008, and under ActiveStorage, it morphed into the ActiveRAID. RAID 5 devices like that don’t run a conventional OS as we’ve come to know it, so there was no public fuss about licensing.

If, for the sake of a wild guess, ActiveStorage could, in a similar fashion, sell a next generation server, derived from Xserve, and marry it with their own ActiveRAID, it could become a perfect solution for, say, video professionals and broadcasters, a market in which they are well known. Lots of other customers, of course, would be interested. But this is just a wild guess. I have no special information.

More to the point, it would require a formal change to the licensing terms to run Mac OS X Server on non-Apple hardware. Such a change could lead to an arrangement between Apple and possibly several different manufacturers of modern, high performance servers, such as blade servers. Or something even more exciting down the road.

Legalities of Licensing

An attorney who follows Apple wrote me: “The legal support is also falling into place. In a recent decision, Vernor v. Autodesk, the U.S. 9th Cir. Ct. of Appeals held that licensing agreements that satisfy the provisions found in most modern software licenses are indeed licenses, not sales, and that the restrictions in those license on use, copying, modification, and distribution of the licensed software are valid and enforceable licenses that can’t be overturned by the First Sale and Essential Step defenses. That holding would give me enough confidence to advise Steve Jobs that my senior associates could, once he gives the order, draft an impregnable license that will restrict OS X Server to use only as a server and only on the hardware specified in the license. However, to be sure, Apple may wait for the 9th Cir.’s pending decision in Apple Inc. v. Psystar Corp. which now appear to be delayed will into the first quarter of next year…”

Industry Trends

Another force in the industry is the movement, by some, to cloud-based services that supplant expensive home grown data centers. It doesn’t matter what hardware these services use, so long as the services, reliability, and SLAs (Service Level Agreements) are satisfactory to the customer. Internet standards allow that kind of thinking. That, in effect, takes some of the steam out of Apple’s Xserve, a product known for ease of use by an in-house team.

Advancing Technology

Another thing to consider is that when the Xserve was first launched in 2002, technology was far behind what we have today. It weighs 30 pounds and uses components that are large by today’s standards. A rack of 9 Xserves to create a small cluster will heat up a good sized room. Today, one could conceivably take the guts of 64 iPhones, running at 1 GHz, set up a suitable backplane, and have a massively parallel supercomputer in something the size of a shoebox. Of course, I’m overlooking oodles of engineering details, but my point is that modern low power technologies and NAND flash designed for mobility in 2010 could be pressed into service in novel ways for high performance computing and the enterprise. In essence the volume and mass to computational power ratio of an Xserve doesn’t match modern standards in 2010. That could explain the popularity of the Mac mini running Mac OS X Server.

Competing with Software

The net effect of all this is that it was both time to kill the Xserve hardware, because sales were declining, and start to look into the more advanced technologies of the future — perhaps along with some partners. The marketplace will make its decision on Mac OS X Server vs. other server OSes based on ease of use, services, and fees. After all, that’s why Linux is so popular in the data center. Of course, if you want serious enterprise support, you’re still going to have to pay Red Hat for that, so Mac OS X Server ought to be able to compete. Apple has partnered with Unisys for that kind of support.

Let’s Do it

Given all of the above, I think licensing Mac OS X Server on non-Apple hardware makes good sense.

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Hi John,

interesting piece of thought; but centered about some (of course important) aspects: law and business strategies.

I would see another side in the matter. Say you are a developer working on the-next-iOS-killer-app. In some way it’s a network app.

You code the client in Objective-C (makes sense and it’s fun). Still you are left with some server side code to write and to run.
The problem of calculating how much hardware you need to ‘invest into’ before launching the app is non trivial. It will never end up in buying hundreds of XServers -or serverized Mac Minis- upfront.

(Say you are ‘SkyFire’, but you can not know for sure before you see it happening).

Today the logical thing would be to lease the amount of horse power you need (in the cloud) only as you need it.BTW: you hope to need to be able to scale quickly! (SkyFire case, again)

Well, today you can not do this in Objective-C (reusing parts of the code you are writing anyways on the client), because you can not scale up MacOS X Server, in a cloud based way.

And only Apple can fix this.. Your proposed fix would directly support iOS device sales…

BTW: Have a look at Bombax.


