Apple's Boot Camp is a virtual shuffle forwards

Running Windows on a Mac may sound quite neat today but the real opportunities lie with full-scale virtualisation

Less than a year ago the idea of Microsoft Windows running on a Mac, with Apple's blessing, seemed about as likely as Bill Gates replacing Tux the penguin as the Linux mascot. But this week, thanks to Apple's move to Intel chips, anyone who wants to use Internet Explorer or experience the Blue Screen of Death on an iMac can sign up for the Boot Camp.

Is this a killer blow for Mac OS X? Hardly. The price premium that was once standard for Apple's hardware is fading away, but it's hard to believe that anyone would buy a Mac just so they can run Windows. A dual-boot option will appeal to the hobbyist end of the market and the gaming crowd, but Windows will remain a second-class option alongside OS X.

It would have been much more interesting if Apple had decided to make its operating system available for standard x86 hardware. Unleashing OS X on standard PCs would seriously shake up the entire market, and could even threaten Vista before Microsoft manages to launch it. However, such a move could have its risks for Apple. Not only would it rob the company of lucrative hardware sales, but support issues could tarnish Apple's brand value and reputation for creating quality products.

But Boot Camp isn't a no-news story. It's an important step on the journey towards virtualisation — a world where operating systems hide in the background and your applications automatically call them up as needed. It's a world where applications live and die on their own merits, rather than being hamstrung by the popularity of their platform, and that's a world where Apple can certainly thrive.

Virtualisation support for OS X would allow users to ditch PowerPoint and use the eminently superior Keynote, for example. They could also take advantage of Apple's track record on security and reduce their use of applications which run on leakier platforms. No prizes for guessing which software vendor has the most to lose in that equation. Microsoft may get a short-term fillip through Windows on the Mac today, but this may mean users have another reason to give it the boot tomorrow.