Boot Camp simplifies Windows installation on an Intel-based Mac by providing a simple graphical step-by-step assistant application to dynamically create a second partition on the hard drive for Windows, to burn a CD with all the necessary Windows drivers, and to install Windows from a Windows XP installation CD. After installation is complete, users can choose to run either Mac OS X or Windows when they restart their computer.
It’s a time-limited beta, but Apple’s press release promises that the feature will be formally available in the upcoming OS X Leopard release.
I’m not a big fan of dual-booting, which represents a crude solution to compatibility problems. If you own a Mac, you bought it because you want to use your Mac applications. It’s an enormous hassle to shut everything down and boot into an alien operating system to perform a task that can’t be accomplished in the native environment. And while you’re running Windows on your Mac, you’ve lost all access to your familiar Mac desktop and programs. I'm also skeptical that drivers written for Windows XP will work seamlessly on this unfamiliar hardware platform. When you add it all up, this is a feature that diehard enthusiasts might experiment with, but it won't be particularly useful in the real world.
Now, what would really be interesting is if Apple or a third-party software maker could create a virtualization layer that allowed Windows and native Windows programs to run in an alternate process under the Mac OS. If I knew I could install a software layer like VMWare or Virtual PC and toggle instantly between the Windows environment and the Mac OS, with the ability to share data files and a Clipboard, I’d be sorely tempted to buy an Intel-based Mac.
Ironically, Microsoft might not even mind. Every one of those virtual PCs would require a license for its copy of Windows, sending a big ka-ching to Redmond and making it possible for any Mac owner to become part of the Windows family. It's all part of Bill Gates' original, 1970s-vintage mission statement for Microsoft: "A computer in every home and on every desktop, running Microsoft software."
Want to take bets on how soon it will happen?
Update 5-Apr-2006: Well, that was fast. According to Walt Mossberg in The Wall Street Journal, a Virginia-based company called Parallels, Inc. will release a beta version of its Windows VM package for Macs later this week. Mossberg says the program will be called Parallels Workstation for OS X and will cost $49, plus the cost of Windows itself.