Understand DaaS options for Mac

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Organizations that offer Apple endpoints as work devices must meet specific macOS requirements in any technology implementation. Desktop virtualization is no exception.

Many organizations have adopted Windows-based VDI and Desktop as a Service (DaaS) to deploy virtual desktops to end users. The Windows virtual desktop can be based on a 1 to many ratio with a server operating system, 1 to 1 with a desktop operating system, or 1 to many with a desktop operating system. Windows 10 or 11 multi-user work. Regardless of the operating system of the virtual machine, the user discovers a familiar Windows desktop, which he accesses after successful authentication.

Through DaaS providers, such as Citrix, VMware, and Microsoft Azure, users can access Windows virtual desktops from any type of Apple device, including an iOS-based iPhone or macOS-based device such as than a MacBook. This type of access is common and has been around for many years. Every type of end-user device, including Google Chromebooks and other Linux-based devices, can be used, whether in conjunction with native client or web access.

As of April 2022, Apple’s macOS owns at least 15% of the global physical desktop operating system market share. Macs appear in businesses, for example where users can choose their primary device. As an extension of the familiarity and functionality of this system, some organizations wish to subscribe to macOS virtual desktops from a DaaS provider. However, Apple’s licensing requirements pose a challenge to this possibility.

hosted macOS

The macOS hosting concept works for two distinct cases: macOS development and macOS DaaS for user access. These two features are not interchangeable.

Developers who create Apple-focused software can use a virtualized macOS desktop to develop and test the software. For example, a company that provides an editing application may want the application to run on both Windows and Mac devices. In the development environment, this can involve physical devices or virtual machines. Additionally, a virtual macOS desktop allows developers to work from a Windows device, if needed.

It’s easy to create a cloud-based development environment for Windows. Using the cloud minimizes setup costs and work, improves flexibility, and gives developers easy access to the environment. For example, if an error occurs during a test where an action programmatically generates an infinite loop, developers can put together analytics to fix the problem and then quickly and easily remove the virtual desktop. They can then correct the problem and test again on a newly deployed Windows virtual machine in minutes.

This type of configuration was not available for Mac development until recently. While Mac developers can get mini devices for the lab, cloud-based app development and testing is a better option. However, Apple licenses control what users can and cannot legally do with macOS software.

License for macOS

Apple has strict requirements licensing requirements for the macOS operating system in terms of hardware and shared services. First, macOS must run on designated Apple hardware, per the license agreement. Additionally, service providers or other shared services cannot use macOS because Apple does not allow virtualized copies or instances of Apple software in connection with such types of services as service desk, time-sharing and terminal sharing.

Apple allows remote desktop connections, with some limitations. Although users can establish multiple connections to a Mac, a single remote session can control Apple software; other connections can only observe the connection. This limited connectivity stipulation severely limits remote access functionality from a business and technical perspective.

A key benefit of Windows-based DaaS is the centralization and sharing of resources, with the end result being lower costs.

At the end of 2020, Apple introduced an aspect of licensing where service providers could offer hosting services specifically for developers. This new section of the license agreement, called Leasing for Permitted Developer Services, also has strict requirements. However, it legally allows vendors such as AWS to offer macOS instances for development purposes. Additionally, several smaller providers, such as MacStadium and MacinCloud, also provide cloud-based macOS instances for developers. The Developer Terms of Use include a rental agreement, a minimum 24-hour rental period, and “single and exclusive use and control.” Activities covered include building software from source, automated testing, and running the tools to complete those activities.

Apple’s Terms of Service have ramifications for macOS-based DaaS. The main advantages of DaaS for Windows include centralization and sharing of resources, which ultimately translates into lower costs. Because macOS licenses require Apple hardware, prohibit service desktop and sharing, and limit connectivity to one control session per device, service providers cannot offer macOS DaaS. On-premises deployments of macOS-based virtual desktops are technically possible, but this falls into a licensing gray area and is expensive.

Thus, Apple licensing now allows developers to rent macOS from service providers but prohibits DaaS access for end users.

DaaS OS Options

The interest in the desktop as a service based on macOS certainly exists, but it is not possible from a legal point of view. Even if it did, the financial investment and costs would likely raise questions of feasibility. There is reason to believe that Apple will not change its legal requirements in the future. Apple derives significant benefits from hardware – tightly pairing its hardware and software is its long-standing business model and key to its success. Apple continues to focus on binding operating system functionality to its physical devices. Physical devices running iOS and macOS operating systems continue to proliferate. Support for these Apple devices for remote access to Windows virtual desktops therefore shows no signs of slowing down.

Linux virtual machines are an alternative to Windows-based DaaS. If an organization is looking for an operating system other than Windows due to Microsoft licensing costs or other requirements, Linux is an option to consider. However, end users are far less familiar with Linux, so involving it in user-oriented technology could be confusing. Also, some traditional software packages such as Office 365 and Microsoft 365 are not available for direct download on a Linux machine. While there may be use cases for Linux virtual machines, they face challenges from an integration and familiarity perspective for most enterprise users.

Since multi-user Windows 10 and 11 are only available on Microsoft Azure, this feature is a key feature of Azure Virtual Desktops. Other cloud providers, including AWS and Google Cloud, cannot offer multi-user Windows 10 or 11. However, 1-to-1 virtualized Windows 10 and 11 desktops are available. Since Windows operating systems are not dependent on native Microsoft hardware, businesses have flexibility and can find ways to reduce costs.

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