Licensing Mac OS X Server in a data center, behind closed doors, on industry standard servers is not a bad idea. It?s not accessible to regular employees who might pirate the OS.

If there is demand, it will be pirated. Aren’t workers in data centers “regular employees”? I wouldn’t be surprised if IT workers are some of the most active pirates of software.

Outside Apple, in the competitive market, the Mac OS X Server licensing fees are stupendously good and undermine the competition?s OS on the same hardware.

But aren’t those low licensing fees due in large part to Apple hardware being necessary to run OS X Server? Might Apple have to raise licensing fees to profit?


But aren?t those low licensing fees due in large part to Apple hardware being necessary to run OS X Server? Might Apple have to raise licensing fees to profit?

  OSXS adds applications to OSX client (simplified explanation) so the cost of providing OSXS is not as much as it could be if it were a totally different OS. I don’t think Apple needs to raise the price of OSXS to cover its development, I just hope they continue to develop it.

You comment about using the mini server conflicts with Apple’s own transition guide. It says a mini provides about 25% of the power of an Xserve. Sure, if your server isn’t doing much, it doesn’t need to be very powerful; except of course when you really need it.

You’re stretching the concept of taking some iPhone guts and creating a parallel supercomputer in the size of a shoebox to the extreme. A supercomputer isn’t measured in single digit GFlops anymore, it’s measured in a minimum of 100GFlops up to single digit PFlops. A shoebox won’t hold enough cards to do that. I understand and agree with the concept but I’d rather start with something a little more powerful than a 1GHz A4 chip. Getting the software to manage all these cards would be a good trick (could start with Pooch).


Another possibility would be to license Mac Server for specific non-Apple server hardware, with verification to prevent it from running on other non-Apple hardware. Of course it will be hacked and pirated, but that is done with OS X anyway. I don’t think Apple much cares about this, because serious users generally don’t want to deal with the aggravation of an unsupported hacked OS that needs to be re-hacked every time it gets a software upgrade.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Servers have different purposes. If it’s mostly transactional, handling a great number of transactions (e.g. web page deliveries) with the outside world, the limitation will be network bandwidth, and you can get by with low CPU power. If, OTOH, the server is used to offload computation (e.g. rendering farm), there’s no substitute for the high power, fast chips. The landscape here isn’t linear, and the Apple guidance about a Mini providing 25% of the power of an Xserve isn’t terribly helpful.

Seriously, if you can use a $1000 Mini for your server needs, you can usually just as easily use a $300 Acer netbook running Ubuntu and get battery backup, a screen, keyboard, and trackpad for free.

John, I finally see what you read between the lines of Grossman’s post. I’d bet against it. He checked out of the Hotel Cupertino, and that’s going to count way against him in trying to convince Apple to do something that’s not in its DNA. What I read between the lines is that he thinks ActiveStorage can be first mover in making commodity servers Mac-manageable so that they could be drop-in replacements or additions to an Xserv farm. Time will tell.

Gareth Harris

There are other reasons to have a product like Xserve. Unless you want to be a personal gadget only company like Sony or Nokia, you are actually selling a system. Indeed many would argue that the system of iTunes and Appstore is what differentiates products like iPods, iPhones and iPads.  am more likely to buy one product from you if I see you have a complete product line, even if I don’t buy those other products. The complete line represents competence and capability.

Now it appears that Apple is at a breakpoint. Rather than seeing servers as part of a complete product line, Apple prematurely views their system as residing in the Cloud, a not yet existing, not yet functional and not yet distributed network. Risky.

Some of us Apple customers are different from personal consumers and use computing in professional activities requiring more than a stand alone word processor. Among these are media professionals or scientific and technical users such as myself. I often do major systems [factories, warehouses, transportation] which I coordinate using UNIX. UNIX is the reason I buy macs and place them on my clients’ sites.

I don’t always expect to use a sole source approach out in the field, but the closer I can get to it, the less my pain. For example, I unwillingly had some windows machines mixed into a warehouse conveyor system which generated a complete disaster. I remember when HP dropped its users in the water with no migration path. Many won’t buy HP for that reason today.

Bottom line: I view a company without the full spectrum of products from personal items to servers as a one trick pony and I up periscope to look for other vendors. Is Apple sending us away, to HP and Dell, maybe running Linux?

