Thursday, April 20, 2006

Why Boot Camp Doesn't Mean the End of Mac OS X

There's been a lot of discussion going on ever since Apple released Boot Camp, a program that sets up Intel-powered Macs to dual boot Mac OS X and Windows XP. A lot of that discussion has speculated as to what it means for the future of Mac OS X. Some people think it means that software developers will stop supporting the Mac. After all, why bother with a Mac OS X version when people can just reboot to Windows and use that?

Because people won't reboot.

My home PC is actually currently set up to triple boot, with the option of Windows XP Home, Gentoo Linux, and Ubuntu Linux (the latter just to play around with so I can give some advice on a good Linux distro for non-geeks, and so far I'd have to say it fits the bill a lot better than Fedora, though I still don't care much for Gnome...) But this is a viable setup for me since I don't use the PC as my primary computer -- that's what my Power Mac G5 is for -- and spends most of it's time powered off. So when I do want to use it for something, I just select which OS I want and go.

As an aside, it's really nice to have a second machine, I don't have to stop doing what I'm doing on the Mac. Instead I just turn to the PC and use it. It's really nice when I need directions for something: I can have the directions up in a web browser, Adobe Reader, or whatever, on the Mac while doing whatever it is I'm trying to do on the PC.

Which leads to why people won't want to reboot when they need to do something in Windows on an Intel-powered Mac. To do that, you have to stop whatever you're doing, restart the computer, and bring up Windows. If you're having an AIM chat with someone, you have to tell them you'll be right back, then log out of iChat when you reboot, then log into GAIM once Windows gets started and resume your conversation. It's a pain.

My work computer runs Fedora Linux. But there are some things that I need to do that I can only do with Windows. While my computer is configured to dual boot with Windows XP, I haven't actually done that. Instead, I also have VMWare Workstation installed, and when I need to do my Windows stuff, I just start up VMWare, resume the virtual machine, and do whatever I need to do. I don't have to close KDevelop, Evolution, Konsole, or any other apps I might have open, and can freely and smoothly move back and forth between Windows and Linux.

Yeah, it can be a bit slow (I used to have the virtual machine set for 188MB of RAM... not nearly enough for XP), once I noticed that and set it to 384MB things got better. There are some things that wouldn't work so well in the virtual machine, but nothing I need to do runs into that problem. I have heard that VMWare is working on a version to run on Mac OS X, and have also read the reports about Parallels Workstation, a competing product (a less expensive one, I might add).

So why won't developers say they don't need to create Mac OS X versions anymore, we can just run them in VMWare or Parallels? Two reasons.

One, this isn't really anything new. For one, Mac users have been able to run PC applications for years. I was running MS-DOS on a Mac LC II in the mid-1990s thanks to SoftPC. VirtualPC has taken over the market since the introduction of the PowerPC, and has been a viable (if not speedy) option to run Windows on Macs ever since. While virtualization products like VMWare and Parallels are faster since they don't have to emulate the Intel x86 processor architecture, it's still not quite as fast as running Windows naively, and having to start a second operating system on top of the first isn't that elegant. Plus, you're running in a window, or full screen, and not even semi-integrated like OS X's Classic mode.

More importantly is cost to the user. Neither VMWare, nor Parallels (the beta is, but the final version won't), nor Windows are free. Even if it was legal to do so, the version of Windows XP that comes with most store-bought PC's wouldn't install on an Intel Mac anyway, since it's not a full installer. Instead, what many manufacturers do is they ship a CD (or set of CDs) that contain an image of the contents of the hard drive the way it was when the computer shipped, with Windows and the bundled applications. Some companies don't even do that, instead including the image on the hard drive and telling the user to create a backup image using CD-Rs. There's no Windows installer to run.

So that means any switcher, who just got a new Intel-powered Mac, now has to go out and buy a copy of Windows XP. And not the upgrade edition either. That's $200 right there, for XP Home. Toss in another $100 if you want XP Pro instead (prices from CompUSA's web site). That's going to turn off a lot of people right there.

So even with Apple providing a way for users to dual boot with Windows XP, and third party vendors providing virtualization solutions, the Mac OS X application market isn't going to die.