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Hands on: A Windows expert tries out Apple's Boot Camp...

...And likes what he finds

April 11, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A long-held dream of experienced computer users and IT departments was finally fulfilled last week by Apple Computer Inc. with the beta release of its Boot Camp software.

Apple has given Windows and Mac users the first realistic way to run both OS X Tiger and Windows XP on a Macintosh computer. Although other products, including Microsoft's $130 Virtual PC for Mac, have employed different means to accomplish the deed, in real-world use they've been less than satisfactory.

Apple has dramatically improved on the Windows-on-a-Mac experience over emulation-based solutions. After completing Boot Camp, Windows XP runs extremely fast on the Mac with very few quirks or issues -- so fast and well, in fact, that the notion of having your cake and eating it too comes to mind. That decades-old fork in the road between being forced to choose either the Mac for its superior design or Windows for its wealth of available software has disappeared. With a recent-model Mac, a large hard-drive -- and for the cost of a full-install version of Windows XP -- you can have both operating systems on the same computer — the best of both worlds.

So how did Apple achieve this? Boot Camp is designed solely for Intel-based Macs, including the new MacBook Pro and the iMac and Mac Mini models with dual- or single-core Intel CPUs. Intel-based Macs can run Windows XP natively, which means there's no emulation process needed to handle the differences in how PowerPC and Intel chips run software. So, the hard part of the equation was accomplished by Apple's adoption of Intel CPUs.

Apple's Mike Shebanek, product manager for Mac OS X product marketing, affirmed yesterday that Apple is ahead of schedule with the roll out of Intel CPU-based Macs and expects to complete the transition across its product line by the end of 2006.

Apple needed a way to set up the hard drive and install Windows XP on supporting Macs; It accomplished that by creating the Boot Camp Assistant software. Boot Camp is essentially a dual-boot utility. It works similarly to the multiple-boot functionality supported by all recent versions of Windows. The only real downside is that anytime you want to switch from Windows XP to OS X or vice versa, you must reboot the computer.

When you run the Boot Camp Assistant utility, it carries out several steps: It burns a Windows driver CD specific to your Mac hardware; dynamically repartitions your Mac hard drive, creating a new logical drive for Windows; and initiates the Windows XP setup process (using a "full install" copy of Windows XP Pro or Home Service Pack 2 that you must acquire separately).

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