Boot Camp: What Next for OS X?

Apple the switcher: from “We won’t do anything to preclude” running Windows on a Mac to “Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows” but here-are-all-the-drivers-you-need and they’ll-be-in-Leopard-too (that’s not quite no support in my book). So Boot Camp supports easy installation of Windows on Intel Macs.

This is clearly a good thing for many (potential) users. In particular, those who need to use a Windows only application have a one machine solution. But is it the best solution, for the user, and for Apple? Another model is the Virtual PC model, now also being touted by Parallels, with Windows as a guest OS; also there is the similar Wine/Darwine solution that can run Windows apps without requiring Windows at all. I had imagined that the rumoured “Windows support” that would be built into Leopard would be one of these, not the Boot Camp dual boot solution. The critical difference is that Boot Camp allows Windows to rather than run in parallel with OS X, to run instead of it.

The question is, where does that leave OS X?

If, as predicted, dual booting doubles Apple’s marketshare, there’s a clear upside for the company. But there’s a downside too – if many people start to buy Apple hardware solely for running Windows, Apple will lose the advantage it has controlling the hardware and the software. Although this has been given as the reason Apple lost out and spent so long in the wilderness, there are advantages – and it’s really working for them now with the iPod/iTunes combo.

For one thing, running Windows on a Mac will undoubtedly be the same buggy, virus and malware prone experience represented by running Windows on any other PC. Apple certainly doesn’t want the pain of supporting users with Windows problems, but inevitably users won’t distinguish between hardware and software problems – as graphically (and hilariously) illustrated here. Apple’s reputation for reliability will be tarnished.

More seriously in this scenario, in the long term maybe only half of all users will be using OS X. Will Apple really want to continue to develop and maintain an operating system that is only used by a minority of its own customers? There are two possibilities in this eventuality: bye bye OS X (the most advanced OS out there) or OS X gets unleashed and is allowed to run on any PC.

I can see some of these developments being interesting, maybe even advantageous for the commited Mac (OS X) user. But I’d feel happier if Apple were going down the “guest OS” model because I’d like to spend most of my time with OS X, and where I need to run, say, MS Access, running it alongside Safari, Mail, iTunes etc. on OS X. As well as the convenience of a cross-platform desktop, this would keep the dangers of Windows kept securely in a sandbox so if anything did go horribly wrong, as it is prone to do, I just get catapulted back into the comforting Aqua surroundings of OS X rather than the (until now alien to the Mac) blue screen of death.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See for more...

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