Friday, April 07, 2006

"Drop and Give Me OS X, Soldier!"

Apple’s announcement of Boot Camp earlier this week has stirred the kind of controversy usually reserved for, well, Apple’s announcements. For those of you living under a rock, Boot Camp is a new addition to OS X that enables Windows XP to be installed and run on any of the new Intel-based Macs. Boot Camp is currently in beta, and will be shipped as a standard component of Leopard, the next version of OS X.

Reviews to date have been very positive—Macs running Boot Camp perform at least as well as equivalent non-Apple computers when running Windows XP. The only major difference seems to be that video performance for some games on the Macs isn’t quite up-to-par with the native Windows machines.

The release of Boot Camp has unleashed a wave of punditry and Monday-morning quarterbacking, most of which claims that it’s:

  • The end of Apple,
  • The end of OS X, or
  • A sign of the Apocalypse
I think that it’s an extremely shrewd move by Apple to dramatically increase the Mac’s market share. It’s taken from the same playbook that Apple used for iTunes.

You probably remember that when the iPod was first released, it only worked with Macs. Demand for the iPod from Windows users was so high that third-party developers came up with software to make them work together. Then, Apple released the iTunes software and music store, which like the iPod worked only with the Mac. However, in October 2003, Apple released a version of iTunes for Windows. The rest is history: The latest research shows that Apple has 93% of the U.S. market for digital audio players and more than 70% of the market for legal audio uploads.

With Boot Camp, Apple gets the chance to do it again. Apple’s share of the personal computer industry has been stuck at 3% to 5% for years. What’s been the biggest knock against the Mac? It couldn’t run Windows, and Windows had enormously more software and hardware support than OS X. That objection goes away with Boot Camp. With one move, just as with iTunes, Apple opened up the other 95% of the market for itself.

Some people say that the availability of Windows support will negate the need for OS X. In a lot of cases, that will be true. Once Windows Vista supports the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) that’s used in the Intel Macs instead of a BIOS, it’ll be possible to run Windows on a Mac without OS X at all. However, customers that buy a Mac will always get OS X thrown in for free. Even if they only sample what OS X can do, they’ll see that it’s just plain easier to use than Windows. They’ll also see that the user interface and standard media tools such as iMovie and iDVD are far ahead of their Windows counterparts in power and ease of use.

For media producers, Apple’s hard-core audience, I’m sure that applications such as Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro and Motion will remain OS X-only indefinitely. However, producers wedded to Windows-only tools like Adobe Premiere Pro can now use them with the Apple applications on the same machine. Switching from OS X to Windows and vice versa will require a reboot, but it should be possible to mount one operating system’s disk partition from the other OS, so that files can be shared between applications.

Apple’s hardware designs are head and shoulders above virtually every Wintel manufacturer’s products. In my new job, I was assigned a Powerbook G4. I’ve used Macs since they first came out, but I’ve never used a Mac notebook. Although there are some quirks of the Powerbook that take some time getting used to, the overall design puts every Wintel notebook out there to shame. If I had the bucks, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a MacBook Pro, even if I was planning to use it almost exclusively for Windows.

When Leopard ships, I expect to see Intel-based Macs running OS X and Windows XP side-by-side in Apple Stores, in order to demonstrate how well the new Macs run Windows. The demo will also seduce Windows buyers to plunk down more cash for a Mac: “Wow! I can get Windows plus all the Mac features? Where do I sign?”. It may be heretical, but I think that you’ll also start seeing copies of Windows XP on the software shelves in Apple Stores, in inconspicuous positions, “solely for the convenience of our customers.”

Apple’s competitors will no longer be able to sell against the company with the phrase “It doesn’t run Windows.” The easy sell is gone, and the personal computer industry is going to be shook up in ways that it hasn’t been for years.
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