Apple's development of software that lets Intel-based Macintosh systems run Windows XP natively should make it easier to deploy the company's hardware.
Until now, Mac users who needed to run some Windows applications had to do so in emulation mode using tools such as Microsoft's Virtual PC, which exacts a serious performance toll. But Apple's Boot Camp software, which was released for public beta testing with little fanfare, enables Windows XP to run on the new Macs just as it does on desktop and laptop PCs.
Two in one computing
Boot Camp creates a hard-drive partition for Windows XP and lets users choose between it and Mac OS X on start-up. The dual-booting capability "definitely makes the Mac more attractive," said Micah Lamb, a microcomputer support specialist in the IT services department at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
Lamb said that Baylor often has end users who prefer Apple's hardware to PCs but need Windows in order to run applications central to their jobs. Boot Camp will let them have it both ways, he noted.
In addition, the new software essentially makes the Mac two computers in one, Lamb said. "You can buy a traditional Wintel box and run Windows only, or you can buy a new Mactel box and run both Windows and Mac OS X."
Best for the job
John Halamka, CIO at Harvard Medical School and CareGroup Healthcare System in Boston, said the school has about 4,000 Macs and a roughly equal number of Windows-based machines.
Now students and faculty members can choose "the best tools for their specific needs," Halamka said. Users who have tried the beta release of Boot Camp have reported that it makes Windows XP applications run "blazingly fast" on a Mac, he said.
Not everyone is sold on Boot Camp, though.
"It's not as neat and clean as it might sound," said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies. "They've filled a hole here, but it's more of an experimental thing. I don't think it'll change the game that much."
Depending on how users format Windows XP on their Macs, they may or may not be able to read and write data between the Windows and Mac OS X partitions, Kay said. And businesses still have to buy a Windows XP license from Microsoft for each system that Boot Camp runs on, he noted.
A work in progress
"The proof of the pudding will be to see how good it really is - how stable and supportable, and how scalable," said Alastair Behenna, CIO at Harvey Nash, a London-based workforce recruiting and IT services firm.
Harvey Nash runs Macs as well as PCs. Behenna said he sees no compelling reasons to move toward Apple's hardware at this point, but he added that he will watch the development of Boot Camp.
Apple itself said that some Mac features won't work with Windows XP because of hardware incompatibilities. That includes its USB modem, wireless keyboard, wireless mouse and remote control device.
Boot Camp is available now as a free download that works for only a limited time. Apple said the software will be included in the next major release of the Macintosh operating system, Mac OS X 10.5, which is code-named Leopard and is expected to be ready late this year.
Within the past few weeks, some hackers created a kludgy way to boot Windows XP on Intel-based Macs. According to Apple, Boot Camp simplifies things by providing a graphical application that walks users step by step through the process of creating the required partition, burning a CD with all the necessary Windows drivers and installing the operating system from a Microsoft CD.
Apple has no plans to offer Windows XP itself, said Brian Croll, senior director of Mac OS X product marketing. "We want to make it clear that Apple is not going to preinstall or sell Windows," Croll said. "This party is BYOW."
In a statement, Microsoft said it is "pleased that Apple customers are excited about running [Windows], and that Apple is responding to meet the demand."
Ted Schadler, an analyst at Forrester Research, said the decision to offer Boot Camp was really a no-brainer for Apple executives: "Apple is a hardware company - they build software to sell the hardware," he said. "The question really is, Why not support the installation of Windows on their computers?"
James Niccolai, of the IDG News Service, and freelance writer Yuval Kossovsky contributed to this story.