January 20, 2006 12:05 PM PST

FAQ: Will your Intel-based Mac run Windows?

Apple Computer's announcement of new Macs based on processors from Intel raises an interesting question: Since both the Mac and Windows operating systems now run on Intel-based hardware, shouldn't it be easy to run both on the same computer?

That simple question deserves a simple answer. But there isn't one--at least not right now. Reaching the nirvana of running the two most popular desktop operating systems on one machine is a lot harder than you might expect.

Apple has said that it wasn't planning to support Windows on the "MacTel," but the company also said it wouldn't try to stop people from doing so. Still, some of the technical choices Apple has made in designing the new Intel-based Macs have made running Windows a challenge.

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The good news? Plenty of people have been working to break down the barriers, so it should only be a matter of time before Windows shows up on the iMac's 20-inch widescreen display.

Even after solving the technical challenges, there are also legal hurdles. Just because you might get Windows running on a Mac, or Tiger running on their Dell, doesn't mean it's legal.

Finally, even if the legal and technical obstacles are overcome, many people say just being able to boot both operating systems independently is not the answer. Most people will want the systems to interact, which means some form of emulation or virtualization. Some small developers are making promises in this area, but just how quickly this will happen--or how quickly the emulated OS will run--remains to be seen.

We're not engineers or lawyers, but here's our best stab at answering some common questions:

Q: So if the Mac runs on Intel chips and Windows runs on Intel processors, what's the holdup?
A: The challenge comes in the technical means by which the operating systems load. Windows loads itself using something known as the Basic Input/Output System, or BIOS. Apple's Intel Macs, however, use a newer technology known as Extensible Firmware Interface.

"These different firmware environments will separate MacOS and Windows environments almost as effectively as instruction set architecture did when Macintosh software ran only on PowerPC chips," chip analyst Nathan Brookwood said in an e-mail.

Related video
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Watch CNET's video review of the Apple iMac Core Duo.

But not everyone is convinced the obstacles are so insurmountable. Envisioneering analyst Peter Glaskowsky noted that Gateway had a Windows Media Center PC back in 2003 that used EFI rather than BIOS. Gateway, Glaskowsky said, had to change the boot loader that manages how operating systems load.

"It's just not a big deal," Glaskowsky told CNET News.com. "At some point, I expect it would be in the next week or two, somebody will figure out how to change boot loader on those Macs so that it is smart enough to do the same thing."

In any case, word is that the next version of Windows, called Vista, will support EFI. Enthusiasts claim to have made some progress in loading test versions of Vista onto an Intel Mac, though the work is not yet complete.

Q: OK, that sounds complicated. So what about running Linux on an Intel-based Mac?

A: Discussions about the idea quickly cropped up on a mailing list for Red Hat's Fedora version of Linux. The verdict: Again, it's a matter of writing the right code, but it's not simple.

The challenge here is not the chip, but the way that the operating systems boot. Most Linux versions use a boot loader called GRUB that doesn't support EFI at present, though Itanium versions of the operating system use a different one called Elilo that does.

Q: What about going in the other direction: How about running the Mac OS on other Intel machines, like a standard PC?

A: Apple has said that it will take steps to prevent this from happening. "We will not allow running Mac OS X on anything other than an Apple Mac," Senior Vice President Phil Schiller said in a June interview. The company has not gone into specifics, but appears to be using a TPM (trusted protection module) chip as part of its authentication mechanism.

Q: OK, how about programs like Virtual PC, then, that run under the Mac OS but allow Windows emulation?

A: Microsoft, which now owns Virtual PC, has been a bit cagey on when, or even if, it will bring out Virtual PC for the Intel Mac. The company's public statement is that it sees a need for such software, but hasn't decided whether it will do it. However, the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg said Microsoft is doing a version and will have it ready next year.

Other emulation makers have been more direct. One small company, iEmulator, has promised that it will have an Intel-native version of its software by the end of February. "We're already in early testing," said general manager John Czlonka. "The performance increase is staggering."

Q: Technical issues aside, is it legal to run Windows on a Mac?

A: It seems so, but only by purchasing a full copy of the OS, not the upgrade versions typically bought by consumers. Microsoft says that a fully licensed copy of Windows XP Professional can be properly licensed if run on an Intel Mac.

