Apple: Windows on a Mac is here

Company says Boot Camp enables Intel-based Macs to run XP natively. Beta's ready for download. Images: Installing Boot Camp

Apple Computer said on Wednesday that it has released a public beta version of Boot Camp, software that enables Microsoft Windows XP to run natively on Intel-based Macs.

The software, which will be included in Mac OS X 10.5, called Leopard, is available for download now. Apple will also preview Boot Camp in August at its Worldwide Developers Conference, the company said.

"Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows, but many customers have expressed their interest to run Windows on Apple's superior hardware, now that we use Intel processors," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said in a statement. "We think Boot Camp makes the Mac even more appealing to Windows users considering making the switch."

Apple didn't specifically mention plans to support running Vista, the long-delayed update to the Windows operating system now expected early next year.

Microsoft wouldn't comment on whether the Apple software will work with Vista. The company issued a statement Wednesday afternoon: "We?re pleased that Apple customers are excited about running (Windows), and that Apple is responding to meet the demand," said Kevin Kutz, director of Microsoft Windows Client.

Boot Camp

Also unclear is what the Mac maker's move will mean for sales of Windows-based PCs. Market researcher IDC has already scaled back PC sales forecasts for the year, due in part to the Vista delay. And some analysts expect as a result of the holdup of the new operating system's release.

With Boot Camp, Intel-based Mac users can choose between running Mac OS or Windows XP each time they boot their system.

The move in this direction began last June, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced that Apple was shifting to Intel-based computers. Apple also said it had been developing Mac OS X with the intention that it would be able to run on Intel chips and IBM's PowerPC chips, which were previously the sole processors used in Macs.

In January, Apple released the first Intel-based Macs with Intel's Duo dual-core chips. The new computers run two to three times faster than similar Macs with PowerPC chips, Apple said. Since then, speculation had grown about whether the company would enable Microsoft's ubiquitous operating system to run natively on its computers.

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Video: Windows on the Mac
Apple releases software to run XP

While Apple has prohibited people from running Mac OS X on anything other than its own computers, it has never tried to prevent Mac owners from trying to run Windows on their machines. Still, the company has not been a large supporter of the idea. That's something Apple Senior Software Architect Cameron Esfahani made clear at the Intel Developer Forum in March.

Customers, however, have been clamoring to see it happen. There have even been XP-on-Mac contests in recent weeks.

"This solves a lot of potential holdups to Macintosh adoption. While a group of programmers already has demonstrated that this is entirely possible to do, that method for deployment is more of a clever hack that no sane end user would attempt," JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg wrote in a blog posting Wednesday.

"Overall, (this is) a nice tactical move by Apple that will make their platforms and systems much more attractive," Gartenberg wrote.

Mac fans might remember that this isn't the first time that Apple has supported Windows via a dual-boot option. In the mid 1990s, the company introduced--and soon discontinued--Macintosh models that supported a plug-in card, which included a separate x86 processor for running both DOS and Windows.

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