• The Great Windows Rip-off

    April 15th, 2006

    When a friend asked me to help him install Boot Camp and Windows XP on his MacBook Pro, I wanted to make sure he understood that it wasn’t going to be cheap. I explained that, unless I spent a little time shopping around for him, he’d be spending around $200 for the Home edition and another $300 for the Professional edition. He had to add to that the cost of software to product his computer from malware, such as viruses and spyware.

    He was accustomed to paying $129 for Apple operating system upgrades, so he was surprised at the high cost of a Microsoft system. “How do they sell PC’s for $399 then?” he wondered. I simply reminded him that if he wanted to buy a million copies, he’d get a discount, too, that he could pass on to his customers. There is, of course, an OEM version of Windows, and various and sundry upgrade editions that are less expensive. But the latter, for example, comes with conditions, the main one being that they require that you are already running a version of Windows on your computer. With the an Intel-based Mac, you are starting from scratch. And, if you want to access files from your Mac partition, prepare to spend another $50 for a copy of MacDrive for Windows.

    Right now, Apple’s Boot Camp limits you to a pair of Windows XP versions, although there are already tricks being posted on the Internet that allow you to get around those limitations. But unless you are a power user, I wouldn’t recommend it. Boot Camp is a fast and not very dirty solution that works perfectly for most users. At the same time, if you run into any trouble with your installation, Apple won’t provide telephone support. It is, after all, a public beta, which means you are on your own, more or less if you need someone to hold your hand, at least verbally.

    However, Apple’s support pages do provide a reasonable amount of advice, and you will get help from fellow Mac users on their discussions forums and many other online watering holes. So don’t feel you’ve left shore without a paddle.

    So far, however, the most serious problem may be that firmware update required to make the magic happen. Alas, there is always the potential that something will go wrong during the process of writing new firmware on a computer, which will turn your Mac into a door stop. But in situations like this, the repair will be covered by warranty, but this is one key reason that you should back up your files before you attempt to run Boot Camp. Also, you’ll want to think carefully about using a computer you depend on for your work, but most of you will want to install Windows for business rather than personal reasons, I expect, except for gaming of course.

    Once you’ve reconciled yourself to paying Microsoft’s single user “tax,” and the needed malware protection, don’t think you are off the hook. It’s important that you keep your security software updated, and it’s common practice in the industry to give you a subscription of one year’s duration. After that, you have to renew, which is akin to buying an upgrade package every year whether you want it or not. Sure, the application will continue to work, but you must stay abreast of protection updates, or that newly discovered Windows virus might bite. There’s no getting around this, and you’ll also want to make sure that the software is configured to look for updates every single day! If you’re used to the complacent environment of the Mac OS, get ready to face a dangerous new world.

    This isn’t to say there aren’t potential threats for Mac users, but you can temper your paranoia big time. Right now, Apple’s own security updates will tackle the known problems pretty much, but it doesn’t hurt to have virus protection software, if only to keep from accidentally passing on a virus to someone who uses Windows by forwarding infected email. And now that friend may be a fellow Mac user who has installed Boot Camp, or is using another developing solution to setting up Windows, such as Parallels Workstation.

    Now some Boot camp users are installing Windows to use applications that aren’t available in Universal versions, but have Windows variants. Adobe’s Creative Suite is definitely an important example, particularly if you want a MacIntel and need to continue to use Photoshop. Aside from the drab Windows XP interface, Photoshop for Windows operates about as fast as the Mac version on a PowerPC. You should also expect to pay the standard price for the full version. If you think you move from the Mac to Windows version and just pay the upgrade fee, read this limitation from Adobe’s site: “To install this upgrade successfully, you will need a licensed version of Adobe Photoshop CS or Photoshop 7.0 or earlier on the same platform as this purchase.”

    At the prevalent prices, you might just prefer to live with performance at half the native speed on a MacIntel until Adobe gets around to delivering a Universal version. But it’s not all that bad, because if you upgrade to an Intel-based Mac from a much slower computer, emulated performance may not be all that bad. It’s actually quite usable.

    Otherwise, even if Windows is only a temporary or occasional solution, get ready to pay and keep on paying for the privilege, if you can consider that a privilege.

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