So Leopard has shipped, but whatever happened to Boot Camp on earlier Macs - has Apple abandoned its community of beta testers?

It's a moot point, as in the months following the release of the Boot Camp beta news emerged that appeared to indicate Apple would make a final version of its virtualisation software available for users still running Mac OS X 10.4.

Such users will include slow adopters, those with systems that don't support Leopard, and a congregation of users who simply prefer the earlier OS.

Unfortunately, it also affects a wide community of Mac users with large installed bases of Macs, who will take time (and budget) to upgrade their whole infrastructure to Leopard.

But that last group of users seems likely to include those who have switched to Mac on the promise of Windows virtualisation, PC users who always eyed a Mac and moved to the platform on strength of the Boot Camp promise.

“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 in April 2006 when the beta software shipped. “We think Boot Camp makes the Mac even more appealing to Windows users considering making the switch,” he added.

Of course, VM Ware and Parallels both offer virtualisation products for Macs, so Boot Camp users can simply switch to that instead.

For many users though, the fate of Boot Camp on 10.4 remains an open question, as beyond the time-out of the beta Boot Camp software already installed, Apple has said nothing of the future of the virtualisation software on Mac OS X 10.4, leaving users to make decisions in ignorance.

While existing Windows installation on a user's Mac continue to work following the expiry of the Boot Camp beta, elements - such as the Boot Camp Assistant software used to install Windows in a partition on a Mac no longer function.

Boot Camp was downloaded thousands of times, and while Apple's clear strategy is to use the software as a Trojan Horse for Leopard sales, it's reticence in explaining future support for the older OS could be construed as further evidence of the company's determination to lead customers it once offered choices too.

Fair to say, when the software was released, Apple only promised: "The final version of Boot Camp will be available as a feature in the upcoming Mac OS X version 10.5 “Leopard.”

What stymied this promise were multiple reports, such as this one, which claimed Boot Camp would be made available to Tiger users for a fee.

Apple never made this promise, but the notion of these claims is by no means unreasonable.

So, Apple, what are your plans for Boot Camp on Mac OS X 10.4? Surely there's no viable reason (beyond the desire to boost Leopard sales) that Boot Camp can't be made available for users unready to leap to Leopard?

After all, as the iTunes experience teaches us all, trusting customers and giving them exactly what they want is the key path to business success.