Apple's Mac OSX could be running on generic x86 hardware sooner rather than later.

Parallels is best known for its Parallels Desktop for Mac which lets Apple users run Windows alongside Mac OSX by virtualising the hardware. This spring, however, the company will bring out a new version in the spring which will make it easier to run the operating system on any Intel hardware platform, not just Apple-developed ones, according to a report in Fortune . Until now, OSX-based virtualisation products have specifically disabled this.

Dell boss Michael Dell told the magazine that his company would offer MacOS if customers wanted it, and that it was up to Apple to change its licensing terms and conditions. Meanwhile, Diane Greene, CEO of market leader VMware, said that VMware had delayed its Mac product, named Fusion - now in public beta - because of the difficulty of extracting agreement from Apple to do any such thing. In hindsight, she said VMware should have gone ahead and done it anyway.

Serguei Beloussov, CEO of SWsoft which owns a controlling share in Parallels and is the second-largest vendor of core virtualisation technology, was unable to confirm or deny the story. He said he didn't want to upset Apple. "It's good to be nice to your partners," he said. He said that the company tried to be upfront with its partners, and that Apple's products were a good combination of hardware and software. "Apple innovates - and if you want to write good software you might as well design good hardware for it - they work seamlessly together. It's not necessarily a good thing to destroy this combination," he said.

Cynics might draw the conclusion either that Beloussov had received a phone call from Steve Jobs, or that there was closer integration between the two companies in the offing. Beloussov poo-pooed the idea that SWsoft might be for sale. "We have independence right now and a lot of products and technology. The competition is still not as great as I thought - it's a bit of a free ride," he said, adding that he expected that situation to change in 2008 when Microsoft is widely expected to enter the market.

It would appear that the pressure on Apple to move towards a software licensing model and abandon its proprietary hardware route is growing, especially since hardware OEMs could make a lot of money selling Apple clones. It's a move that many observers have for the last 15 years been urging on the Cupertino company.

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Parallels also plans to launch a server product towards the middle of the year, aimed at small companies and large company departments, positioning Parallels much more as a head-to-head competitor with VMware.

In a separate development, it emerged this week that SWsoft quietly bought Parallels three years ago. SWsoft's flagship product Virtuozzo is aimed at enterprise servers and virtualises the OS, which is a different approach to that adopted by VMware.

Virtuozzo virtualises the operating system for higher performance but a lower levels of OS choice, while VMware's flagship product ESX Server - the core element of its Virtual Infrastructure 3 environment - virtualises the hardware so that any OS can run on top of it, but accepts a performance hit as a result.