April 5, 2006 1:04 PM PDT

Will PC users see Apple in a new light?

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Apple: Windows on a Mac is here

April 5, 2006
Apple Computer's decision to make Windows on a Mac an officially sanctioned reality gives PC users more choice, but not all consumers might be ready to handle that freedom, according to analysts.

Many questions were left unanswered in the wake of Apple's decision to release its Boot Camp software on Wednesday. Boot Camp, currently in beta, will allow users of Macs with Intel processors to partition their hard drives and install a copy of Windows XP with Service Pack 2 alongside Mac OS 10.4.6. When Mac OS X 10.5, code-named Leopard, is released late this year or early next year, it will contain the Boot Camp software, Apple said.

Apple representatives did not respond to requests for more information about the Boot Camp initiative, leaving industry analysts to speculate about the company's strategy and the potential impact on the PC market. Some analysts feel that Boot Camp will expose Apple to a much larger class of PC users by offering them the ability to run Windows applications, but others feel that the market is limited, at least at first, for people who want to deal with a dual-boot PC.

"The big unanswered question in the market is whether Apple hardware could successfully sell with Windows on it, and by successful, I mean be competitive to a degree that it could grow Apple's hardware share massively," Rob Enderle, an analyst with The Enderle Group, said in an e-mail interview.

The obvious upside of the decision is that individual PC users who were tied to Windows applications for work or school can put Intel Macs on their shopping lists, said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC.

"I think it's a smart move, one that was probably due a long time ago, but they were just so stubborn," Shim said. If you have legacy Windows data, like documents, spreadsheets or financial information, Boot Camp provides a way to transition between the Windows world and the Mac OS world, he said.

But it's unclear how Boot Camp users will receive support for Windows XP on their Apple system. Apple declared right away that it will not sell or support Windows XP. In the Windows world, PC vendors are the support lifeline for the vast majority of users. People who purchase boxed copies of Windows at retail stores can receive support from Microsoft, but after two free questions, each additional inquiry costs $35.

One school of thought held that corporate IT departments would be more likely to consider deploying Intel-based Macs in their organizations with support for Windows applications.

Some corporations have been asking for a PC that has a personal sector for individual use, and a protected sector that can run corporate applications, Enderle said.

IT administrators can do this now, but built-in support for separate virtual environments on PCs is not expected to arrive in Windows anytime soon.

Others weren't sure the support issues would allow that to happen.

"This is a 'you're-on-your-own' situation," said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates.

One of the first dilemmas encountered by Boot Camp users will be deciding whether to format the Windows partition in the NTFS format or FAT32 format. Mac OS and Windows use different file systems to store data, and Mac who that want to create a Windows partition larger than 32GB will have to choose NTFS. Data created for NTFS can only be read, not modified, while working in Mac OS. Windows users can't see Mac OS data at all, but third-party software can allow that to happen.

But, of course, applications written for one operating system won't work in the other environment. And to switch between the two operating systems, users have to reboot each time. Also, "I wouldn't expect Apple to do wondrous things in making the Windows experience great" on a Mac, Kay said.

For several of those reasons, IT departments might not be more likely to consider deploying Intel-based Macs, Shim said. IT staff will still have to learn how to support Mac OS, and users who aren't on the bleeding edge of technology will have to learn to work with dual-boot PCs. "This move, while a positive for Apple, opens up a whole can of worms for the industry," he said.

Apple might be simply looking for a way to prove that its hardware can run Windows applications more quickly than the rest of the PC industry. The company has not responded to several requests for comment on a report last week claiming that it has joined Bapco, a Windows benchmarking organization.

Microsoft's traditional partners largely declined to comment Wednesday on Apple's Boot Camp software. But Hewlett-Packard took the bait, claiming that "with no support for this program coming from Apple, users would be much better served by a PC from a proven, tested leader like HP to ensure the best Microsoft Windows XP experience," the company said in a statement provided by a representative.

See more CNET content tagged:
Apple Boot Camp, Richard Shim, Apple Computer, Windows application, Apple Mac OS

 

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