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4/28/2006
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Dual-Boot Enabler From Apple Kicks Butt

Apple Computer's switch to Intel CPUs for its new desktops and laptops brought up a fascinating question: Can the Intel-based Macs run Windows operating systems and software natively? Indeed they can, thanks to the beta release of Boot Camp, a free dual-boot enabler designed to let users install Windows XP on Intel-based Macs. Apple says dual-boot capability will be built into Leopard, the next major release of its OS X operating system.

Dual-Boot Enabler From Apple Kicks Butt

(click image for larger view)
I ran Boot Camp on a new iMac with a 2-GHz Intel Core Duo processor and installed Windows XP Pro almost without a hitch--so smoothly you'd hardly know Boot Camp was beta software. Just be sure not to choose anything other than the C: partition to install Windows to, as you could instantly wipe out your OS X partition accidentally. I then ran a full range of Windows software, including Office, Visio, Outlook, Photoshop, and graphics-intensive games.

The process of getting Windows on the Mac took about an hour, most of which was spent on the standard Windows installation. You have to start with a single-disc copy of Windows XP SP2 Pro or Home version, as no other versions work. Apple's Boot Camp Assistant first burns a CD with the drivers for Windows on your Mac. Creating the Windows partition itself is simple using Apple's slider system, but you have to have a buffer of 5 Gbytes of free space on both the OS X and Windows sides.

Rough Edges

One quibble: There's no warning given that if the Windows partition you create is larger than 32 Gbytes, formatting it as FAT32 instead of NT File System will not be an option. (This is a FAT32 limitation.) That has an impact on file exchange--Apple's OS X can read and write to the Windows FAT file system, but it has read-only access to NTFS. Windows XP can't access the OS X hierarchical file system partition without third-party software. But that barrier could be a blessing in disguise, since it keeps the OS X partition relatively safe from the viruses, Trojans, and spyware that are much more common in the Windows world. The Windows installation here has the same need for regular patches and updates as any other Windows instance.

There are a few other rough edges. Apple says the iSight camera, Apple Remote, USB modem, and MacBook Pro keyboard backlighting aren't supported, but all of the other hardware on my iMac was fully recognized. The system time doesn't transfer automatically from OS X to Windows, so set Windows to grab the time from a network time server.

Finally, Windows can't boot from an external drive, so carrying around a self-contained Windows XP installation on a USB drive isn't an option. Also, you can't switch between operating systems without a reboot.

Boot Camp's execution is good, and the concept is a stroke of brilliance on Apple's part. Apple doesn't sell or support Windows on Macs and says it has no intention to preinstall Windows on its products. Regardless, Apple now has a fast, capable, stylish line of computers that runs a wide range of operating systems natively: OS X, Windows XP, and Linux. That's something to get excited about, or if you're Dell or Hewlett-Packard, a bit concerned.

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