the life and death of Virtual PC for Mac

Most of the other MacBU folks have been talking about VBA while I've been gone, and I don't think that there's anything that I can really add to that discussion. VBA is much less of an impact on the apps that I focus on, and some of our other WWDC announcements were more near and dear to my heart anyway. Let's instead talk about my favourite team at Microsoft: the Virtual PC team. (Dear Entourage, PowerPoint, and Remote Desktop Connection: Yes, I still love you guys, and no parent is supposed to have a favourite child, but the VPC guys give me brandy.)

The future of Virtual PC on the Mac had been in question for a year. The VPC team was happily working along on v8 (then code-named Oxygen), and an anvil dropped from the sky at the last WWDC. That anvil, of course, was the announcement of the move to Intel chips.

VPC is an application that sits quite close to the metal. Any change in the operating system or the chip architecture has a huge impact on VPC. Throughout the history of VPC, any change to the OS had the potential to break VPC in new and interesting ways. Remember the introduction of the G5? It took the VPC guys quite awhile to get VPC to run on the G5. It wasn’t a lack of effort. It was the combination of needing very specific expertise (which is to say, we couldn’t just throw more bodies at the problem) and needing some assistance from the folks over at Apple.

So here comes the Intel chip, and Leopard too. VPC v8 would need the same move to Xcode that every other major Mac application has needed to make. On top of that effort (which is a huge effort, as any Mac developer on a big project can tell you), VPC would require a re-architecture of the bits of VPC that were PPC-specific. We could re-architect VPC v7, we could port code from VPC:Win, we could re-code it from the ground up, or some combination therein.

We said that bringing VPC to the MacTels would be like doing a v1. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story. It’s not just that VPC v8 would be like doing a v1. It’s that VPC v9 could also be just like doing a v1, or maybe it would be VPC v10. There’s a huge engineering effort involved in making a v1 product. But when would we be able to focus our engineering efforts on improving performance or adding features instead of having to update the existing code to work on the latest OS release? What happens if there’s another major chip change?

’But what about Parallels? What about VMWare?’ I hear you ask. Parallels has got a v1 out there right now. VMWare is about to enter beta on their v1. One of the great things about a v1 is that you don’t have expectations. Your feature set is determined by what you can get working. It’s not determined by what you had working before. I think it’s v2 where life gets interesting. Can you build upon what you have? Can you get more people using it? It’s the early adopters who jump on a v1, and they’re not a big market (although they are a vocal one). In some respects, you get an easier job on v2: you get to add features, you get to fix bugs, you get to tweak performance. You get to make v2 a better product for your users.

But v2 is generally where you pick up the average user. VPC:Mac already has the average user as a part of our user base. For the average VPC user (who isn’t a Mac expert, and definitely isn’t a Windows expert), imagine buying VPC v8 and having very few new features over v7. A savvy user is more willing to let that slide because they’re aware of the enormous engineering effort behind moving to the MacTels. The average user, who doesn’t know or care about the change in chip, is going to be upset.

We made a hard decision. It wasn’t undertaken lightly. The team wasn’t happy about the decision. Ultimately, MacBU made the decision that Mac users would be better served if we focused our resources on making the next versions of our other offerings as strong as possible. The decision to move away from developing v8 made sense from a development and customer perspective, even if it was a hard decision to make. We spent months trying to come up with alternatives that made sense. While we were working through it, including working on the codebase, we gave the MacTel version of VPC its own code name: Lanai, for the place that we'd all like to go on holiday. (Roz wouldn't let us move our operations there, although we did ask.)

So where is the Virtual PC for Mac team? We got a lot of people from Connectix when we bought out VPC three years ago, after all. One of them moved to Redmond to become the General Program Manager of the MacBU team there. One of them is the Development Manager here in SVC. Another one is a Development Lead for Entourage. The PowerPoint tester in the office next to mine was a VPC tester in the Connectix days, and one of the other VPC testers just moved to the PPT team as well. Recently, with the death of VPC, the several remaining team members in dev, test, and program management have formed a new team at SVC to focus on some of the code that is shared across all of our apps. VPC:Mac might be dead, but it lives on in the great people that we have from that team who are contributing to the rest of our apps.

