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The Leopard Report: Will Boot Camp Change?

We know two things about Leopard. One is that it is still supposedly on track for delivery later this spring. The second is that it’ll contain the final version of Boot Camp, which, as the title implies, allows you to run Windows on your Mac in a dual-boot situation.

Despite the obvious facts, it’s sad to see how often the basics are messed up by people who should know better. So as we sit in this period where new information is lacking, let me bring you all up to date with a few new slants where appropriate.

First of all, of course, is where Boot Camp is heading. Now its very name, using the word “Boot,” clearly defines its purpose, which is why I wonder about the folks who seem to feel that Apple is heading towards a virtual machine solution, one that doesn’t require a reboot, to compete with Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion.

Of course, some also felt quite recently that Apple planned to delay Leopard to provide Windows Vista compatibility, but since that shortcoming was taken care of last week — officially — and unofficial solutions were previously available, that theory has fallen by the wayside. In addition, Apple has said that they didn’t intend to enter into the virtual machine marketplace, since that was already well-served, and that Boot Camp would remain a dual-boot solution under Leopard.

To be fair, Apple is also notorious for saying something one day, and changing its corporate mind the next. The Mac mini is a great example, where their financial team once claimed that Apple didn’t plan on entering the low-cost PC arena and did just that a few months later.

On the other hand, I fail to see the logic in changing the goals of Boot Camp. Remember, this is just an accommodation for Windows users switching to the Mac, who need a lifeline to run Windows software, particularly if there’s no Mac equivalent. Gamers who can’t find Mac versions of their favorite titles, or who suffer from inferior performance when they are available, also benefit.

Sure, nothing has stopped Apple from supplanting third parties when they felt they could do a better job. But Parallels Desktop has all the Mac interface goodies, and VMWare is a huge, smart company that will no doubt also deliver a credible Mac virtualization solution when their work is done later this year. In other words, Apple’s intervention here isn’t necessary. Boot Camp is fine for what it does, and simply making its use more and more seamless ought to be sufficient.

So when you learn the final feature-set of Leopard — and I expect that’ll happen in a matter of a few weeks at most — you won’t be surprised as to what Boot Camp will do. The only real changes that I expect are full support for Time Machine, and possibly an easier route to dual-booting, but that’s about the size of it.

But what about Boot Camp for Tiger? Will it still be supported? Well, officially, it’s a public beta, and as solid as it might be, Apple can certainly leave it be, or do minor updates from time to time to deliver improved drivers or fix bugs. Some have suggested, though, that Boot Camp will be unbundled for Mac users who don’t upgrade to Leopard, and the final version will carry a modest price tag, say $29.99, same as QuickTime Pro.

Why not make it free? Well, that’s a good question. I dare say, though, that the hundreds of thousands of Mac users who presently run Boot Camp may not feel a compelling reason to buy a gussied up retail version.

In the end, though, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Boot Camp simply remain the public beta that it is today. I cannot see a compelling reason to make more than minor changes to it, and only a drastic alteration or improvement would convince many people to pay for it.

Remember, too, that Boot Camp is not simply something that can just expire. It’s basically a Setup Assistant that lets you install Windows on an Intel-based Mac, along with a package of drivers to support Apple’s hardware. That’s the beginning and end of it, so there’s really no feasible way for it to stop working on existing installations, unless the drivers have a time bomb in them that would prevent them from functioning, and that’s highly improbable.

I suppose the Setup Assistant itself could stop working, but that hardly makes sense either.

So for all the speculation you’ll hear between now and the final announcement of Leopard’s features and shipping date, I don’t expect much will change about Boot Camp.

As always, though, feel free to disagree, as I know some of you will.