John Martellaro

Brad, I know Alex fairly well.  He actually has a great relationship with the executive team.  If it doesn’t happen, it won’t be because he’s now an outsider.  BTW, he’s one of the coolest, smartest persons I know!


Very interesting article John!

I’d really like to see OS X server get OKed to run on VMWare products, especially their ESXi Hypervisor product.

I’d think that when you made a new VM and chose “OSX Server” as the target OS, VMWare could bury something in the virtual machine config that was equivalent to the “hardware flag” on current Apple hardware.

This would make it non-trivial for people to install OS X server on any X86 hardware, it would allow Apple to have a very stable “virtual hardware” platform to target, and enterprise users (who are the ones who really need xserves) would have their solution to get an OS X server in the datacenter.

I’m very interested to hear any feedback on this idea!



Bear in mind that Mac OS X Server, unlike the client version, does have serial-number activation. So licensing to put it on non-Apple hardware is not quite the stretch it would be for desktop systems.

And dedicated support is extra-cost so already there is a revenue stream to fund help-desk.

I would not be surprised to see Apple license it but the question is - why did they not have this in place already? I think someone dropped the ball.


Another note about hardware - only Xserve and Mac Pro have ECC memory. Although the Mini runs Server, it’s a desktop-class system.

Before you casually dismiss the need for ECC memory, read Google’s paper ( http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~bianca/papers/sigmetrics09.pdf )

My Mac Pro was having memory errors (about one an hour) and OWC replaced the stick.


John:  It is a very persuasive editorial, and I am persuaded.  However, there is no “for now.”  Any company, particular a major player, such as Dell or HP, that licenses OS X Server is going to want at least a perpetual nonexclusive license, which means Apple won’t be able to simply shut down licensing, not without spending a whole lot money, if at all.  But Apple may be content with supplying a successful versions of OS X Server to the server OEMs.

other side

First, an Apple OS will never run on non-Apple hardware under Steve Jobs.  Period. The argument has been so conclusively settled it’s not really worth the bother.

Second, the unthinkable is OS X Server getting “Steved” (i.e. killed), which has significant chance of happening.  Apple’s present & future is the consumer, and Apple has too many OSes the way it is.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

John, I don’t doubt that Alex is a good guy or has good relations with “the executive team”. If they were as good as he needed to get a licensing deal, it would have been announced simultaneously, and he wouldn’t have been surprised by this.

And what “other side” says above. Having been on the receiving end of Steve’s first killing at Apple, this has the same MO and all the fingerprints. The execs can pass down a wonderful and convincing roadmap, but if Steve doesn’t like it, then buh-bye!


The primary problem for Apple is having to support a endless vast array of PC hardware. On this level none of this makes any sense, since it would be too costly, unless PC component makers have to supply all of the drivers. which means OSX would not be plug-n-play.

The second problem is that OSX server is really OSX with server modules added on, which means anyone could use it in place of OSX client, thus opening it up to the whole world of PC hardware. This threatens to under cut Apple hardware. Again making no sense.

the only solution should be the Xserve or other Apple hardware.


Studentx:  You make a good point.  However, a lot would depend on the license.  The license can be written to mandate strict technical requirements for the hardware that would be permitted to run OS X Server.  For example, Apple could dictate, types of permitted CPU, memory architecture, ports, etc., going so far as to mandate a reference design that would be something that Bod Mansfield and Jony Ive and their teams would design and that would a uniform target for OS X Server and developers.  But ,as Apple placed greater restrictions and mandates in the license to ensure uniform and quality server platforms, the license becomes less attractive to third-party OEMs, because it increases their costs and gives them less flexibility in designing hardware to pursue their business strategies.

So a balance must be struck, and Apple would have to take greater care in selecting its licensees.  If Apple were to adopt the course that John advocates here, I suspect that it would use a license that mandates high quality and highly capable server hardware and that limits its licensees to a select group of licensees, and those licensees would implement OS X Server only on their high end servers, which would probably be directed at segments of the market that need or at least want a powerful, intuitive, and elegant brand of Unix—OS X and OS X Server are fully Unix compliant.

Considering the foregoing, I could well imagine Apple working with only a few licensees and, perhaps, just one, such as HP, Dell, or IBM.


Considering the long relationship with Sun (owned now by Oracle), and the announcement today of the Apple-Oracle arrangement for Java, maybe Sun hardware is a viable contender?