Comments (40)
  1. HowardG says:

    Thanks for the great post Nadyne.  There’s no doubt that the loss of VPC has ruffled a few feathers with some of the Mac users out here.  Having been a VPC tech support lead, I’ll miss not getting to see what was going to be new in v8, and wish v7 a “fair winds and following seas” as it sails off into the sunset.

  2. Asam Bashir says:

    Super write up Nadyne, did you get to meet his Steveness? Do tell us poor souls who couldn’t make it to the WWDC how it was 🙂

  3. Sorry, the WWDC NDA prevents me from answering any questions about anything that wasn’t addressed at the keynote.  😉

  4. Ben says:

    What I don’t understand is that apparently Apple can port their entire OS and application suite (maintaining backwards portability), create an translation layer for old apps do much much more while they are at it, whilst mighty Microsoft finds it too much work (and hasn’t up till now) to port a handful off apps? Isn’t there a huge gap in ambitioin and talent there?

  5. Geoff Wilson says:

    It is sad to see the end of a great product, but given the choice between VPC and the rest of the products produced by the MacBU …

    I’m glad of the decision made. Porting the other MacBU concerns to MacTel must be a significant effort in and of itself!

  6. John Lockwood says:

    Microsoft’s termination of VPC (for Mac) is actually one of the more reasonable decisions by Microsoft and I as a long time user have absolutely no problem with this. Of course my being sanguine about this is helped by the fact there are superior alternatives now available.

    However there are plenty of other areas where Microsoft have, do, and will I am sure continue to make really bad decisions (from a Mac perspective and in some cases even from a Microsoft perspective).

    1. MSN Messenger / Microsoft Messenger / Live Messenger / [Insert this weeks new name] on the Mac continues to lack Video and Voice capabilities. Microsoft have announced that they are working on Messenger 6.1 for Mac and I have 100% confidence that 6.1 will not change this. This is despite the fact that this feature has been the number one request by TENS OF THOUSANDS of people for years and years. Microsoft should realise the one of the reasons Skype has been so successful is that unlike Microsoft they fully support multiple platforms including of course the Mac. This means with Skype Mac users can now do Video (as well as voice) and even have a selection of USB handsets to choose from.

    2. Microsoft have discontinued WMP for Mac. Ok fine, good riddance it was awful anyway. However while they have given their blessing to Flip4Mac as a replacement they have not provided Flip4Mac the means to add support for WMV and WMA DRM (Microsoft’s statement that Windows DRM is an open standard is shown as being the flasehood it is, at least Apple don’t claim their Fairplay DRM is an open standard). This means Mac users cannot (even if they were foolish enough to want to) access Windows DRM protected media. This in turn harms Microsoft because there is then no chance on earth of a Mac user being converted to using a Zune player for example [Ha, ha!].

    3. The death of VBA in Office for Mac. VBA support is apart from the brand name, probably the single major reason for Mac business users buying Microsoft Office for Mac as it has historically been the only way to ensure a fairly good level of compatibility with Office for Windows. Without VBA support then you are limited to plain vanilla .doc and .xls files which can already be used in a large number of alternative (and often free) programs. Now I understand the difficulties that porting VBA to XCode and Intel Macs may represent (but unlike Microsoft I don’t believe it would be impossible, one option would be to re-write the Mac VBA code from scratch rather than porting the current ancient code which I realise is itself not a simple task). Now just discontinuing VBA for Mac support is bad enough, but Microsoft have completely failed to indicate _IF_ (never mind when) they would replace it with the new VBA replacement that Office for Windows will also need to adopt in the future (apparently VBA for Office for Windows is equally hard to port to 64bit processors).

