Apple's bid to attract Windows switchers has been massively ramped-up with the release of new Apple software that lets Intel Macs run and install Windows XP.

The software - an 83MB download - is called 'Boot Camp'. A beta version of the software is available immediately. It will also feature in Leopard, Apple's next major release of Mac OS X. Leopard will be previewed at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in August.

Which is the 'X'iest solution?

Boot Camp lets you run Windows XP, but you do need a Windows XP install disc. Once installation is complete, users can restart their computer to run either Mac OS X or Windows XP.

Once installed, Mac users just need to hold down the Option key at startup to choose between Mac OS X and Windows. (Windows users need to look for the Alt key if they aren't used to a Mac keyboard). After starting up, your Mac runs Windows completely natively. Simply restart to come back to Mac.

"Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows, but many customers have expressed their interest to run Windows on Apple's superior hardware now that we use Intel processors," said Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing.

Modern Macs run dated Windows

The software imitates a Windows BIOS. Commenting on this, Apple says: "Macs use an ultra-modern industry standard technology called EFI to handle booting. Sadly, Windows XP, and even the upcoming Vista, are stuck in the 80's with old-fashioned BIOS. But with Boot Camp, the Mac can operate smoothly in both centuries."

"We think Boot Camp makes the Mac even more appealing to Windows users considering making the switch," said Schiller.

American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu thinks there may be even more to this release, telling Macworld: "With support for both EFI and BIOS for booting, I believe Microsoft Vista will also be supported on a Mac."

Massive Mac market share boost predicted

Apple's move may massively inflate its market share. A recent report from Needham & Co analyst Charles Wolf urged Apple to do everything it can to make it easy for Windows users to switch to the Mac.

Wolf ran a series of surveys across US colleges, and found that transforming Macs into dual-boot machines would perhaps double Apple's market share, raising it as high as 9.2 per cent.

"Such an increase would translate into almost one million additional sales, equivalent to a 22 per cent increase in Apple's 2005 Mac shipments," Wolf wrote.

Speaking since the software launched, American Technology Research analyst Shaw Wu told Macworld: "I believe this is Apple's thirtieth birthday surprise and it could potentially be a significant game-changer. We believe a key reason why Apple hasn't converted more 'switchers' is its lack of strong Windows compatibility.  But now with Intel processors and chip sets, Apple is able to offer full compatibility with Windows XP on a Mac."

Security alert - be alert

Apple also warns Boot Camp trainees that they need to maintain their Windows security. In a section titled, 'Word to the Wise', the company observes: "Windows running on a Mac is like Windows running on a PC. That means it'll be subject to the same attacks that plague the Windows world. So be sure to keep it updated with the latest Microsoft Windows security fixes."

Boot Camp simplifies Windows installation on an Intel-based Mac by providing a simple, graphical step-by-step assistant application that dynamically creates a second partition on the Mac hard drive for Windows. It will also burn a CD with all the necessary Windows drivers needed to run and install the OS on a Mac from a Windows XP installation disc.

The public beta is preview software licensed for use on a trial basis for a limited time. Apple does not provide support for installing or running Boot Camp and does not sell or support Microsoft Windows software.

Boot Camp requires an Intel-based Mac with a USB keyboard and mouse, or a built-in keyboard and TrackPad; Mac OS X version 10.4.6 or later; the latest firmware update; at least 10GB of free space on the startup disk; a blank recordable CD or DVD; and single-disc version of Windows XP Home Edition or Professional with Service Pack 2 or later.

Updated with comment from analyst Shaw Wu