Oracle certainly needs something to kick the hardware business into life. It was rumored that they didn’t really want it but Sun wasn’t prepared to split it off (sensible) so they had to buy it. So they might as well make it work.


I’m going to reiterate the point I made earlier. By making an exclusive arrangement to allow OS X Server to be used on VMWare’s virtual machine, the hardware problems go away.

On a virtual machine, the hardware seen by the OS is always the same because it’s virtualized. Dealing with the physical hardware thus becomes VMWare’s problem.

Because VMWare emulates hardware, I believe they could emulate a hardware “flag” in a way that would make using it on normal X86 hardware non-trivial much like setting up a “Hackintosh” today is non-trivial.

The reason I pick VMWare is because they have the most traction in the enterprise. I actually think OS X Server on VMWare would have a good chance of being more popular in Enterprise datacenters than OS X on XServes ever was. This is because corporate IT managers can use existing contracts they have with large vendors like HP, Dell, IBM to implement OS X for their workgroups that demand it.


An exclusive license to VMWare (VM) is a bad idea.  An exclusive license of OS X Server (OS X) to VM would place the success of OS X in the hands of an independent company that has its own priorities and goals, which could easily diverge and do diverge from Apple’s best interests.  In selling OS X, VM would be focused on the success of its virtualization products, and that means vigorously promoting the ability to virtually runs other OSs and quite likely promoting those OS ahead of OS X. 

Also running on OS X on VM’s products means that Apple’s engineering would have to support almost all server hardware in its infinite variety of configurations.  That is vastly expensive undertaking and guarantees a mediocre server product, as OS X couldn’t be tailored and tightly integrated with any particular hardware but would have to be able to run on all server hardware.  Windows Server and Linux suffers from those problems, but Apple doesn’t do mediocre and will not afford the expense of trying to support everyone’s server hardware, an expense, by the way, that would not supported by vast stream of licensing revenue from servers, as is true for Windows Server.

So the idea of an exclusive license to VM fails because:  VM prime concerns and interests would result in VM not placing OS X first and, thus, result in OS X not coming close to maximizing its revenue; imposes the vast costs of having to support all server hardware; and would result in a mediocre server product that lack the easy of use, elegance, intuitive function, and tight integration of hardware and OS that are typical prime virtues of Apple’s products.  Apple, therefore, if it licenses OS X, will not be using any intermediate exclusive licenser but will do the licensing itself so as to control the server hardware that it has to engineer for; to guarantee that the server hardware it top quality; and to promote OS X over any competing OS.

Vpndev:  Sun’s problem is that it has slipped to being such a minor player in the server business.  IBM, HP, and Dell are the lions in the server business, so Apple will want to work with one or more of them, and it is they who can make the best use of OS X Server to enhance their own revenues. 

Still, Sun might be a possibility.  Ellison and Jobs are friends.  If Ellison is ready to make a commitment to building premium server hardware that runs on Intel’s processors, you could see Sun being a licensee.


Hi Nemo - Some thoughts:

First - Your comment about Apple having to support a myriad of hardware platforms is wrong in two ways:

1. The most obvious way that claim is wrong is that VMWares Server products have a limited list of authorized hardware. So VMWare Server, because were talking about servers here, isn’t supported on a lot of hardware.

2. The less obvious way that the claim about Apple having to support a lot of hardware is wrong is this. Operating systems running on VMWare do not see the physical hardware. They don’t know if the processor is an AMD or an Intel made processor. They don’t know who the hard drive controller is made by, or what the graphics chip is. All the hardware is emulated.  So there is no vast cost increase for Apple in needing to support a wide range of hardware platforms. That’s just a false conclusion.

I’d also point out that Apple does allow OS X server to be virtualized today with Parallels Server 4.0 for Mac. So this isn’t 100% new territory for Apple. Yes, they currently don’t allow Parallels to emulate OS X hardware on anything other than Macs. But that is a licensing restriction, not a technical one.

As far as VMWare promoting other operating systems ahead of OS X, I don’t think you understand VMWares business model. VMWares business model is flawlessly supporting a variety of operating systems on high quality enterprise server hardware. They’re about as OS agnostic as a company could be - the moment they start to favor a given operating system is the moment they become irrelevant to their customers.