Q: What about running the Mac OS on a non-Apple PC?
A: There isn't a legal way to do that, given that Apple doesn't sell standalone versions of its operating system. Because all Macs come with some form of the Mac OS, the retail boxes that Apple sells are only licenses to upgrade from one version to another.

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

314 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Paging Ty and Earl
Commence bickering!
Posted by djemerson (64 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nothing new....
.... and I'm not sure that Ms Ina has all her information correct. Any
how, so far, nothing has been written that I would argue with at the
moment. But the story may yet develop in more ways. We'll see.

By the way, you really don't want to get Ty started on any set of
posts.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
ROFL!
Oh, both of them found this article without your help I am sure! :)

I see posts from both, have yet to read them all but it's going, it's going! :)
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Paging Ty and Earl
Commence bickering!
Posted by djemerson (64 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Nothing new....
.... and I'm not sure that Ms Ina has all her information correct. Any
how, so far, nothing has been written that I would argue with at the
moment. But the story may yet develop in more ways. We'll see.

By the way, you really don't want to get Ty started on any set of
posts.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
ROFL!
Oh, both of them found this article without your help I am sure! :)

I see posts from both, have yet to read them all but it's going, it's going! :)
Posted by zaznet (1138 comments )
Link Flag
full os x IS available
you can buy a full version of os x unless something has recently changed. Just walk into any apple store. Cost $129 for the full version or $69 if you have an education discount.
Posted by k2skiing (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Full OS X Is _not_ available
That is an upgrade copy of OS X. There is no such thing as a retail
full version of OS X, since there is no such thing as an OS X-less
macintosh.
Posted by dwaite40 (2 comments )
Link Flag
nope
and what are you going to install the 129 yearly upgrade onto? a machine that already has OSX because it came with it from the factory.
Posted by capfan12 (101 comments )
Link Flag
Only upgrades
Every Macintosh ships with a version of MacOS. You can only buy upgrades to that version from your local dealer. How do they enforce the fact that it's an upgrade? The computer is a $2,000 hardware dongle for the OS.

Basically, with Apple, their hardware likely subsidizes their software development, so if you like having MacOS X exist, don't pirate it onto non-Apple hardware.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
Link Flag
It's a legal issue. It's not about bits on a disc.
I hate to point this out, but whether an application is considered
an "upgrade" has nothing to do with whether it requires the
previous version to exist on a computer's hard drive at the time
of installation. Many apps have (and do) simply replace the
existing app with a full copy of the new version. The license is
all about a legal contract. And when it comes to Mac OS, you
"agreed" to the terms of Apple's license when you started using
the machine -- regardless of which Mac OS was installed on it.
As someone accurately pointed out: the machine itself is proof
that you had (or were originally entitled to) a legal, licensed
version of Mac OS. So Mac OS X is just an "upgrade" -- even
though it can be installed on a clean hard drive. Your
previously-licensed version is either on a disk in your desk
drawer, or happened to get lost somewhere in time. But once
upon a time, that Mac had a licensed copy of Mac OS on it --
every Mac and even the short-lived Mac OS clones did. So don't
get so hung-up on whether it'll install on a clean HD. That has
nothing to do with it. It's all about the legal license agreement.
Posted by jscott (7 comments )
Link Flag
full os x IS available
you can buy a full version of os x unless something has recently changed. Just walk into any apple store. Cost $129 for the full version or $69 if you have an education discount.
Posted by k2skiing (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Full OS X Is _not_ available
That is an upgrade copy of OS X. There is no such thing as a retail
full version of OS X, since there is no such thing as an OS X-less
macintosh.
Posted by dwaite40 (2 comments )
Link Flag
nope
and what are you going to install the 129 yearly upgrade onto? a machine that already has OSX because it came with it from the factory.
Posted by capfan12 (101 comments )
Link Flag
Only upgrades
Every Macintosh ships with a version of MacOS. You can only buy upgrades to that version from your local dealer. How do they enforce the fact that it's an upgrade? The computer is a $2,000 hardware dongle for the OS.

