As a new owner of a MacBook Pro, I was pretty happy this morning to read that the new iMacs, Mac minis, and MacBook Pros from Apple Computer (Nasdaq: AAPL ) will now be able to run Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Windows natively through a piece of software that Apple is calling Boot Camp. I have a couple of Windows-only games I want to run, and I'm glad I'll now be able to.
From a technical perspective, this development isn't terribly surprising. The new Mac models run on the same Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) chips that power many PCs. A few weeks ago, a grassroots effort proved that Windows could run on the new Macs. In addition, Mac OS X is based on a Unix variant, and for many years, there have been boot-loaders bundled with Linux operating systems from companies like Red Hat (Nasdaq: RHAT ) that allowed computer users to select between Windows and Linux when starting up their PCs.
The interesting part is that Apple itself is providing and supporting this program. Right now, it's just a piece of beta software that folks with new Intel-powered Macs and the most recent version of Mac OS X can install separately. Apple promises that Boot Camp will be integrated into the next release of Mac OS X, dubbed Leopard, which will be officially unveiled at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference in August.
Apple has posted the steps necessary to install Boot Camp and get Windows up and running on its website. Boot Camp specifically requires that users have an install disc for Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or later; earlier flavors of Windows will not work. That's not the only caveat: At the moment, Boot Camp is only available as a beta, and while we may have become accustomed to seeing and using beta software, that little four-letter word means that people using the software should be more cautious than normal. Finally, Apple isn't supporting Windows in any way -- just the ability to partition your Mac's hard drive and select an operating system at startup.
From an investor's perspective, this news is interesting, but it isn't immediately important. Doubtlessly, the Mac users who initially embraced the grassroots dual-boot option will be happy about this. I think it also will benefit Microsoft a bit in the short term, because each installation of Windows requires a separate license, but I question how material these sales will be for Microsoft. After all, setting up a system to boot from two different operating systems isn't an undertaking for those who enjoy a simple, hassle-free computing experience. I'm also wondering how many current PC owners have been tempted to switch to Macs, but have held off because they need to run Windows. Boot Camp will give them a way to experiment with the Mac world without giving up their PC roots or keeping two computers on their desks.
It will take years to know if this has any real benefit for Apple's market share. I doubt it cost much for Apple to develop this software, since boot-loading software has been prevalent in the Linux world for a while. With that in mind, it seems the company has little to lose by throwing Boot Camp out there, and it might have a lot to gain. That makes Apple's new tolerance of Windows a smart idea.
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NathanParmelee's first job out of college started with a six-week training program dubbed Boot Camp, and Apple's product name is giving him flashbacks. He owns shares in Microsoft, but has no financial interest in any of the other companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.