Opening the way for Windows on the Mac

Bravo for boot camp, says Tom Yager

On April 4, a date chosen because April Fools’ Day fell on a Saturday, Apple released a freely downloadable beta utility called Boot Camp. The product has one astonishing, if not bizarre, purpose: to give Intel-based Macs the capability to boot and run Windows XP. It doesn’t surprise me that Windows runs on Macs — that was inevitable. Also, by the time Boot Camp was released, open sourcers were within two or three device drivers of achieving that goal without Apple’s help. Indeed, the stout-hearted crew at onmac.net set up a cash kitty to reward those who solved the problem of Macs’ inability to boot Windows.

Booting Windows XP is the problem that Boot Camp solves. It doesn’t run Windows and OS X side by side; it allows them to co-exist on a Mac’s boot drive so that a user can choose to reside in Cupertino or Redmond at startup. To switch OSes, you have to shut down or reboot. This would be too much of a pain if Apple hadn’t automated the setup and Apple has crafted an ideal approach to dual-booting.

At last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, where the Intel transition was announced, the official company line regarding Windows on the Mac was trotted out. Apple “did nothing specifically to prevent running Windows, but Apple will not support running Windows on Mac systems”.

Apple still won’t claim to support Windows on a Mac, as indicated by it labelling of Boot Camp a beta and setting a self-destruct timer on it.

However, Boot Camp will be integrated into Leopard, the next major release of OS X, and interestingly, Boot Camp’s time bomb is set to go off in the spring of 2007. Come next spring, either that time limit will be extended or Leopard’s release will make such an extension unnecessary. In any case, Windows on the Mac will likely be supported the way Microsoft supports Linux on Virtual Server: grudging support will be phased in once Apple realises Windows on the Mac is generating sales.

During a briefing, Boot Camp’s programme manager told me that Boot Camp was created to address two groups of prospective Mac buyers: those who had one Windows application they absolutely couldn’t live without, and those who had trepidation about making a buying decision that precluded running Windows. That latter issue is the “I have one desk, I’ll have one PC” objection that’s dogged Apple from the start — and to which Apple has always responded, “The Mac runs Office”. To be able to say, “The Mac runs Windows”, is a better convincer, and cheaper, too, for those who already own Office for Windows.

There are two other groups whose needs are addressed by Boot Camp. Group three comprises gamers, developers, enthusiasts and power users who realise Macs are the best-designed systems on the market but who, on principle or by necessity, won’t buy anything that won’t run the OS of their choice. And then there’s group four: Mac users who have talked Windows users into making the switch but can’t follow through on their promise to keep all of their converts’ data intact. Meet the poster boy for group four. I’ve been sitting on the iMac I’ve set aside for my wife, who is a lifelong Windows user, since I received it. Boot Camp gets me off the hook.

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