Basically, with Apple, their hardware likely subsidizes their software development, so if you like having MacOS X exist, don't pirate it onto non-Apple hardware.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
Link Flag
It's a legal issue. It's not about bits on a disc.
I hate to point this out, but whether an application is considered
an "upgrade" has nothing to do with whether it requires the
previous version to exist on a computer's hard drive at the time
of installation. Many apps have (and do) simply replace the
existing app with a full copy of the new version. The license is
all about a legal contract. And when it comes to Mac OS, you
"agreed" to the terms of Apple's license when you started using
the machine -- regardless of which Mac OS was installed on it.
As someone accurately pointed out: the machine itself is proof
that you had (or were originally entitled to) a legal, licensed
version of Mac OS. So Mac OS X is just an "upgrade" -- even
though it can be installed on a clean hard drive. Your
previously-licensed version is either on a disk in your desk
drawer, or happened to get lost somewhere in time. But once
upon a time, that Mac had a licensed copy of Mac OS on it --
every Mac and even the short-lived Mac OS clones did. So don't
get so hung-up on whether it'll install on a clean HD. That has
nothing to do with it. It's all about the legal license agreement.
Posted by jscott (7 comments )
Link Flag
No standalone OS X?
What does Fried mean, "...Apple doesn't sell standalone versions of
its operating system." They certainly do. It does seem that Cnet
writers too often don't have mastery of their topics.
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Reply Link Flag
why would there be?
you can only get OSX through apple with the purchase of a mac. why would one buy a "Full" copy of OSX when you already have a "Full" copy if you have a mac in the first place and you only need upgrade editions?
Posted by capfan12 (101 comments )
Link Flag
Are you daft?
LOL show me where you can buy a vill version or the Mac OS for sale anywhere. You can only buy upgrades not a full blown OS you can install on a bare bones system w/o an installed OS. No such beast exists. It's how Apple maintains control of their OS. I think it sucks but oh well.
Posted by norman619 (21 comments )
Link Flag
Cnet News is Not
CNet is not a journalism company. It's a marketing company that provides "News" to pull in eyeballs for its advertising clients. There is no stated policy divorcing advertising from editorial, for example.

Don't be surprised by the quality of what you read here. And keep an eye on the banners and interstitials when evaluating the subjects they deem worthy of consideration...

I use it as a "heads up" on things that might be interesting to explore elsewhere. No more, no less.
Posted by Betty Roper (121 comments )
Link Flag
No standalone OS X?
What does Fried mean, "...Apple doesn't sell standalone versions of
its operating system." They certainly do. It does seem that Cnet
writers too often don't have mastery of their topics.
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Reply Link Flag
why would there be?
you can only get OSX through apple with the purchase of a mac. why would one buy a "Full" copy of OSX when you already have a "Full" copy if you have a mac in the first place and you only need upgrade editions?
Posted by capfan12 (101 comments )
Link Flag
Are you daft?
LOL show me where you can buy a vill version or the Mac OS for sale anywhere. You can only buy upgrades not a full blown OS you can install on a bare bones system w/o an installed OS. No such beast exists. It's how Apple maintains control of their OS. I think it sucks but oh well.
Posted by norman619 (21 comments )
Link Flag
Cnet News is Not
CNet is not a journalism company. It's a marketing company that provides "News" to pull in eyeballs for its advertising clients. There is no stated policy divorcing advertising from editorial, for example.

Don't be surprised by the quality of what you read here. And keep an eye on the banners and interstitials when evaluating the subjects they deem worthy of consideration...