    On top of this is the fact that the only totally new software product from Microsoft for Mac for possibly the last ten years is Remote Desktop Client (Entourage is little more than a resurrected Outlook Express), while during the same period product after product after product has been discontinued. Halo does not count as a new software product as it was effectively an existing Bungie product, and I also disallow mere upgrades.

    Where is Flight Simulator for the Mac? There is a humungous pent up demand for that. (I would think easily in excess of 6 figures and quite possibly 7.)

    Encarta – RIP

    AutoRoute – RIP

    MS Flight Simulator – RIP, gone but not forgotten

    MS Money – MIA

    Windows Media Player – KIA

    VPC – Shot as a deserter (from PowerPC)

    Internet Explorer – Mercy Killing

    Office VBA – Committed Suicide

    One could add…

    Microsoft Messenger – Persistent Vegetive State

    …due to Microsoft wilfully refusing to add Video and Voice capabilities.

    Microsoft’s efforts can be summed up by paraphrasing Sir Winston Churchill

    …Never in the field of software development, has so little been produced by so many for so long.

  7. Ben – I think there are two things working in Apple’s favour here: time and resources.  Apple ported a whole OS over to the Intel chip, but as they said when they announced the transition, they had been compiling OS X for on Intel since 10.0.  They had five years of work that they were putting into it without anyone knowing.  The rest of us had to scramble when the announcement was made to take this into account in our product plans.  Across all Mac apps (not just ours, think of Adobe and everyone else too), how many dev-years were added unexpectedly because Apple made this decision?

    Likewise, Apple has a few more people writing Mac apps than we do.  The whole of MacBU is ~180 employees.  How big is Apple?  A quick websearch puts that number at ~16,000.  Discounting the small corner of the iTunes team that produces the Windows version, they’re all working on Mac apps and hardware.  

  8. Krishen says:

    Great post Nadyne.  It’s good to hear the story from someone directly involved in the product.

  9. wpSlider says:

    Excellent post.

    If I was someone developing on Macs I would have given up on them ages ago, isn’t this the 3rd time they’ve change CPU architectures?

    I wonder though, if Connectix had not been acquired by MS, would *they* have ported it to MacTel?

    I think the Mac (mainly due to OSX and now running on intel cpus) is a platform where you guys  can’t afford not to be present. Think about it.

  10. wpSlider – That’s an interesting question, and one that I’ve thought about.  I’m not a part of the original Connectix team, so I can’t speculate.  But even without my speculation, one important thing to point out is that Connectix was a pretty small company with a pretty small portfolio of Mac products.  For them, the resource question would have been a different one.  The engineering effort involved with doing the MacTel port would have been the same, of course, but if there’s not something else that really needs your attention at the same time, there’s a much smaller opportunity cost involved in spending the time working on this instead of working on that.

  11. Sprocket999 says:

    I can’t speak for the efforts of the Connectix team regarding VPC, but I sure do applaud their efforts with RAMDoubler. I used that routinely through the 90s with ZERO issues on all my PowerBooks — and running Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. I think ‘8’ was their finest effort. Gone, but certainly not forgotten.

  12. Asam Bashir says:

    Play Station Emulator wasn’t bad either – very missed – sure new Intel Macs could do PS2 now or something else…. , maybe even classic emulator for Intel Mac’s – not had time to  try that sheep saver though.

    RAMDoubler was invaluable in the early days, my Mac experience would not have been the same without it.

    Yah I know Sony would get in the way – early days we just didn’t give a %^&& – it was war back then, the frontlines…

  13. Louije says:

    VPC:Mac for Intel processors didn’t make sense anyway. VPC is an emulator, “porting” it to Intel would have meant getting rid of the emulation part and replacing it with virtualization. Now, of course such “search and replace” isn’t easy (or possible) in this case. VPC, with its drag and drop ease of use, was a wonderful product, and I don’t doubt the new virtualization software for MacTel will equal it in time.

