Windows on a Mac: More Expensive Than You Thought

Stephen Wildstrom

Microsoft has thrown a nasty curve ball to folks who want to run Windows Vista on their Macs using Parallels Desktop virtual machine software, at least if they care about complying with license requirements. As described by Parallels' Ben Rudolph, the Vista end user license agreement prohibits the use of Vista Home Basic and Vista Home Premium "within a virtual (or otherwise emulated) hardware system.”

This means that instead of the Home versions, priced at $199 and $239 ($99 or $199 if upgrading over a copy of Windows XP), you have to plunk down an extra $100 for Vista Business to run it legally on a Mac or in any other virtual machine setup. Microsoft does not actually impose any technical restrictions that would prevent the Home versions from running in Parallels; it is purely a legal issue.

According to Microsoft, this is all being done with the consumers' interests at heart. A major reason, according to a spokesman, is security: "There is concern that virtualization could result in malware being installed on end users’ machines, and in a home environment that could be a challenging problem to fix."

Mac owners with Parallels aren't the only folks interested in running Windows in virtual machines. I now do almost all of my testing of new software and Web services in Parallels Workstation for Windows of VMware Workstation virtual machines. This lets me try things with impunity. If a bad piece of software makes a mess of a virtual machine or I acquire something nasty prowling the darker corners of the Web, I can blow away the bad virtual machine and clone a new one in minutes.

Software developers are also heavy virtual machine users since this allows them to test multiple software environments on a single hardware setup. Microsoft has made an exception for them. The various flavors of Vista delivered through the Microsoft Developers Network do not carry the virtualization license restrictions.

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