Apple helps you install Windows on a Mac

Well, this is interesting: Apple has released a beta of a new utility called Boot Camp--which lets you install Windows XP on an Intel-based Mac, then dual-boot between XP and Mac OS X. Until this morning, putting Windows on a Mac was a quirky hack; now it's an officially-sanctioned feature. (Apple also says that Boot Camp will be a feature in Leopard, the next big update to Mac OS X.)

In the brief history of Windows-on-Intel-Mac, procuring suitable drivers has been a big issue, but Apple says that Boot Camp will install the necessary Windows drivers automatically. It'll also partition the hard drive for you, and burn a CD you need during the install. All you need, in theory at least, is a Mac and a copy of Windows XP.

This is a startling development, and while it's not a 180-degree turn on Apple's part, it's a clear shift from the company's previous stance on Windows-on-Mac. (When Intel Macs were announced, Apple exec Phil Schiller said that folks would probably figure out how to install Windows, but that Apple had no plans to formally help them.) It's not like Apple has suddenly started shipping computers with Windows preinstalled--although that suddenly doesn't seem like such an unthinkable notion--but it's still a big deal. And it's not an admission of weakness on Apple's part or a sign that OS X is in trouble--it's a mischievous, confident act. And, if it works well, a cool one.

(On the other hand, there are signs that Apple isn't entirely at ease with Windows-on Mac: Not only was there no Steve Jobs press event, there's no Jobs quote in the press release, just Phil Schiller guardedly saying "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." Has Steve Jobs ever been quoted expressing the notion that any rational person might actually want to run Windows on a computer of any type? Maybe he just can't bring himself to do it...)

Wonder if Apple planned to do something like this all along, or whether its strategy shifted at some point? The percentage of computer users in the world who are interested enough in running two operating systems to go through the bother of setting up a dual-boot system presumably remains small, but it probably just went up at least a bit. (I'm certainly more intrigued by the notion of buying an Intel Mac than I was last night.)

As long as I'm wonderin': How does Microsoft feel about this? Does it see it as driving more sales of Windows, or as strengthening its sole major competitor in the world of consumer-oriented computing platforms? If Boot Camp is popular, it'll do both.

And if you're Dell or HP or Sony, do you feel like you just gained a new competitor, any more than you did when running Windows on a Mac involved using Microsoft's Virtual PC? (Virtual PC won't run on an Intel Mac; Microsoft has said it was exploring its options for a Mac version, but Boot Camp almost certainly makes such a product superfluous.)

For more information on Boot Camp--or to download it, if you happen to have an Intel Mac--check out this section of Apple's site. Or get the download through PC World's Downloads section.

You can see why Apple didn't announce this on April 1st, its 30th birthday--for one thing, if it had, some people might have wondered if it was a hoax. More news on this to come, for sure.

Oh, and one last question, regardless of whether you're a member of the Windows majority or a Mac person: What's your take on this development?

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Harry McCracken

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