For users who want a great PC but not the current version of Windows (Vista some years ago, Win8 today), Apple's Macs have provided a way to have their cake and eat it too. But that may change in the coming year -- for the worse.
For several years, Apple has included a feature called Boot Camp in OS X that lets you create a bootable Windows partition. You can even set up the Mac to boot into Windows by default, making it a Windows PC on top-notch hardware and with Apple's superior Windows drivers. In fact, reviewers at InfoWorld, Cnet, ZDNet, PC Magazine, PC World, and so on have long said that a Windows Mac is the best Windows PC you can get.
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Boot Camp is also a way to get an easily available "PC" that runs an older version of Windows, without having to find a model sold only to businesses. But Apple may be foreclosing that option. In fact, it has cut off that option for the super-high-end Mac Pro released in late 2013 that is only now starting to ship in measurable quantities. The late-2013 Mac Pro runs only 64-bit Windows 8 in Boot Camp. A couple years ago, Apple dropped support for Windows XP in Boot Camp, and the Mac Pro move looks to be the first step in dropping Windows 7 from Boot Camp. It's likely that future Mac models will follow the Mac Pro's lead, given how Apple has long managed technology deprecations.
Conspiracy theorists suggest that Apple's Windows 8-only move on the Mac Pro is part of a grand bargain with Microsoft to lead to an iPad version of Microsoft Office, which rumors suggest could be announced as soon as Thursday, March 27. We'll see.
Apple's rationale could be much simpler: Push people to adopt OS X if they don't like Windows 8, rather than provide a crutch. That would leave Boot Camp as an option not for people wanting to run a Windows PC full-time on Mac hardware but for its original purpose: Letting people run Windows occasionally, when there is no equivalent Mac app.
Another possible explanation is that Apple is moving to support super-high-resolution displays, aka 4K displays. The late-2013 Mac Pro is the first Mac to support this mode. Running older versions of Windows on a 4K display could simply look too crappy for Apple's tastes. (Think how bad a videotape looks when played on an HDTV monitor.)
Fortunately, if Apple does make Boot Camp a Windows 8-only tool, you still have a Mac alternative that lets you run an older version of Windows on a PC you can buy easily: the Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion desktop virtualization apps. They both support Windows as far back as XP, and they run Windows at the same time as OS X, so you don't have to boot back and forth.
In the meantime, Macs older than the Mac Pro continue to run 64-bit Windows 7 in Boot Camp. (Apple has a handy table that shows which versions of Windows run on which versions of Boot Camp on its various Mac models.) Just know that Apple could easily update those Boot Camp versions to stop allowing installations of older Windows versions any time it wants. Apple typically grandfathers already-installed Windows partitions, so they continue to run, but you can't reinstall the older Windows on them. That's another reason to monitor Apple's Windows moves.
This article, "Windows 8 picks up an unlikely ally in Apple," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.