Windows Boots on a Mac

Boot Camp means Intel-based Macs can boot XP, and Windows’ sworn enemy made it happen

On April 4, a date chosen because April Fools' Day fell on a Saturday, Apple released a freely downloadable beta utility called Boot Camp. Boot Camp has one astonishing, if not bizarre, purpose: To give Intel-based Macs the capability of booting and running Windows XP. It doesn’t surprise me that Windows runs on Macs; that was inevitable, and when Boot Camp was released open sourcers were within two or three device drivers of achieving that goal without Apple’s help. Indeed, the stouthearted crew at set up a cash kitty to reward those who solved the problem of Macs’ inability to boot Windows.

Booting Windows XP is the problem that Boot Camp solves. It doesn’t run Windows and OS X side by side. It allows them to coexist on a Mac’s boot drive so that a user can choose to reside in Cupertino or Redmond at startup. To switch OSes, you have to shut down or reboot. This would be too much of a pain if Apple hadn’t automated the setup. You’ll find the technical details in my Enterprise Mac blog, but Apple crafted an ideal approach to dual-booting.

At the Worldwide Developers Conference 2005, where the Intel transition was announced, the official company line regarding Windows on the Mac was trotted out: Apple “did nothing specifically to prevent running Windows, but Apple will not support running Windows on Mac systems.”

Apple still won’t claim to support Windows on a Mac, hanging the beta tag and setting a self-destruct timer on the Boot Camp software.

However, Boot Camp will be integrated into Leopard, the next major release of OS X, and interestingly, Boot Camp’s time bomb is set to go off in fall of 2007. Come next fall, either that time limit will be extended or Leopard’s release will make such an extension unnecessary. In any case, Windows on the Mac will likely be supported the way Microsoft supports Linux on Virtual Server: It starts out being something users do at their risk, but when the vendor realizes Linux on Windows, or Windows on Macs, is moving sales, grudging support is phased in.

During a briefing, Boot Camp’s program manager told me that Boot Camp was created to address two groups of prospective Mac buyers: those who had one Windows application they absolutely couldn’t live without, and those who had trepidation about making a buying decision that precluded running Windows. That latter issue is the “I have one desk, I’ll have one PC” objection that’s dogged Apple from the start -- and to which Apple has always responded, “The Mac runs Office.” To be able to say, “The Mac runs Windows,” is a better convincer, and cheaper, too, for those who already own Office for Windows.

There are two other groups whose needs are addressed by Boot Camp. Group Three comprises gamers, developers, and enthusiast/power users who realize that Macs are the best-designed systems on the market but who, on principle or by necessity, won’t buy anything that won’t run the OS of their choice. And then there’s Group Four: Mac users who have talked Windows users into making the switch but can’t follow through on their promise to keep all of their converts’ data intact. Meet the poster boy for Group Four. I’ve been sitting on the iMac I have set aside for my wife, who is a lifelong Windows user, since I received it. Boot Camp gets me off the hook.