No, it's not April 1st, but yes, Apple Computer has just released a public beta of their Boot Camp software, which enables users of Intel-based Macs to install and run Windows XP. (Lest you see this as a sign of the apocalypse, remember that Apple sold DOS cards for Macs in the distant past to enable them to run PC software.) If you want to install Boot Camp and Windows XP, you won't need to mess with your Mac data at all, though you will need sufficient disk space for a Windows XP partition.
Boot Camp technology will be a feature of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, perhaps under a different name, but for now, you can use this beta to create a dual-boot system, switching between Mac OS X and Windows XP by holding down the Option key at startup and selecting the appropriate partition. The startup choice can also be set through a modified Startup Disk preference pane that Boot Camp installs, as well as a new Control Panel found in Windows XP after Boot Camp installs drivers and extensions.
Clever hackers had already managed to get Windows XP booting on Intel-based Macs - and won nearly $14,000 in private money by figuring it out - but the process is much harder than what Apple developed. Boot Camp provides a graphical assistant that walks the user through creating a second partition for Windows, burning a CD with the required Windows drivers (for your Mac's graphics card, wired and wireless networking, audio, Bluetooth, keyboard Eject button, and Brightness control for built-in displays), and installing Windows from the Windows XP installation CD.
Take special note of the partitioning process: You don't need to back up all the data on your hard disk, reformat the disk, repartition it with appropriately formatted Mac and Windows partitions, and then install Boot Camp. Rather, you simply use the Boot Camp software to create a dynamic logical partition that appears as valid as any previous statically created partition. This is possible only under Mac OS X systems using Intel Core processors using what Apple describes as a GUID Partition Table (GPT) using journaled HFS+ as the filesystem option. Our colleague Dan Frakes noted that "resizeVolume" is now an option for the command line diskutil Unix utility that's part of the Mac OS X 10.4.6 update. Diskutil mirrors the graphical Disk Utility application for most features. In an interview with TidBITS Contributing Editor Glenn Fleishman, Apple product managers wouldn't provide additional detail on this dynamic partitioning, but confirmed that it was new.
Your Mac volumes can be seen by the Windows system and vice-versa. For Windows partitions, you can choose to create either an old-style FAT32 volume, which can't create files larger than 4 GB, or new-style NTFS volume. NTFS has fairly sophisticated capabilities, including journaling - keeping a running record of changes to a volume that can be recovered even after a crash, just as newer versions of Linux, Unix, and Mac OS X 10.3 and later. But only the uglier FAT32 format can be read and written under Mac OS X natively; NTFS volumes mount read-only.
Mac volumes under Windows appear only if you install third-party software, such as MacDrive 6, which the company has already tested and found perfectly good performance with a Boot Camp installation.
Although Boot Camp's dual-boot capability is a first step, virtualization (running Windows within a window, or even running a Windows application as if it were just another program, in the way that Classic runs Mac OS 9 applications) would seem a much more desirable goal, since you wouldn't have to leave Mac OS X to run a Windows application. Virtualization also promises speeds comparable to native operation with the safety of running Windows in its own cage that can be restored to a base point - as in Microsoft's Virtual PC - more easily than a separately bootable Windows partition. Along with the open source Q project, at least three firms are working on virtualization software, including Parallels (whose public beta was released last week) and two others that aren't yet public with their plans. Microsoft may also update Virtual PC for Macintosh, but currently the company has not released any information on its plans. See "WinOnMac Smackdown: Dual-Boot versus Virtualization" later in this issue for a comparison of dual-boot and virtualization options available today.
Virtualization may be further than Apple is willing to go, though, given that it could conceivably make developing software for Mac OS X less attractive than writing for Windows, which would then be a least common denominator. In particular, game developers would be unlikely to port their games to Mac OS X if there was no downside to writing only for Windows; the companies that would be hurt would be those that actually create the ported versions. I can't see users having any problem running games in Windows given that most games have their own custom interfaces anyway; it's not like anyone would notice if a game running in Mac OS X was really a Windows application as long as its performance didn't suffer. That said, I could easily imagine Boot Camp being built into Leopard in such a way that you could switch between Mac OS X and Windows XP much the way Fast User Switching works now.
To run Boot Camp, you need an Intel-based iMac, Mac mini, or a MacBook Pro with the latest firmware updates; Mac OS X 10.4.6; at least 10 GB of hard disk space; a blank recordable CD; a printer (Apple says about the setup instructions, "You'll want to print them before installing Windows, really."); and a bona fide installation disc for Microsoft Windows XP, Service Pack 2, Home Edition or Professional (multi-disc, upgrade, and Media Center versions won't work). A full copy of Windows XP Home Edition runs nearly $200; Professional, nearly $300. Apple is explicit about how it does not sell or support Windows, and thus you'll not only need your own copy, it's up to you to make sure it's appropriately patched and protected against the panoply of Windows malware. That means installing a robust firewall, anti-virus software, and anti-spyware software. We recommend Zone Alarm by Zone Labs for some of those functions; the company sells a bundle that includes components it doesn't make itself. Google also provides Google Pack, a collection of helpful free software for Windows that Mac users interested in playing with Windows might use as a starting point.
Interestingly, the license for Boot Camp is good until 30-Sep-07, so we can be pretty sure that Leopard will be out before then. The license also says that you're allowed to use Boot Camp purely for evaluation purposes and - amusingly - that it "does not permit the Apple Software to be used in a commercial operating environment where it may be relied upon to perform in the same manner as a final-release commercial-grade product or with data that is not sufficiently and regularly backed up." So what's Apple going to do, sue you if you happen to use Boot Camp in a "commercial operating environment"? You'd be dumb to rely on public beta software in such a situation (and it's perfectly reasonable for a license to warn you that you're using the software at your own risk), but methinks Apple's lawyers were a bit overzealous during some of the writing. But whatever you do, be sure not to use Boot Camp to run your nuclear reactor, airplane navigation system, air traffic control system, or life support machine - the license is clear about how Apple doesn't intend Boot Camp to be used anywhere where a bug could cause death, injury, or severe physical or environmental damage. Playing Solitaire is probably okay, and Outlook will likely cause only the mental part of environmental damage.
Lastly, on our staff mailing list, Apple's choice of the name "Boot Camp" prompted Geoff Duncan to riff on the notion of a stereotypical Army drill sergeant addressing a fresh crop of Windows switchers. We couldn't resist sharing. Enjoy!
"Think you're good enough for this computer, MAGGOTS? You are NOT! Did you HEAR me? You are NOT good enough for this computer. The only way - and I repeat, the ONLY way - you simpering short-haired pencil necks will be good enough is if every REAL computer user on this planet were abducted by aliens!
"WHAT?! You think that's FUNNY, Windows-boy? When I WANT you to laugh, I'll make a cute sound!
"Now then, since you WORMS are all we've GOT - " (Paces the line.) "What does Control-Alt-Delete do?"
THERE IS NO ALT KEY, SIR!
"I can't HEEEAR you!"
THERE IS NO ALT KEY, SIR!
"Where is the menu bar?"
TOP OF THE SCREEN, SIR!
"What are computers for?"
BUYING MUSIC, SIR!