When Apple moved from PowerPC to Intel in 2005, one of the significant changes was the ability to run Windows in a virtualized environment natively. Apple would eventually add the Boot Camp functionality. Still, unless you were running games, using a program like VMware Fusion or Parallels, you could run Windows in a virtualized environment while still running macOS (OS X at the time). With the transition to Apple Silicon, the virtualization story for Windows is a bit messy.

About Apple @ Work: Bradley Chambers has been managing an enterprise IT network since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing firewalls, switches, a mobile device management system, enterprise-grade Wi-Fi, 100s of Macs, and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple IT managers deploy Apple devices, build networks to support them, train users, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for IT departments.

Parallels and VMware have made great strides in their development with the release of an Apple Silicon version of their software, but that is only part of the story. Yes, both of those apps can run. Yes, both of those apps can virtualize Linux, but Microsoft does not sell a version of Windows that can be virtualized on ARM at this time (it’s in beta). Does this affect the majority of enterprise customers today? No, because most organizations upgrade their fleets on a recurring cycle, and if virtualization is a key feature, there are still Intel options for those organizations to buy.

Why can’t Apple Silicon run Boot Camp on Windows?

So what’s holding up Windows on Apple Silicon if you want to run it natively? According to Craig Federighi, it’s a Microsoft decision.

As for Windows running natively on the machine, “that’s really up to Microsoft,” he said. “We have the core technologies for them to do that, to run their ARM version of Windows, which in turn, of course, supports x86 user mode applications. But that’s a decision Microsoft has to make, to bring to license that technology for users to run on these Macs. But the Macs are certainly very capable of it.”

Long term, it’s in Microsoft’s best interest to make Windows on macOS continue into the future.

Is Windows Virtualization critical in 2021?

In my opinion, it’s yes and no. I think it’s important for Apple and Microsoft for Windows virtualization on macOS to continue, but it was not the same as it was in 2005. In 2005, most enterprise apps were still Windows-based, and the 2004 version of Microsoft Office wasn’t comparable to the PC person. Today, most core enterprise apps are either web-based or cross-platform through technology like Electron. The macOS version of Microsoft Office is one of the best suite apps on the Mac. I think I’d rather run Office than use the Google Drive suite of tools if I had my choice. I don’t think Boot Camp will ever make the transition to Apple Silicon, though.

There are still situations where customers will want to virtualize Windows on macOS, though. If organizations need to virtualize a Windows app across their entire fleet, they are probably using something like Citrix, though. It’s a much more scalable solution than managing a completely separate Windows installation on a fleet of Macs, though.

Wrap up on Windows virtualization on Apple Silicon

I’ve been using apps like VMware Fusion and Parallels for a long time, but my need for them day to day grows smaller by the year. As more essential enterprise apps are web-based in 2021, having a great browser that’s always up-to-date is more important in a lot of ways.

What are your thoughts on Windows virtualization on Apple Silicon? Is it something you’re missing today? Would it keep you from buying an M1 Mac in the future?

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Apple @ Work: Does macOS need Windows virtualization on Apple Silicon to be successful in the enterprise?
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