"These folks have dealt with Windows-based PCs and servers for their entire careers," notes Collison. "But now, all of our techs are using Mac PowerBook Pros to support the enterprise. It's a fairly fast learning curve."
While the code is cooking
Parallels Desktop is virtualisation software. It lets users boot one operating system and simultaneously run a second one as a "guest". AWC has been testing Parallel's new coherence technology, which lets Windows applications run as if they were native to the Mac. The retail price for Parallels is $79 per desktop.
While IT staffers at AWC are rewriting the company's main VIPS application in Java, Parallels Desktop will enable the company to boot Apple's OS X operating system on Intel Macs and run Windows XP as the guest.
"In coherence mode, everything looks exactly as it does in the Windows environment, but the underlying OS is the Mac," says AWC CIO Dale Frantz. "That's what attracted me. For the people on our shop floor, this doesn't look any different at all."
In testing so far, "our experience has been flawless," says senior programmer/analyst Robert Mullen. "But I would imagine that as we stress the system and associates on the floor use it, things will come up."
Running a second operating system in a virtual environment raises licensing issues that have yet to be definitively settled, so Parallels recommends that users running its software buy a full retail copy of Windows.
The group has worked out a series of early integration glitches, including streamlining virtual private network connections and integrating firewall software.
Collison recalls a time when WatchGuard Technologies's firewall software had "hung" and was snagging all access to AWC's VPN. Using a MacBookPro and VPN Tracker software from Equinux USA, the network manager logged on and solved the problem in minutes. "He got it restarted, and everything was good," Collison says. "It was poetry."
"You run up against a series of go or no-go decisions when you're doing a proof of concept," adds Mullen. "But there seem to be no major barriers to stop the show."
Ironically, "where it gets fuzzy" is over the issue of licensing, says Frantz, who is meticulous about licensing records and software compliance. The question, he says, is, "What do you need to be legal if you're running Windows XP in a virtual environment on Mac hardware?
"We are running a copy of XP, so Microsoft deserves revenue for that," Frantz acknowledges. "It's just that it's in a virtual workspace, so how do you handle the virtual workspace?"
A potential solution is to purchase and apply original equipment manufacturer (OEM) licenses for Windows XP. This should allow AWC to legally run XP in a virtual environment on Mac hardware, according to the Microsoft OEM System Builder License that comes with Windows XP Professional software, Frantz says.