Monday, April 17

BootCamp, Apple, Microsoft and Dvorak

(For those of you who don't live and die by Apple news: BootCamp is a little utility for Intel-based Macintoshes that allows you to partition your hard drive and install WindowsXP on it. What this means is that when you turn your Mac on, you can hold down the option key and it will give your choice of starting up Apple's OS X or WindowsXP. And it runs XP wonderfully... although there are some minor quirks. You can't run both at the same time, but by restarting you can switch from on to the other.)

So I have had BootCamp running on my MacBook Pro for a week now. And I do love love it. Not that I use Windows for much. I have a couple of games and occasionally something pops up on the web that I want to check out (like Cloud), but I still spend the vast a majority of my time on the OS X side of my partition. (I only gave Windows 15GB to play in). But it works like a charm. Heck, it can run Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion at decent graphical levels... although it does get a bit hot so I try not to play for long stretches. I've even put FlyAKite onto Windows so it's less ugly.

(An aside: Using BootCamp was a total breeze, if the standard installing WindowsXP lengthiness issue. It has been eons since I've had to sit through a Windows install. What is it about Windows install that gives me the willies? Is it just that I felt dirty putting Windows on my purdy Mac? Or is it that I remember the days of Blue Screens of Death? Anyway, I've heard of people having problems installing it, like discovering their wireless keyboard didn't work midway through the install or installing XP on their OS X partition. But Apple's instructions are pretty darn clear on this stuff. Print the instructions. Read them through. Follow them to a tee. But I like instructions. And BootCamp is also beta, so beware.)

One of the questions that is floating around geek circles is "Why did Apple do it?" Everyone knew it was possible. In fact, some folks had done it only a week before Apple released BootCamp (although without all the drivers needed to run the graphics cards, etc.). But the speed at which Apple released BootCamp makes me believe this had been the works for a while. So after so many years of Apple being so removed from Microsoft, why open the doors now?

I have no idea if Apple switching over to Intel chips was part of this plan or if BootCamp was an offshoot of the Intel switch. I assume the latter. The Intel Core Duo chips were ready to push things fast (and less power hungry) then the G5s were. So once the switch was made, it took no time for people to get XP to boot on Macs. Apple could have just let this be something that could be done but that they ignored. But they didn't. They swooped in and did it right and, in no small way, put their stamp of "Okay" on the whole thing.

Some have said it was to grab a large chunk of the Windows users out there. Well, certainly not at this point. The average user is not going to go through the BootCamp process. Nor are many going to make the choice of a new computer based of this, unless they were are ready leaning Mac anyway. I have developer friends (especially web developers) who HAVE gone out and bought new Macs. These are folks who love Macs already but have always had to have Windows PCs around to test stuff. And, at this point, it is not going to pull in hardcore gamers, because while Macs can play games, they are certainly not great game machines for the price. They can build better game machines themselves.

If in the future (say when Leopard, the next big version of OS X, comes out), OS X can easily run Windows (and, heck, Linux or whatever) at the same time and it's built it (either to install yourself or come with it straight from Apple), then you may see more folks making the move. The Macs have always been higher end machines. If the average user goes online to search for a new computer, and sees Macs for $1,300 and a dell for $700, they are going to think long and hard if they need to Mac extras. Because Windows does work so why would they need both operating systems? (And, yes, you can get a MacMini for $700, but that is with no monitor or mouse or keyboard. Purchasing all those from Apple bring it up to almost $1,500.) The same goes for most businesses.

(There is a way to run both OS's at the same time: Parallels solution. Apparently it works pretty well.)

But BootCamp does add a lot of value to the Intel-based Macs. There is no denying it. Even if you have no desire to ever run Windows, having the option is nice. There are always things in an operating system one never uses. For many, this will be one of them.

Now, there are some folks who are saying that Apple is doing something extremely drastic. John C. Dvorak for one. After Apple announced the switch to Intel, he put forth that Apple was (perhaps) going to ditch their own OS X and switch over to Windows. Do be honest, I never understood his logic. But I suppose anything is possible. Starbucks may be moving to Folgers as far as I know, but I just can't see why they would.

Now, post BootCamp, he's put forth a new theory.

He say that "a cloud is rising over Mac OS X and its future," although he never really states what that cloud is. OS X is flying pretty high right now. It's very stable and full of features. WindowsXP is getting long in the tooth (released in October, 2001) and the next version, Vista, has been delayed. And Vista is looking a lot like the current version of OS X (Tiger), which has been out for a year. Microsoft's Vista is expected out in November, 2006, for business editions and January, 2007, for consumer editions. The next version of OS X (Leopard) will probably be out in early 2007. No one is sure what PCs will even be able to run Vista. Then there is the security debates. I am making no claims that OS X is perfect, but it looks pretty good compared to Microsoft's os.

I do agree with Dvorak that BootCamp is testing the waters. All of his points n that are valid. I am sure they are watching the reaction to it, and seeing how interested people are in it. It was a quiet announcement and there is no where to be found on Apple's front page.

But then Dvorak's proposal is, to save itself, that Apple should make OS X opensource. Not just allow it to be run on any old machine, but to be toyed with by everyone. He drops this 'solution' (a 'solution' looking for a problem in my eyes) at the end of his article. He concludes that this "would make the battle between OS X and Linux the most interesting one on the computer scene. With all attention turned in that direction, there would be nothing Microsoft could do to stem a reversal of its fortunes."

Now, don't get me wrong. Linux is great, but it is still something that you have to like tinkering with. Is the average user looking for that? Or are they looking for a stable, robust os and a phone number to call if they have a problem? Apple releases their os to the masses, to be pitted against Linux, to have a hundred different versions out there to chose from, it leaves Microsoft as the one person out there with an 'official' tag. Apple is managing OS X great. Linux is needed because Microsoft has allowed Windows to become a bloated mess.

Besides, OS X is based on opensource. So I'm not even sure what Dvorak is saying.

There is no denying that more people would use OS X if it were opened up to 'standard' PCs. But one of the reasons Macs are nice to use is that there are standards. You don't spend time searching for drivers and tweaking your machine just to get it to run application whatever. Yes, it removes flexibility, but 99% it works. It would also cut deeply into Apple's sales of their computers. Because, as I said before, people will buy something if it is cheaper. And if John Doe buys his first OS X computer and it doesn't work, it is just going to lessen Apple's brand image.

Remember, Apple did this in in mid-90s. And it didn't work. Admittedly Macs OS at the time had some big issues and wasn't nearly as stable as OS X is.

Now, because we know that OS X now runs of Intel-based computers, it seems likely that someone will figure out how to make it run on non-Apple computers. That's fine and there is no reason Apple should fight it. Nor should they make any attempt to support it or license it. Let the consumer purchase OS X from Apple and handle it themselves. Third parties could even handle putting OS X on non-Macs. There is just no reason for Apple to facilitate it.

Okay, I'm rambling. Let's just say I disagree with Dvorak and wonder about his motives for such a sloppily thought out article. He does get name for himself by making these sort of statements. I just which he'd tell us WHY Apple should do this.

Back to the question of "Why is Apple doing this?" Well, perhaps just because they can. Unless Vista kicks serious butt or Leopard seriously bites, BootCamp is not going to pull current OS X users over to Windows. It may pull a few Windows users over to OS X but not tons. But now that Intel-based Macs can run Windows and it is relatively easy and it does add a lot of value to Macs... why the heck not?