    The real question remains : if VPC only made sense for PPC Macs (which are still the vast majority out there, if I’m not mistaken), why was development on version 8 axed, and what will happen to the product anyway (I guess Microsoft is not going to give it away for free…) ?

    Thanks for posting insider information.

  14. Louije – It’s hard to justify development on a product for an architecture that is now obsolete, and which more and more people are moving off of every day.  It’s also confusing to users to get a new computer and not be able to buy just-released software for it.  

    As for VPC v7, we’ll continue to sell it for as long as people want to buy it.  It’s still the best virtualisation solution for PPCs.

  15. RMansfield says:

    Here’s a suggestion. Release v. 8 for those of us who use v. 7. I would guess there has to be quite a lot of us out here. Releasing v. 8 as the last version of VPC would be better than killing it altogether. You’d be able to recoup something on it that way.

  16. RMansfield – It’s not as though we could release v8 today.  By the time that a PPC-only v8 were ready for prime time, what would the market look like?  How many people who were still on a PPC and who use VPC would *want* to upgrade to VPC v8?  How much confusion would we create by making a brand-new PPC-only piece of software?  

  17. Louije says:

    Convincing enough !…

  18. They had five years of work that they were putting into it without anyone knowing.

    You’ve got to be kidding me. The rum0rz of X being built for Intel made it to me (Google “Marklar Mac OS X”), and I have NO juice at One Infinite Loop. Plus, come ONNNN, remember: Mac OS X = NeXTStep5.0. Which was an Intel beastie before it went to PPC. 😉

    The point is that Cocoa apps go very nicely across platforms and chip architectures. Carbon and PPC assembly code? Not so much.

    Discounting the small corner of the iTunes team that produces the Windows version, they’re all working on Mac apps and hardware.

    The Quicktime team at Apple says “Hi”, Nadyne. 😉 But OK, it’s a fair point.

  19. eponymous – Yeah, the rumours have been around forever.  But rumours don’t mean that it’ll actually happen (and I really don’t have to point to all of the Apple rumours that haven’t (yet) come about here), or when they’ll happen.  It’s not as if we could’ve just kept open a couple of dev-years on our schedule for this and hoped that someday we’d have something to fill that time.  I suppose you could argue that, in essence, that’s what we’ve had to do, it’s just that the dev time that we cut was already allocated to other features and not to massive back-end work.

    I am embarrassed that I forgot about the QuickTime team, though.  Sorry, guys!

  20. You’ve got to be kidding me. The rum0rz of X being built for Intel made it to me (Google “Marklar Mac OS X”), and I have NO juice at One Infinite Loop. Plus, come ONNNN, remember: Mac OS X = NeXTStep5.0. Which was an Intel beastie before it went to PPC. 😉

    No one in their right mind is going to maintain two codebases of something the size of Office based on a rumor. As well, check out some of the posts from Rick Schaut and some of the Adobe folks. It’s not like Apple’s Dev tools could have really handled the job until recently anyway.

  21. You’ve got to be kidding me. The rum0rz of X being built for Intel made it to me (Google “Marklar Mac OS X”), and I have NO juice at One Infinite Loop. Plus, come ONNNN, remember: Mac OS X = NeXTStep5.0. Which was an Intel beastie before it went to PPC. 😉

    One does not maintain dual code bases because of a rumor.

  22. eponymous coward says:

    John, read my next sentence in my post. Carbon apps don’t port as well as Cocoa ones, generally because you tend to spend time rolling your own ___ (fill in blank), and thus when Apple does the Lucy routine with the Mac OS football, Microsoft and Adobe get to play Charlie Brown and go "auuuuugh!" as they lie down on the field.

    Apple’s done this so many times, it’s not even funny. I know people who did QuickDraw GX integration work in apps, fergawdsake.

