Stand By Your Beds: Boot Camp and running Windows on a Mac

By Graham K. Rogers

Windows startup on a Mac

Mac users suffered a paradigm shift in the last year: we were to move from the PowerPC to Intel chips. There was speculation about running Windows on the Macs and Apple said they would do nothing to prevent this.

A competition produced two winners known as "narf" and "blanka" who collected $13,854. Less than a month later (5 April) Apple announced Boot Camp, beta software that would allow a user to install Windows XP.

Comments ranged from the ecstatic to the excoriating. The idea of users running a dual system and being so overwhelmed by OS X that they would leave Windows behind is a non-starter. Apple is not a seller of software, but of hardware.

I admit to being neutral. I take the stance that if I ever wanted Windows, I would acquire a Windows machine. This does not jibe with what is happening on the street. Mac Sales appear to be increasing and more people are asking. Several retail outlets display computers with Boot Camp installed. Some are running Windows on Macs using other solutions (below).

I have had a number of requests asking me about Boot Camp and I felt that I should take steps to do this. My own computers are not suitable: they all use the PowerPC G4 chip (see below, however). I have managed to borrow a 17" MacBook Pro with Boot Camp and Windows XP installed and will take a few days to examine the installation. As a Windows novice, I will do this with the help of colleagues and students.

Apple released Boot Camp as beta software: an unfinished experiment. This is not uncommon and allows release of an early build to a wider range of users. Those multiple users will find bugs. By reporting these to Apple, the software can be improved.

The installation is not simply a program to add on. It requires new firmware and, as part of the installation, burns a CD with drivers that Windows needs to recognise Mac hardware. The installation of Windows needs "A bona fide installation disc for Microsoft Windows XP, Service Pack 2, Home or Professional (No multi-disc, upgrade or Media Center versions.)"

Boot Camp Installer
Image: Courtesy of Apple

The installation walks users through the process and helps with the setting of hard disk space for the Windows installation. Care must be taken when selecting the C: drive: this has to be done manually. Apple's Boot Camp pages warn that getting this wrong could erase your Mac files. Once installed the system is a real Windows environment, with all the strengths and weaknesses inherent in that OS.

Boot Camp is not a dual-boot system and does not allow easy switching between the systems. The choice is made at startup by pressing the Option (Alt) key. The simple screen that comes up allows Windows to be selected. Restarting the computer (without the Option key) will then run OS X.

Boot Camp boot screen
Image: Courtesy of Apple

There have been problems: one of the features of beta software; but once reported, one hopes these should be attended to. Some people have had disasters; but some people have disasters with their Windows computers, and some with Macs. Without knowing their operating parameters and skills, it would be unwise to pre-guess the causes.

Some dislike the idea of rebooting to switch the operating system. I will concentrate on Boot Camp, but a solution to switching may be found in software by Parallels, called "Desktop", released in the middle of June (out of beta) that allows Windows to be run as a window on the Mac desktop. It may also take the entire screen of course. I have seen this in operation as an early beta and, although I had been familiar with emulation software like Bochs, that provides a DOS window, the Parallels solution was far more elegant although it is reportedly a little slower than Boot Camp. Some also report problesm with graphics and with recognising games CDs. Parallels claims also to run Linux and "any other operating system"

MacWorld assesses the two solutions above and adds an Open Source download, called simply "Q" (from QEMU) which also allows Windows to be installed on the PowerPC. However it will be slow. With the Intel chips it is better, although still not up to the performance of Parallels; and it is still at the alpha testing stage.

Comment on how Boot Camp will be incorporated into Leopard (OS X 10.5) when it is released in the next few months, is speculation. That it will be in Leopard was confirmed recently at a Press Briefing here. How it will run Windows Vista (in whatever form that finally takes) is an unknown, although beta versions of Vista have been seen running on the beta Boot Camp.

Windows on a Mac

Next time, using Windows on the 17" MacBook Pro.

Made on Mac

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