Clock is ticking on Apple's Boot Camp beta

Windows partitions won't disappear once the final version is released, but test users may encounter some headaches.

Those considering setting up a Windows partition on a Mac using the test version of Apple's Boot Camp might want to pay close attention to the licensing terms that accompany the beta software.

According to the terms, which are posted on Apple's Web site, the software is licensed only until Apple comes out with a commercial release of Boot Camp, or until September 30, whichever comes first.

, Boot Camp allows owners of Intel-based Macs to set up a separate Windows partition and boot into either Windows or the Mac OS. Apple last month to add support for Windows Vista. The company has also said it will build a final version of the software into the next Mac OS release, dubbed Leopard and due out later this spring.

The rub is that Apple has not said whether it will issue a final version of Boot Camp for Tiger users, though there that Apple will offer a paid Tiger version of Boot Camp.

"Apple is a company that listens to its customers. If they start getting negative publicity around this (and) if they have a sense that customers aren't ready to upgrade, I am confident they will do something to help support them."
--Samir Bhavnani, research director, Current Analysis

Either way, Apple is saying that those who have set up a Windows partition with the beta version won't just see their files magically disappear if they don't get the final version of the software. However, there may be some headaches and support options will be limited.

"The Windows installation on a user's Mac will continue to work after the Boot Camp license expires," said Apple spokeswoman Lynn Fox, in response to a query from CNET However, Fox said the Boot Camp Assistant software, which helps set up and manage Windows partitions, will not work after the beta period ends. Also, Fox said that Apple will not provide further driver updates for beta users.

The fact that the beta Boot Camp Assistant software will cease to work is noteworthy because that tool has a simple way for users to delete their Windows partition. There are ways to do it without Boot Camp, but it is a more difficult and potentially thorny process.

"The ability to create and manage partitions is important," said Current Analysis research director Samir Bhavnani. For example, Bhavnani said early users of the software might create a small Windows partition to try out the operating system, but after upgrading to Windows Vista or Office 2007, they might decide they need a larger Windows partition.

"That's probably the most common thing that someone would need to do, is change the size of their partition," he said.

Boot Camp is particularly important for Apple in its attempts to appeal to small businesses, a key target market. "Boot Camp for a small business is the difference between making that purchase and going over to a Mac, or not," Bhavnani said.

Bhavnani also said he expects Apple will not leave Tiger users in the lurch.

"Apple is a company that listens to its customers," Bhavnani said. "If they start getting negative publicity around this (and) if they have a sense that customers aren't ready to upgrade, I am confident they will do something to help support them."

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company's move to Intel-based chips has paved the way for running both Windows and the Mac OS on Apple's hardware. In addition to Boot Camp, which enables users to run either operating system, many people have opted for virtualization software from Parallels, which lets people run both operating systems simultaneously.

That software got an update in February that added Vista support as well as a new Coherence feature that lets Windows programs appear more like native Mac software rather than running in a distinct Windows screen. Virtualization specialist VMware is also working on a Mac version of its software.

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