I use it as a "heads up" on things that might be interesting to explore elsewhere. No more, no less.
Posted by Betty Roper (121 comments )
Link Flag
ummm, yes there is
As previously stated, there is indeed a standalone version. While it
is true that most people use it as an upgrade, it's also a full,
standalone version - even if your harddrive is empty you can install
a full running copy of OS X. I've done it before. Sounds like more
than an upgrade to me.
Posted by sempercliff (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hmmm
I will have to try that cuz I was asking myself that same question as I wrote my last post. What do you do if you loose everything. Even the ghost image you may have backed up?
Posted by norman619 (21 comments )
Link Flag
But does the 'full' install require Mac ROM's?
I could be out of date here as I have not interest in hacking a
regular intel box, but would you not require a copy of the Mac ROM
to install Mac OS X on a non-Mac box?
Posted by Mark Morrill (9 comments )
Link Flag
ummm, yes there is
As previously stated, there is indeed a standalone version. While it
is true that most people use it as an upgrade, it's also a full,
standalone version - even if your harddrive is empty you can install
a full running copy of OS X. I've done it before. Sounds like more
than an upgrade to me.
Posted by sempercliff (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hmmm
I will have to try that cuz I was asking myself that same question as I wrote my last post. What do you do if you loose everything. Even the ghost image you may have backed up?
Posted by norman619 (21 comments )
Link Flag
But does the 'full' install require Mac ROM's?
I could be out of date here as I have not interest in hacking a
regular intel box, but would you not require a copy of the Mac ROM
to install Mac OS X on a non-Mac box?
Posted by Mark Morrill (9 comments )
Link Flag
Who would want to run Windows on a Mac?
That would be like winning a gold medal in the Olympics,
and having it bronzed.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
plenty of reasons
because not all software can be run on mac that I use on windows, and I don't want to have 10 computers sitting on my desk.

there is no mac equal to a custom developed piece of software for a corporation that runs on windows

I duel boot linux and windows for exactly that reason I develop for both platforms.
Posted by capfan12 (101 comments )
Link Flag
I would agree...
... except I prefer not to run a crappy OS like Windows on a gem
like a Mac. That's why I have PC's to run Windows.

To each his own
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Workers everywhere
If you could boot Windows, run a virtualized Windows, and/or run a native-speed Windows on a Mac, then Apple becomes a viable vendor for millions of companies around the world. I need Windows for work, and would love to just be able to use a Mac 90% of the time and switch to Windows for the necessary stuff.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
Link Flag
Who would want to run Windows on a Mac?
That would be like winning a gold medal in the Olympics,
and having it bronzed.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
plenty of reasons
because not all software can be run on mac that I use on windows, and I don't want to have 10 computers sitting on my desk.

there is no mac equal to a custom developed piece of software for a corporation that runs on windows

I duel boot linux and windows for exactly that reason I develop for both platforms.
Posted by capfan12 (101 comments )
Link Flag
I would agree...
... except I prefer not to run a crappy OS like Windows on a gem
like a Mac. That's why I have PC's to run Windows.

To each his own
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Link Flag
Workers everywhere
If you could boot Windows, run a virtualized Windows, and/or run a native-speed Windows on a Mac, then Apple becomes a viable vendor for millions of companies around the world. I need Windows for work, and would love to just be able to use a Mac 90% of the time and switch to Windows for the necessary stuff.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
Link Flag
FAQ: Will Your Intel-Based Mac Run Windows
Yes, under ths sky, everything is possible. Tell Steve Jobs it can't be done, and you can be sure it will be done.

The problem lies in the legal domain. Apple will fight tooth and nail to protect MAC OS. They have been quite successful in doing it all these years.

I don't think it would be legal to run Mac computers using Windows. Ask the "Man", and he will say; No way, Jose.
Posted by epiac1216 (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They've already stated...
You don't know what you're talking about, nor did you read this article. Apple has already stated numerous times that they have no problem with a Macintosh running Windows.
Posted by anarchyreigns (299 comments )
Link Flag
FAQ: Will Your Intel-Based Mac Run Windows
Yes, under ths sky, everything is possible. Tell Steve Jobs it can't be done, and you can be sure it will be done.

The problem lies in the legal domain. Apple will fight tooth and nail to protect MAC OS. They have been quite successful in doing it all these years.

I don't think it would be legal to run Mac computers using Windows. Ask the "Man", and he will say; No way, Jose.
Posted by epiac1216 (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They've already stated...
You don't know what you're talking about, nor did you read this article. Apple has already stated numerous times that they have no problem with a Macintosh running Windows.
Posted by anarchyreigns (299 comments )
Link Flag
Native Virtual PC?
I think I'd rather have something like virtual PC running natively.
That way it is running in a nice controlled sandbox. The worms and
other crap that sprout can be contained.
Posted by Mark Morrill (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, one way or another.
If Microsoft takes too long, vmware will probably jump in and beat them to the punch.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.vmware.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.vmware.com</a>

