• The Second Mac Revolution: Running Multiple Operating Systems

    April 8th, 2006

    The front page of a daily newspaper is supposed to contain the most important events of the day. What’s more, when a story is given that kind of play in the famous newspaper of record, The New York Times, its importance receives even greater emphasis.

    In case you didn’t notice, Thursday’s edition of the Times carried the headline, “Windows or Mac? Apple Says Both” from technology reporter John Markoff. As the title implies, it covered the release of Apple’s Boot Camp public beta, stating: “After long imploring computer users to ‘think different’ and defining the Macintosh as a lone bulwark against the Windows onslaught, Apple Computer has decided to open the gate, at least a bit.”

    If Boot Camp’s release coincided with Apple Computer’s 30th anniversary, on April 1st, you’d just regard it as another silly joke. However, when the news broke on Wednesday morning, I rang up David Biedny, The Tech Night Owl LIVE Special Correspondent, to get his visceral reaction, I had to repeat myself a couple of times before he took me seriously. Since Apple opened up the iPod and iTunes for Windows users, though, I had come to take such surprising developments in stride.

    The rapid run-up in Apple’s stock price shows that Wall Street agrees with the Times about the importance of this unexpected development. But it’s really only a first step, and, for some, somewhat clumsy. Did I say clumsy? Well, yes. Sure, the installation is quite simple, so long as you are cautious enough to OK the prompt to initialize the C: drive rather than any other drive, for otherwise, you will wipe out your Mac data. But you don’t get the seamless file sharing that’s available with Microsoft’s Virtual PC, and you must endure a reboot when you need to switch operating systems.

    As a practical matter, these shortcomings may not matter so much. The restart process won’t take long, and I suppose you could email a file to yourself from, say, the Windows environment if you needed it for Mac OS X. Or just share the file with another Mac or PC on your network. On the other hand, Boot Camp is a public beta, and it’s quite possible Apple will address limitations of this sort before the final version appears as part of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard.

    But wouldn’t it be nice to just be able to switch from the Mac OS to Windows and, perhaps, to Linux, without having to restart? Just click on a window as you do now with Virtual PC. From Microsoft’s statement on the subject, first disclosed by The Mac Night Owl, it appears they haven’t given up on building a version that will operate on Intel-based Macs. There are other solutions, based on open source applications, but they are slow and clunky and, to be charitable, works in progress.

    The other possibility is to harness the power of virtualization, which is a feature of the new Intel chips that Apple’s using. It’s another way to run multiple operating systems, and one example of a virtualization solution is Parallels Workstation, which is now also available as a public beta for Intel-based Macs. However, it’s at the early stage of development and isn’t a complete solution. For one thing, you can’t burn a CD or DVD, and gaming support is limited. As with promises of future capabilities, you have to take it all with a grain of salt until there’s a specific deadline, and maybe not even then. Further, a solution of this sort will inevitably exact somewhat of a speed penalty, although the company promises “Close to near-native.”

    The major advantage of Apple’s Boot Camp is that the PC environment isn’t emulated. It’s native, and it turns your MacIntel into a fully functioning Windows computer, akin to a similarly equipped Dell or HP. Sure there are slight hardware shortcomings, such as the lack of support for Apple’s remote and USB modem, but these are strictly driver-related. Future updates to Boot Camp, or standalone revisions may provide support for such things. There may even be third party solutions should Boot Camp catch on after the early adopters have their say.

    For now, Apple is being coy about its new multi-platform offensive. They won’t support Boot Camp or Windows. Microsoft is apparently thinking about the latter, although I hardly think it would refuse to provide technical support since you are installing it on what is essentially standard Intel-based hardware, even though Apple built the product.

    But would Apple begin to actually sell you copies of Windows and provide its standard technical support if you install that other operating system? Well, there is one area where it would have no choice, and that’s the firmware update that allows all this hocus-pocus to occur. I already have heard one horror story of a MacIntel failing to operate after an attempt to run that firmware revision. Such things can and do happen, which is why you want to back up your data, as Apple suggests, if you decide to set up Boot Camp. However, such a malady will doubtless be covered by warranty, so your Mac won’t become a door stop permanently. Just think carefully before you jump on the dual-boot bandwagon.

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    2 Responses to “The Second Mac Revolution: Running Multiple Operating Systems”

    1. WWDC Recap: Mac Laptop - Newest Features from Apple | blog.computerrentals.com says:

      […] The crunched numbers by industry analysts suggest that many Windows users like the idea of multi-OS computers, of which the Mac is the undisputed […]

    2. Blake Butler says:

      For me, the best operating system is Linux because it rarely hangs.:.’

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