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Windows on a Mac: More Expensive Than You Thought

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on February 13, 2007

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.

Reader Comments

Louis Wheeler

February 13, 2007 6:12 PM

Is there much motive for a Macintosh user to upgrade to Vista from Windows XP? If you want the extra security that Vista provide, stay in Mac OSX or run in Parallels where Mac OSX can run interference for XP. Do you want the pretty GUI? Then, stay with Mac OSX. Vista will be troublesome for at least six months. IT personnel say they won't be converting over for several years. Will some of the newer applications break under XP? Yes, but there will be work arounds. I don't see much reason for a Mac user to install Vista yet.


February 14, 2007 4:35 AM

I do. Mac's promote playing with your machine. I suspect a lot of Mac users want to play with Vista and see what it can do. A sandbox is a perfect place to do so. I doubt many people using a VM to run XP would switch their production environment to Vista in a hurry but they will load a new OS in a new environment just to have a look.


February 14, 2007 4:26 PM

The one point you miss is that virtualization is not really a large issue for home users where Vista home editions is going to appear. Only geeks and big business care. And both areas are quite good cash cows, so why not make more money? Besides as plenty of sites noted already, the way the licence is worded it is illegal to install at all as all X86 instructions are emulated these days by both AMD and Intel. So no matter what you do you breaking the EULA.

Tom J

February 14, 2007 4:28 PM

Purchase the OEM business version for $149 instead of $299. That's still cheaper than the the full price home version.


February 14, 2007 4:29 PM

I highly doubt anyone who is running in a Sandox is worried about paying for the license for Vista anyways. They are just looking for "test" as you put it, right?


February 14, 2007 5:16 PM

Once the software is updated to use Vista, I'll get an OEM copy of Business to run on my Mac Pro.

1) Its $150 as opposed to $300 for retail
2) Doesn't matter to me if I can never move the license it to another machine
3) The media center features of Home Premium/Ultimate isn't enough to make me want Ultimate instead. All the other picture/movie/etc stuff is trumped by iLife so that isn't incentive either.

Only Con I know of?
OEM comes as either 32 or 64 bit, not a choice like the other installs. 64 bit seems to have very little support so I'll be going 32. Down the road I'd probably wish I could switch to 64 - but oh well.

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