As far as exclusivity goes - that’s just seems to be the nature of these types of agreements.

As far as a partnership with Sun - other than hardware to run Oracle products, I’d say Sun is a fading player in the enterprise server hardware market. Every time I’ve seen Sun hardware installed in an Enterprise setting it’s because the business was an Oracle shop. That’s why Oracle bought Sun, and why Sun had to sell to Oracle. Sun was dying, but Oracle needed them to survive to support their(Oracle’s) clients.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the VMWare thing is in Apple’s best interests - that’s for Apple to decide. I’m just saying that if Apple wants their server OS to have any traction in the Enterprise, my personal experience working with CTOs and senior IT management in large (Fortune 500) enterprises says that VMWare is the best way for that to happen, better than Xserves ever were from that limited (acceptance of senior IT management)  perspective.


Dear Mr. Dellos:  You answers do not address the problems with an exclusive license to VM that I raised, supra, and, therefore, are not well taken.

That VM’s current business practices limit its products to a limited number of customers does not offer Apple’s the ability to control its engineering costs.  First, VM may get new customers; it is certainly trying to do so.  But some of those customers might be OEMs or platform vendors that Apple does not wish to support.  So Apple would, as I indicated, supra, be obliged to take on the engineering burden of supporting those OEMs and/or vendors, or it would have to draft a license that prohibited VM from licensing OS X with parties that it did not wish to work with.  Apple would not accept having to support parties that it did not wish to support, and VM probably wouldn’t accept a license that left the final decision on who could be a licensee to Apple. So my first points holds:  An exclusive licensee to VM either could imposes costs and/or licensees on Apple that it doesn’t want, or it would restrict VM’s ability to license OS X Server (OS X) in ways that VM won’t accept.

That VM runs OS X in an abstraction layer does nothing to deal with the hardware problem or the inability to tightly integrate hardware with OS X.  If hardware doesn’t have the features or capabilities that OS X wants or needs to run or run well, that VM Ware abstracts OS X from the hardware can do nothing to supply those deficiencies; for example, an abstraction layer can’t supply deficient CPU performance or make up for an inadequate memory architecture.  Thus, VM’s ability to abstract the hardware does nothing ensure that OS X will get the hardware that it requires to run well. 

The other even greater problem is the idea of abstraction itself.  Abstract, by its very nature, precludes the tight integration of OS and its hardware that is a hallmark of Apple’s design and that gives Apple products so much of the capabilities and features that others seek.  There really isn’t OS X as a distinct product; there is OS X integrated with Xserve, and it is that integrated product that makes OS X a unique and uniquely capable server.  Because VM’s function as an abstraction layer precludes that tight integration of hardware and OS, VM, as the exclusive licensee for OS X, guarantees that OS X would be a mediocre server OS.

And you misunderstand virtualization as it currently works for OS X.  Under Apple’s current license, OS X can only be virtualized on Apple’s own hardware, Xserve, and must be the host OS.  That means that OS X doesn’t every run in a virtual environment that is abstracted from Xserve.  Whenever you run OS X on Xserve it has direct access to the hardware.  It is the guest OSs that run in virtualization, not OS X.  So, yes, OS X running in an abstraction layer would be new territory for OS X and Apple.  Now, I think that Apple can get around the worst of the problems by mandating that OEM licensees meet the minimal hardware requirements of an Apple reference design server so that OS X, whether running natively or virtually, gets the minimal hardware that it needs to run well, but it is new territory for Apple. 

And if a customer, OEM, or vendor wants to run OS X virtually on at least compliant hardware, it can do so with third party virtualization software without Apple giving any of those third party virtualizers (e.g., VM or Parallels) a master license, exclusive or nonexclusive, for OS X.  The customer or, perhaps, under certain circumstances, the vendor will get a license that permits it to run OS X in a virtual environment on compliant hardware.  There is no need to give VM any license.  VM will have to, as it does now, convince the customer to buy and use its virtualization software to virtualize OS X instead of a competitor’s virtualization software.  There is no need for Apple to restrict itself, potential customers, OEMs, or vendors to VM’s products.

