Culture

Dare I say this aloud? Boot Camp is a gimmick

Apple's new software lets Windows run on the Mac. But CNET News.com's Charles Cooper says a different OS is really the focus. Guess which one.

Some folks would have liked nothing better than to marry the Macintosh off to the PC world right from the start.

In 1985 Dayna Communications came out with something it called the MacCharlie. This contraption was an expansion box that fit around the Mac so you could run PC and Mac software. The PR at the time trumpeted how users could now enjoy the best of both worlds. But it was an expensive gimmick that caused the system to run like molasses. Even worse, it cost more than a thousand dollars.

Third-party vendors came up with software emulators that marked a considerable step up in terms of performance. Still, it was akin to eating chocolate mousse with gauze lining your mouth: The taste just wasn't right. Under John Sculley, Apple Computer launched a project to port the Mac operating system to the Intel 486 board. But the plug got pulled after Michael Spindler took over as CEO in 1993.

It was akin to eating chocolate mousse with gauze lining your mouth: The taste just wasn't right.

Apple launched its "switcher" campaign in 2002, featuring advertisements quoting people who said they'd switched from a PC to a Mac, but as the company underwent its transformation from box maker to digital-entertainment company, the Mac-Windows issue temporarily faded from view. With only a 2.3 percent share of the U.S. PC market last year, however, the switch campaign has a long way to go. It's all well and good to be part of a self-styled elite, but Steve Jobs can't be satisfied with those numbers.

Doubtless many people still refuse to buy the Mac because of a reluctance to give up certain prized applications that run only on Windows. So it was this week that Apple took matters into its own hands with the introduction of Boot Camp, a Windows utility that lets users of Intel-powered Macs run Windows. The download, which is free and, so far, glitch-free, ignited a veritable media scrum. For good reason. On the surface, it's a can't-lose proposition.

Apple's not endorsing Windows. It's endorsing the idea of Windows running on a machine that it sells. Most of the securities analysts who follow the company immediately upped their price projections. The stock gained 10 percent in the next couple of frenzied trading sessions. As far as the Apple faithful posting on the online chat boards were concerned, Boot Camp was a stroke of genius. Period.

Apple's not endorsing Windows. It's endorsing the idea of Windows running on a machine that it sells.

But dare I say this aloud? Boot Camp is a gimmick. A smart gimmick but a gimmick nonetheless.

Boot Camp functions as a security blanket for PC users who would wet their beds without their favorite Windows application. With one download, Apple removed any lingering barriers holding back the potential universe of switchers.

These folks are still running Windows, but for how much longer? With all due respect to Messrs. Gates, Ballmer and Allchin, Windows makes very few hearts (outside the environs of Redmond, Wash.) go pitter-pat. Folks are not clamoring for Windows; they're clamoring to run Windows applications. Do you think that once they get their hands on a Mac, people won't be the least bit curious to experiment with the Macintosh operating system to see what all the fuss is about?

Apple hopes so. The company won't put it so bluntly, but it has zero interest in getting people to use Windows on a Mac. (No accident that Apple's not going to support Windows on the Mac.) They want the voyeurs to take a peek at Mac OS and be seduced by all its charms.

When America's doughboys returned from World War I, the question was how they'd ever remain on the farm after seeing Paris. When Windows users get a gander of the Mac, how many will remain loyal to Ctrl-Alt-Delete?