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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.

Still, Apple won't provide any technical support for the Boot Camp beta, and the company was quick to point out the potential pitfalls of running Windows. "Windows running on a Mac is like Windows running on a PC. That means it'll be subject to the same attacks that plague the Windows world," the company warned on its Web site. "So be sure to keep it updated with the latest Microsoft Windows security fixes."

Will my software work?

Intel-based Macs running Boot Camp will let people use some products that right now are available only for Windows-based PCs. Some examples:

Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia
Microsoft Streets & Trips with GPSTrip-planning tool
Picasa (from Google) Photo-editing software
Norton Internet Security Internet security software
Lavasoft's Ad-Aware Spyware seeker
Square Enix's "Final Fantasy XI" Video game
Valve's "Half-Life 2" Video game

Of course, there are also some applications that will only run on Macs. Examples include:

Microsoft Entourage E-mail and calendar package
NetNewsWire RSS reader
GarageBand Music-recording and -editing suite
Delicious Library Book, music, DVD and video game cataloging software
FinalCut Pro Video-editing suite
Safari Web browser

The new software, coupled with the tremendous popularity that the iPod has brought to Apple, could bring more people over to the Apple side, some analysts said.

Paul Jackson, an analyst at Forrester Research, predicts that home users previously daunted by a fear of incompatibly with their work PC and a strong desire to hold on to Windows-based programs may now make the jump to Macs.

Apple's move is great for Microsoft, Jackson said, since it will mean extra sales of XP, but it's bad news for PC makers that previously didn't have to worry about competing for market share with Apple.

"Apple machines are excellently manufactured, and the performance is far superior," Jackson told CNET News.com. "But companies like Dell and HP never really had to worry about competing with Apple in the hardware market. Now you can go in, look at those gorgeous Mac Minis and MacBook (Pros) and view them as a normal PC. You can run XP and never touch OS X, if you don't want to."

And, according to Jackson, Macs seem to do XP well.

"From what we know of the hackers' success last week at the XP-on-Mac contest, once you get XP to run on the Intel Mac, the performance is actually quite good. We will have to actually wait and see the results of more official benchmark testing, but so far, that's what it looks like."

Jackson also noted that Apple's move is an indication of what industry insiders have argued all along.

"By doing this, Apple has made a tacit acknowledgement of what many have already said, which basically is: If you're serious about home computing or small-enterprise computing, you need Windows. There's no way around it," Jackson said.

And, according to Wall Street, this is good news for Apple stock.

Company shares jumped several percentage points in early-morning trading, as analysts had mostly positive things to say about the big announcement.

"In short, we believe this news, more than any news in recent memory, provides a critical boost to Apple's ability to gain share in the PC market," a JPMorgan Chase analyst report said.

Deutche Bank issued a "buy" for Apple stock on a prediction of share gains.

Goldman Sachs, however, was not as impressed.

"Given the newness of Intel-based Macs, we would not expect any meaningful impact on Mac sales or earnings in the near or intermediate term," Goldman Sachs in its analyst report of Apple's move. "However, this is another step in Apple's efforts to expand its total addressable market to include a more mainstream audience."

Goldman Sachs also noted that the situation could be a "slight negative for Microsoft" because it does not think that increased Windows sales would have much of an impact on Microsoft's overall percent of the market--but that a migration to Apple computers could.

News.com's Mike Ricciuti contributed to this report.

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