    <I>As well, check out some of the posts from Rick Schaut and some of the Adobe folks</I>

    I’m somewhat familiar with the posts you mention, John, as I’ve commented on them.;) I’m not saying Microsoft COULD have zagged when Apple went from zig to zag. It’s more like a deliberate engineering choice that has tradeoffs- and a Carbon app with custom PPC tuning like VPC always gets hosed hardest on things like this.

    Engineering tradeoffs suck- but they are essential sometimes.

  23. Well, there’s also the issue that for a long time, there was no way in hell you could build Office in Xcode with a dev target AND all the debugging symbols on a 32-bit machine.

    Codewarrior, however, could.

  24. anonymous says:

    I thought that Microsoft bought Connectix mainly to get Virtual PC for Windows and that VPC for Mac was just a bonus.

    Virtualization is all the rage: the ability to run several versions of Windows/Linux/whatever on servers.

    So the real question is: why not take VPC for Windows and port _that_ to Mac OS X (intel only on course)?

    We’re talking virtualization, not emulation now anyway on macIntels.

  25. Marcelo R. Lopez, Jr. says:

    And here I was hoping that VPC 8 would’ve addressed the issue with not being able to install SQL Server 2005 Standard on my AlPB.

    VS2005 installs fine, MSDN ditto, but when it gets up to the point where it’s going to actually start the server inside the VM, it dies, closes the server, and then proceeds to exits the install. The install itself never quite finishes. I’ve searched high and low and no one seems to have even tried this. Am I the only one ?

    Oh well, and here I was trying to forego actually moving back to my Dell just for .NET stuff. Grrr

    any ideas anyone ?

  26. Jay says:

    This is a very reasonable explanation for why Virtual PC was killed.  In fact, all of the explanations that have come forward for killing Microsoft Mac applications have been reasonable.  It is only when you look at the trend line that I think people can rightly be concerned about Microsoft’s long-term commitment to the Mac.  What is left?  Messenger and Office (sans Visual Basic)?  How long until Microsoft (reasonably of course) explains is doesn’t make sense to continue developing for Macs because everything can be run via some third-party virtualization solution?

  27. anonymous – For an application that sits as close to the metal as VPC does, porting from Windows is much more difficult than it is for other apps (and it’s already a difficult prospect for other apps).  Had we gone forward with VPC v8 for the MacTels, we might have had a mix  of updating existing code, porting VPC:Win code, and starting over from scratch in some places.

    Jay – MacBU is in a pretty good position.  We’re a profitable business, and we have (and will continue to have) Mac-only features that we develop specifically for our Mac users.  At MWSF2006, we announced another five-year commitment to continue to develop Office:Mac.  We did this to help alleviate concerns like this one, even though we had been operating for a couple of years without a formal commitment and had no intent of stopping.  After all, we released Office:Mac 2004 after our previous formal commitment had expired, and there were a couple of versions of Messenger during that time, not to mention the addition of Remote Desktop Connection to our portfolio.  

  28. life long pc user soon to be MAC user says:

    I am considering a MAC for the first time because of VMWare adding support for MAC.  I have always used PC’s but have always wanted a MAC.  I am honestly glad to see the MAC VPC gone, I have never been happy with the limited functionality of VPC as it is compared to VMware.

    "VMware Announces New Product for Apple Mac OS X Users

    New Intel-based Macs will be able to Simultaneously Run Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, NetWare and Solaris".  I am not a VMware employee, Microsoft, or Apple.

    I use VMware for my Job everyday.  It has made my Job so much easier and now with the additional support for MACs.  Here I go…

  29. Lifelong – If you’re gonna buy a Mac, you’re gonna have to remember that it’s Mac and not MAC. 😉

  30. Manish says:

    I am always surprised why people don’t talk about Apple not porting THEIR apps to Windows? Microsoft has 95% market share so it would be much more profitable for Apple to make Windows apps than it is for Microsoft to make Mac apps. Aren’t we a little biased here?

  31. While I’m linking to stuff, here’s a recent interview with Jake, one of our senior managers.

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