Thus, your two points don’t hold.  VM’s current limited customers don’t guarantee that Apple would not be forced to support parties and hardware that it doesn’t want to support, because it isn’t sufficiently profitable to do so or for other reasons.  VM’s abstraction layer does nothing to guarantee that OS X will be running on the hardware that it needs to run well and precludes the tight integration of hardware and software that is the source of much Apple’s innovation and of the power and elegance of its products.  And if Apple decides to move into this new territory of licensing OS X, offering an exclusive license to VM to sell OS X only harms Apple and potential partners and customers, as I’ve explained here and supra.

So, for the foregoing reasons, here and supra, licensing to VM is a bad idea for Apple.


Hello again Nemo.

First, I never was selling this as a good policy decision for Apple. I said that I felt it was a good way for Apple to gain traction in the enterprise market and made it clear that that was my opinion based on anecdotal evidence. I don’t posses the level of ego to think I know what’s in Apple’s best business interests. Do you?

As far as what your saying about how VMs work, it’s still wrong and making lengthier comments about it won’t change that. It’s wrong in a “the world is flat way”. If you don’t want to acknowledge that that’s certainly your choice. Do some research and link some real evidence that an operating system on a virtual host actually touches the hardware in a way that bypasses the VM and I’ll concede your point.

You do make a good point about the fact that people could run OS X server on insufficient hardware. But how is that different than today? I could run Snow Leopard server on a Mini and try to support a 1,000 member Open Directory domain and I would fail miserably.

Ultimately, none of this matters though. I’m not here to win a Pyrrhic victory. Apple is not going to change it’s enterprise policy based on who trumps who in a TMO comments thread, regardless of how awesome a site TMO is.

I was simply making a point that my experience working with enterprise IT folks, that I feel as though they’d be most comfortable with OS X in their environments if it was available on VMWare. That’s my whole point and I stand by it.


I think that you’re both right, depending upon the version of VMware.

VMware makes one version that is similar to Fusion (or VMware Workstation) and another one that’s very thin. The former requires a host OS (Mac OS X, Windows, Linux) while the latter does not. Formed emulates all the hardware, the latter does not (or perhaps very little - I’m not certain).

So have a beer together - you’re both right !


Dear Anthony:  If Apple decides to license OS X Server, I am sure that any customer that wants to will be able to use VM’s products or any other virtualization product that it wants to use.  I don’t think that Apple will license OS X Server to third party OEMs but prohibit the ultimate customer from running OS X in a virtualized environment.  But similarly, it doesn’t makes sense for Apple to dictate to customers that they must go through VM and/or use VM’s products to get a license for OS X Server.  My point is simply that it isn’t in Apple’s interest to confer the power and privilege of an exclusive license on VM, and you don’t need have any special or occult knowledge to see that.  Common sense and acknowledgment of common business realities will do.


Dear Anthony:  Someone was kind enough to look this up for me.

Mac OS X (client) virtual machines?
No, Apple licensing prohibits running Mac OS X client in a virtual machine and VMware Fusion 2 cannot support Mac OS X clients at this time. Contact Apple if you would like to see Mac OS X client officially supported in a virtual machine.



Nemo - I don’t see that Anthony was suggesting Mac OS X client running in a VM environment. Maybe I missed it.

But Mac OS X Server is allowed to run in the Parallels virtual environment. As I recall, it must be hosted on Mac OS X Server and you need a license for each copy you run.

It’s not a stretch to imagine Mac OS X Server licensed for use in a hosted virtual environment using VMware or Parallels, but on a different OS and underlying hardware. It might not happen, but Apple has at least put its foot in the water about virtualization of Mac OS X Server.


Apple licensing prohibits running Mac OS X client

Unless I am not reading this correctly, the quoted language, supra, means that Apple does not permit instances of OS X Server to run in a virtual environment.  In other words, OS X Server may not run in a virtual in environment on Xserve, and Xserve is the only place that OS X Server can legally run.

So no:  OS X Server may not, under Apple’s licensing, run under a different OS in a virtual environment.  And no, Apple has never allowed OS X Server to run in a virtual environment under another OS. 

The last time that Jobs permitted an OS to run on other hardware was when he was CEO of Next, and the OS was, I believe, NextStep, or it might have been OpenStep, though virtualization was not an issue.



You are right that there are three basic categories of VMWare product. They are desktop (VMWare workstation on Windows or VMWare fusion on Mac), VMWare Server (which runs on top of a host OS like Windows Server or Linux) and VMWare ESX which is a bare-metal hypervisor (no underlying OS).

