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Win on Mac: A Sign of the Apocalypse?

May 1, 2006 issue - I am experiencing the computer equivalent of an out-of-body experience. In front of me is Apple's sleek new MacBook Pro laptop computer. And on the screen is a familiar sight in an unfamiliar setting: the rolling green hill and the blue sky spotted with clouds (and dotted with icons) that is the unmistakable Windows XP desktop. It's like Pepsi in a Coke bottle, DeLay as a Democrat, Johnny Damon in a Yankee uniform (oops, forget that last one). Though it had previously been possible to run Windows on a Macintosh via pokey simulation software, this time Windows runs "native" (i.e., directly, just like with Dell and the rest) on the Intel chips that Apple has been switching to this year. Depending on how I start it up, this MacBook can retain the identity of a Mac running the Tiger OS, or become a Windows box in Mac clothing. It's making me dizzy.

Even more disorienting, the software utility that allows me to go into the twilight zone of "it's a Mac, it's not a Mac" was created by Apple itself, the anti-Windows company. The free program, called Boot Camp, was sprung on us a few days after April Fools' Day, the company's 30th anniversary. (If Apple had released the software on April 1, no one would have believed it.) According to Apple senior VP Phil Schiller, the company thought of doing this after shipping the first Intel-based Macs in January. Since the chips are the same ones used in Windows machines, people began asking if they could use those Macs to run their PC-based programs, so Apple did the work to accommodate them. Schiller says Boot Camp is for "switchers" from Windows to Mac who need one or two Windows programs that don't have a Mac equivalent. For others, he says, it will be a comforting "safety net" in case there's a need to run a PC program.

That makes sense, but there's some gamesmanship here as well. Apple has no pretensions of joining the Win world—Schiller insists that the company will never be a formal licensee of Windows, so don't expect the next Mac OS, Leopard, to come with a copy of XP or its successor, Vista. Instead, Apple may be sending a not so subtle message that a direct comparison of the competing systems will leave no doubts concerning which is superior—or safer. When describing the precautions one must take when using Windows, Apple's attitude is similar to a hotel concierge providing an insistent guest with directions to a nightclub in a thoroughly disreputable neighborhood. "When you load Windows you're taking on the risk that entails," Schiller warns, citing the epidemiological woes of the Microsoft world. "There are a lot more security threats than the Mac has ever seen."

Microsoft's response to Boot Camp is telling. You would think there would be celebrating in Redmond—after all, customers who try it must bring their own $199 full-install version of Windows XP to the party. But aside from a welcome statement attributed to a Windows apparatchik, Microsoft execs are refusing to go on the record about this historic development—an indication that this disruptive development may be anything but welcome.

Ultimately, Apple isn't about supporting Windows—it's about trying to steal customers from Windows. The company known for iPod now knows what it's like to imbibe the sweet wine of high market share, and would love a taste of that for its flagship operating system (Macs currently comprise about 4 percent of the PC market). "The thing we market is our innovation and their lack of innovation," says Schiller of that other realm. "At the end of the day there's a place for PC makers who are innovative. And there's a place for people who make boring boxes for the corporate world." Such familiar sniping should assure you that not everything in techland has gone topsy-turvy. Now excuse me while I book my ski trip in hell.

Win on Mac: A Sign of the Apocalypse? - Sunday, April 23, 2006 -

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