If you find a virtualization fork in the road...

Almost a year after Apple decided to switch to Intel processors the rationale for such a move still remains a guessing game for most. Then, in January 2006, the hacker community is challenged to build a solution to natively boot Windows XP on the Intel Mac. Two months later, the challenge is met and after one more month, in April 2006, Apple itself launches Boot Camp Public Beta, a technology that lets one install and run the Windows XP operating system on an Intel Mac.

Without speculating about the level of involvement Apple might have had in lining up the events in the above sequence, I think, Apple faces some uncommonly strategic options around the notion of virtualization. In essence, Apple opens its outstanding hardware platform to the equally impressive universe of Windows-supported applications. This way, Apple exchanges some of its nobility for the democracy of Windows applications. Indeed, didn't you also think, when seeing the latest Mac Mini, "For this price I'd get a couple except that I don't know what to do about applications."?

Let's quickly chart some alternatives in terms of players, costs, risks, and benefits:

At these early stages, Microsoft still holds some cards, so Apple is tentative and mindful--both in its PR and the requirement to have "a bona fide installation disc for Microsoft Windows XP, Service Pack 2, Home or Professional." Lest we forget Microsoft's own Virtual Server 2005 R2. On the other hand, AMD and the traditional IBM-compatible PC makers will have to start thinking beyond the parallelopiped.

At this time, keeping the cost of hardware the same, I would expect the performance of running XP on MAC to be lower than that of XP on a PC. However, two mitigating factors will have to be considered: (a) Within certain limits, cool-factors overshadow performance/cost factors; (b) Due to multi-core processors, non-enterprise users have now the chance to enjoy the best out of virtualization, without low performance/cost factors--Intel is placing a momentous bet on its releasing a new multi core architecture that increases the performance, while decreasing power consumption, of its processors in the 2nd half of 2006.

Among the risks we have: Problems at Intel continue; Microsoft Vista comes on time with an overwhelmingly positive user experience; Users begin to pay more for hardware; Microsoft problems may erode Apple's image.

Among the benefits: Users will do whatever they do in style; Apple and non-Apple ISV's can begin a relationship, even if indirect in the beginning; personal computing starts being interesting.

So, as Yogi Berra put it: " When you come to a fork in the road....Take it "