Andrew Kantor, USA TODAY
The big technology news this past week was Apple's beta release of Boot Camp -- software that allows Windows XP to be installed on three Macintosh computers. (The ones built with Intel chips, instead of PowerPCs.) The idea is that people who prefer the Mac but need to use software that's only available for Windows (and there's plenty) could have the best of both worlds.
Today, according to Information Week, the Mac's desktop share is less than 5%. But Boot Camp, say some people, will overcome that hurdle and help propel the Mac into the mainstream. Businesses will buy Macs for their employees, confident they'll be able to run all the needed applications.
Gamers, who have pretty much shunned the Mac because the gaming picks are slim (to say the least), will be able to run those games on their Mac hardware. In fact, from what I've read, those games will run pretty darn well, too.
Could this be the thing that gets Windows users to try the Mac and, eventually, convert? Wall Street apparently thought so, and Apple's stock took a jump after the announcement.
You know what? Boot Camp isn't going to propel the Mac into the mainstream. If anything, it will get Mac users to switch to Windows. Sure, it'll be terrific for Mac fans not wanting to give up their machine of choice but find more and more they need to use Windows. But Boot Camp doesn't offer any kind of compelling argument for PC users to buy Mac hardware.
The vast majority of software isn't made for Macs, so you'd end up buying one just to run Windows -- talk about voodoo economics!
The Macs that can currently run Boot Camp are the Mac Mini, the iMac, and the MacBook Pro notebook. Price-wise, they can't compete with PCs.
The Mini will set you back about $1100 for a machine with 512 MB of RAM and a 60-GB hard drive -- that's when you add in a keyboard, mouse, midrange monitor ($150), and a full copy of Windows XP.
The iMac is about $1600 (with 512 MB RAM, a 160-GB hard drive, and Windows). The MacBook Pro, with an 80-GB hard drive, is about $2000 with Windows. (All these prices come from the Apple Store. I mention the hard drive sizes in particular because you'd need the space to load two operating systems and two sets of software.)
In contrast, a 3 GHz Gateway DX210 PC with 1 GB of RAM, a 160 GB hard drive, and the same monitor I suggested for the Mac Mini -- that'll be only $900.
If you own a business, it's a pretty easy choice.
But let's say the extra cost of buying a Mac doesn't bother you -- your employees really want Macs and have convinced you to buy them.
By the way, I certainly hope you haven't bought into the argument "graphics are better on the Mac." Yeah, in 1992. Go to a bookstore and grab a book on using Photoshop; you'll see that the Mac and Windows versions are identical. In fact, Photoshop isn't yet optimized to take advantage of the Mac's Intel processors.
Oh, and the whole "no viruses on the Mac" business? Besides the fact that it's no longer true, you can get this neat stuff called anti- virus software.
Still, say you decide to buy Macs for your business. Your employees will boot to Windows only to run the applications they absolutely have to, but they'll "live" in OS X most of the time.
That'll be fun. Boot Camp doesn't allow quick switching between OS X and Windows. You have to reboot:
"John, can you get me that info from the accounting system?"
"Sure, but hang on a few minutes while I reboot into Windows."
(The folks at Parallels.com, however, released "virtualization software" that they say allows OS X to run any operating system, including Windows, within OS X -- no rebooting required. So that's a step above Boot Camp right off, even if it costs $50.)
Further, your IT department now has to support two operating systems, which -- given that the majority of IT pros aren't Mac people -- means hiring or training. But let's say you're blessed with a staff that already knows both. You're still faced with two OSs, two sets of problems, and double the headache. Oh, joy.
(Mac fans: You may now commence writing me to scream, "Double the headache??? More like 1.00001 times!!! Macs don't cause headaches!!!")
So if Boot Camp isn't going to convince legions of Windows users to join the Cult of Mac, what's the point? After all, Steve Jobs (praise be unto him) wouldn't introduce a product without a plan.
Well, it's a great tool for people who want to stick with the Mac for whatever reason -- security, hardware or software investment, or simple preference. It will allow those people to access the tremendous amount of software not available for the Mac while still letting them boot into OS X when they wanted to use a Macintosh application -- or simply if they wanted an OS X fix.
And businesses who have employees who need (or say they need) Macs might also find Boot Camp useful for the same compatibility reasons.
But the notion put forward by some Mac folks -- that Boot Camp will improve the Mac's position in the business and gaming marketplace -- is backward. Instead, it's more likely to convince Mac users to switch to Windows once they've used it long enough to be deprogrammed.
And, judging by some of the comments to an Apple message board, they may not have a choice. It seems that installing Boot Camp can kill OS X, thus instantly converting Mac users to Windows.
It may not be so bad -- they might even enjoy the convenience of sharing a common platform with the other 97% of the world, brought to them courtesy of Boot Camp.
Andrew Kantor is a technology writer, pundit, and know-it-all who covers technology for the Roanoke Times. He's also a former editor for PC Magazine and Internet World. Read more of his work at kantor.com. His column appears Fridays on USATODAY.com.
Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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