Many years ago, IBM tried to sell OS/2 with the tagline "a better Windows than Windows." They failed, because that ambitious claim simply wasn't true. But Apple has the opportunity to succeed where IBM failed. The secret? Look past Boot Camp.
I'm not all that excited by Boot Camp. As I wrote earlier this week, dual-booting is a crude solution to compatibility problems. (More thoughts on the subject here.) What I want to see instead is virtualization. Give me good software that can run Windows programs alongside native Mac applications, and you've just blown away my biggest objection to adoption of the Mac platform.
It looks like it might happen sooner rather than later. Yesterday, Parallels announced the availability of a free beta version of its new virtualization software for OS X (the final product will cost $50). If it lives up to its claims, it will allow Intel-based Macs to run Windows XP, several flavors of Linux, and even OS/2 Warp in a virtual machine without dual-booting.
And a popular Mac rumors site says that VMWare is porting its software to Mac OS X and is already successfully running Windows XP and Linux in its labs.
For years, I've heard Mac owners pooh-pooh the idea of virtualization software. The overwhelming complaint: It's slower than molasses in January. It's painful to use. It's really, really irritating. It's slow, slow, slow.
But what if those complaints were specific to the most popular virtualization software out there, Virtual PC for Mac? Microsoft bought the technology from Connectix back in 2003 and released a Microsoft-branded version of Virtual PC for Windows in 2004. Its most recent Mac update, Virtual PC for Mac Version 7, doesn't run on the latest Mac hardware, and the company's most recent public statement on upgrades simply says, "We are working with Apple to determine the feasibility of developing Virtual PC for Mac for Intel-based Macs."
I've evaluated Virtual PC for Windows and VMWare Workstation 5.5 extensively. (I've also downloaded the Windows version of Parallels Workstation and Microsoft's free Virtual Server 2005 R2 but haven't had a chance to test either one yet.) In my experience, there's no contest. Virtual PC for Windows is painfully slow. VMWare is fast, slick, and nearly bulletproof. Based on the company's track record, I would expect an OS X-based VMWare to be state-of-the-art. Any Mac user who was disappointed by Virtual PC for the Mac should set aside those memories and try one of the alternatives.
Last week at this time, owners of Intel-based Macs could choose any OS they wanted, as long as it was OS X. This week, the landscape is dramatically changed. Apple's hardware is still pricey, but it's getting more and more tempting with each passing day.