And if not, Darwine may be even better:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://darwine.opendarwin.org/" target="_newWindow">http://darwine.opendarwin.org/</a>
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Link Flag
Native Virtual PC?
I think I'd rather have something like virtual PC running natively.
That way it is running in a nice controlled sandbox. The worms and
other crap that sprout can be contained.
Posted by Mark Morrill (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, one way or another.
If Microsoft takes too long, vmware will probably jump in and beat them to the punch.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.vmware.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.vmware.com</a>

And if not, Darwine may be even better:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://darwine.opendarwin.org/" target="_newWindow">http://darwine.opendarwin.org/</a>
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Link Flag
Not EFI
The latest hangup with installing Windows for the hackers seems to imply that the real sticking point so far is the disk partition format. Windows install media doesn't come in the GPT format that Intel Macs need to boot from. I think experiments with moving it onto a bootable media for install are ongoing.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not EFI
The latest hangup with installing Windows for the hackers seems to imply that the real sticking point so far is the disk partition format. Windows install media doesn't come in the GPT format that Intel Macs need to boot from. I think experiments with moving it onto a bootable media for install are ongoing.
Posted by samkass (310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We Are Microsoft, your life as it has been is over..
Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. Your culture will adapt to service ours. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. You will be assimilated.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We Are Microsoft, your life as it has been is over..
Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. Your culture will adapt to service ours. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. You will be assimilated.
Posted by ajbright (447 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who would install a Windows in a Mac?
From what ive heard in ten years using a PC, ppl say mac rules. I dont agree in 100%. I would like to see, yes, a PC running a MAC OS. It would be a good point to break the Microsoft monopoly over the pcs.

I dont know, Jobs can plan a MacTel computer but, imagine the damage he can do to MS if his MAC OS runs in PC with the same quality as it runs in a mac?
Posted by Mark_Smith (85 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Answer: Virtual PC and VMWare customers.
Opening OS X to run on any Intel box would hurt Apple a lot more than it would hurt Microsoft. In fact, it would probably destroy Apple.

They might license it to exclusive partners (like they did the iPod with HP), but open it completely? Forget about it. Not going to happen.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Link Flag
Who would install a Windows in a Mac?
From what ive heard in ten years using a PC, ppl say mac rules. I dont agree in 100%. I would like to see, yes, a PC running a MAC OS. It would be a good point to break the Microsoft monopoly over the pcs.

I dont know, Jobs can plan a MacTel computer but, imagine the damage he can do to MS if his MAC OS runs in PC with the same quality as it runs in a mac?
Posted by Mark_Smith (85 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Answer: Virtual PC and VMWare customers.
Opening OS X to run on any Intel box would hurt Apple a lot more than it would hurt Microsoft. In fact, it would probably destroy Apple.

They might license it to exclusive partners (like they did the iPod with HP), but open it completely? Forget about it. Not going to happen.
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Link Flag
Yet another not so intelligent article
installing windows on an iMac would be like pissing in a porsche's tank! and you certainly don't need an astronaut to drive a cab!

The only fun would be for the hacker, who would give it a shot, yet there are far more interesting things to do, than runing windows on Intel!!.
Posted by Shauheen (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yet another not so intelligent article
installing windows on an iMac would be like pissing in a porsche's tank! and you certainly don't need an astronaut to drive a cab!

The only fun would be for the hacker, who would give it a shot, yet there are far more interesting things to do, than runing windows on Intel!!.
Posted by Shauheen (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
??????
Please, which serious Mac user would want to use Windows??
I cant think of any reason why somebody would want to use Windows XP, except if you one of those people who dont like to pay for Software and use illegal copies.
Posted by pinky1968 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
??????
Please, which serious Mac user would want to use Windows??
I cant think of any reason why somebody would want to use Windows XP, except if you one of those people who dont like to pay for Software and use illegal copies.
Posted by pinky1968 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yaboot
If the only issue with booting windows is the Open Firmware there are simple ways to get around that. Now, if apple is using some sort of "protection" DRM or whatever then obviously it has to be hacked. As for emulating windows through OS X hacking exsiting programs... IE wine, vmware, MOL, is going to have to happen. (*Note Mol was added to the list because it's basic idea would be very useful in this situation) Windows will appear on your x86 based laptops very soon. I don't know why but I do know that it will happen.
Posted by _zeroday (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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