Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Boot Camping: Mac Boots Win

May 2006

By Mike Gould

I lied. I promised that I would only talk Mac once a year. To get around this, let's consider this part 2 of the article I wrote earlier about Macs on Intel processors (visible here: http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.90.shtml). This is the hot topic of the moment on the Internet, and will have bearing on your future IT environment, Mr. And Ms. Local BizPerson, so let's have at it. (And besides, nothing interesting is going on at the PC side of things - "Vista delayed until next year…" Yawn.) Well, actually, this is all about Windows so forget everything I just said - no apologies needed.

Shoes for Industry
What all the fuss is about is a new program just released by Apple called "Boot Camp". This allows the new breed of Macs, those with Intel processors, to allow their users a choice in starting up. You can start up the normal way as a Mac, or you can hold down a key and start up in Windows. I prophesized this last August in the article mentioned above, as did hundreds of others (but hey, maybe you read about it here first, in which case I will accept your accolades for being a seer with all due modesty…).

Now Windows (Win) on Mac is not new; for years you have been able to do this by running an emulation program called VirtualPC, now marketed by Microsoft. By doing this you first boot up your Mac into OS X, then click over to the Win side. You see the usual Windows stuff on your screen, you can run your Win apps, and generally become a Microsoft camp follower just like everybody else. You can even copy files back and forth between your Win and the Mac environment, which is just a key-click away. But this all comes at a price: because the Mac has to translate all those Win-flavored commands into Mac-hardware responses, there is a performance hit.

Now that Macs are running on Intel chips (i.e., the same hardware PCs are using) it is much easier to get everything running "Natively", that is to say, without the translation business above. The downside is that you have to re-boot to switch from one system to the other; you can't move files back and forth seamlessly.

These Boots Are Made For Running Things
All this talk of booting may need some explanation. In the early days of computers, the big mainframes of the day couldn't start themselves up transparently; you had to start them from a separate program called a "Boot Loader". This was so-called because the computer essentially had to lift itself up by its bootstraps to get going. This came to be called bootstrapping, eventually shortened to booting. When you boot up in Windows, you are starting the Win bootstrap business, now integrated into the operating system (OS). The Mac OS is called OS X, as it is the 10th iteration of the system since the Mac was invented. The Win OS is called XP because Microsoft copies everything Apple does (just kidding, I think…).

Speculation was rife after the Apple Intel switch that all this was going to be possible. In fact, there was a contest to accomplish this a couple of months ago, and programmers named narf and blanka posted the solution in the middle of March. They collected a prize of around $13K for their trouble, paid for by donations from geeks all over the world, which shows the amount of interest in this.

So now Apple has come out with a solution of its own. How big a deal is Boot Camp, really?

For starters, the program is only out in beta, which means it's not done baking. It is still missing a few drivers for video cards, sound, and the like. The install procedure can be hairy, involving something called "slipstreaming", and of course, you have to go out and buy a copy of Windows XP. Remember, the copy of XP you bought when you updated your PC is only good for one computer so you will need a fresh copy for your FrankenMac.

My take is that this is currently For Geeks Only, the rest of you, move along, there's nothing to see here. (Seen one blue screen, seen 'em all, heh heh…). Apple has said that this program will be rolled into its next operating system, 10.5 (aka Leopard) which is due out in the middle of next year. At that point, the more geekier Mac and PC users will have found and reported all the bugs in Boot Camp to Apple, which will have incorporated the fixes into Version 1.0. There is speculation that Apple will make it possible to switch between OSes with a key click in the final version, meaning you wouldn't have to re-boot to swap Mac-Win. You will still need to buy a copy of XP (or Vista, or whatever), but Apple might also offer that as an option when you buy a future Mac.

The Sole of a Mac
One segment of happy campers is Mac game players, who will finally get to kill aliens with the alacrity their PC counterparts have had for years. Initial reports of Doom 3 on Win on Mac have been very favorable (more info at URL below).

I think the ultimate purpose of this is to convince corporate America that Apple is a team player and that Macs can be just a better, slightly more expensive, alternative hardware vendor than Dell. After all, Apple gets better marks for user experience, and are cheaper to support. A recent study also showed that once you figure in support costs and downtime, the return on investment on a Mac is twice that of a PC. Couple that with the ability to run two OSes, and Macs should start looking better and better to corporate IT folk. Hey, it could happen.

Links:
Boot Camp home:
http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/
Microsoft's Virtual PC:
http://www.microsoft.com/windows/virtualpc/default.mspx
Win on Mac site:
http://onmac.net/

Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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