With any of these products though, the hardware that the guest OS sees is completely virtual. That’s why you can build a VM on a local machine, then move the VM to either server product (VMWare Server or VMWare ESX/ESXi). And why when you move the VM you don’t have to install any new drivers or deal with other hardware related issues. The underlying hardware is simply invisible to the OS running on the VM. This is why Nemo’s concern about hardware testing/compatibility was misplaced.

Oh, and I’m definitely a fan of beer. smile



Page 48 for a list of supported operating systems, including Snow Leopard Server.  Note, that you can only run Pararllels Server For Mac on Apple hardware, but that is an artificial constraint placed on Parallels by Apple, not a technological constraint.

I do agree with you that it’s likely not in Apple’s best interest to allow VMWare (or Parallels) to host OS X Server. Beyond that in general it’s not in Apple’s best interest to work with the enterprise at all. But if Apple wanted to make inroads, my personal experiences with enterprise IT depts. informs my belief that they’d be most friendly to OS X server delivered in a VM form.

The place where I do see a potential need for an Apple enterprise solution is for large scale roll-outs of iPads/iPhones but a solution for that doesn’t require an Apple provided hardware/software solution. It could probably be a native Windows app or a cloud based service.


I’ve never said that it was technically impossible to run OS X Server in a virtual machine under another OS.  What I said was that Apple does not permit that, which is clear from the language that I quoted, supra.  So you many not, without infringing on Apple’s IP rights, run a an instance of OS X Server in a virtual machine in Fusion, Parallels, or in any other environment Period.

You wrong in saying that it is not in Apple’s best interests to work with the enterprise.  Apple is, in fact, doing so quite successfully with its iOS devices, and its client computers running OS X are seeing a resurgence in the enterprise. 

However, the issue is whether Apple should license OS X Server to run on third party server hardware.  On that issue, I concur with Mr. Martellaro’s arguments here, and I think that Apple can draft an effective license that would permit OS X Server to run on third party server hardware and generate good profits for licensees and Apple, while restricting OS X Serve to being used as a server and restricting it to hardware that met Apple’s specifications.  Whether Mr. Jobs thinks that is in Apple’s best interests, I don’t know.  But I think that it would benefit Apple, if carefully done with a license that restricted the use of OS X Server to use as server; that specified high quality hardware that provided a unified target for Apple’s engineers, customers and for developers of OS X Server apps, and if Apple carefully chooses its licensees, such licensing of OS X Server would, I think, be something that the enterprise would respond well to and that would benefit Apple’s collateral migration into the enterprise with its other products and services.


I find the article persuasive, and I’d love to see Apple move in that direction. One thing Apple could do would be to offer server hardware from another manufacturer, rebranded, with OS X Server included. As somebody who has a Mac server, and who was prior to this announcement considering the purchase of an XServe, I’d love to see Apple do this

But I don’t think that it is going to happen. If Apple had anything of the sort in mind, I don’t think they would have announced the discontinuation of XServe without coupling it with an announcement of plans for implementing OS X Server on other rack-mountable hardware. I think that it is more likely that Apple has simply decided that they no longer need a presence in this arena, probably expecting that this is going to bed a narrowing niche between cloud storage solutions and low-end server solutions like the Mini server.


And I think that we’d both be happy to see Apple sincerely try licensing OS X Server and to see OS X Server running on solutions from the likes of HP, IBM, and Dell, as a successful licensed server OS.

Have a great weekend Anthony and vpndev.


trrll:  Dont’ let that Apple did not immediately announce licensing of OS X Serve be proof that it won’t.  Recall that Apple announced the deprecation of Java but is only now announcing that it has joined the Open JDK group to ensure Java’s continued presence in OS X and OS X Server.  I don’t know what Apple will do, but Apple could have any number of reasons, other than the fact it won’t license OS X Server, for not announcing the licensing of OS X Server.  Apple, for example, could still be considering licensing OS X Server; it could be working out a deal with server OEMs; it could be waiting for oral argument and the 9th Cir.‘s decision in Apple Inc. v. Psystar Corp., and/or there could any number of other reasons for not announcing the licensing of OS X Server now.  So let us hope.  If time proves our hopes false, we can despair later.

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