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Apple’s Boot Camp: A step backward

Apr 17, 20063 mins
AppleEnterprise Applications

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

– Winston Churchill, November 1942.

OK, I’ll grant that I’m probably overreacting, but this quote came to mind as I witnessed the excessive (even for a Mac fan) media coverage that followed the recent announcement of Apple’s Boot Camp.

What do you think? Discuss in our Boot Camp forum.

After Microsoft‘s two-decade stranglehold on the desktop and server computing market, this initiative seems likely to pry some people loose from the company’s grip and maybe start a trend. (More than one writer has already described it in terms of war – Apple’s Trojan horse.)

Think about it: Apple announces a dual-boot utility, and it makes the homepage of Fox, the front page of The New York Times, the cover page of The Wall Street Journal’s technology section and its own segment on CNN’s morning show. All this for a boot utility.

The significance of what this enables is what the fuss is all about – except that, in one way at least, it is a step backward.

With Boot Camp, a user can create a separate partition on an Intel-based Apple computer and boot Windows running native – and alone – on the Apple hardware just as he would on an existing Dell or HP machine.

To the world at large, this was momentous because it would provide a migration path and a safety net for users who wanted to move to Mac but needed a way to get back to Windows should the need arise.

As I’ve written previously, I was in that category a year ago when I made the switch. The answer then was to install Microsoft’s Virtual PC for Mac software and boot up Windows under Apple OS X.

While it was a bit complicated, it did have the benefit of being able to run at the same time as OS X. With Boot Camp, one system has to be shut down to bring up the other. This is not very desirable, because you lose track of whatever files and windows were open.

Boot Camp is likely to be a safety blanket more than anything else. When I moved to Mac I loaded Virtual PC on Day 1 to make sure that I would be able to deal with any forced Microsoft issues. As it turns out I haven’t booted it up in months. I think many users won’t find the need to boot up Windows.

On the few occasions when I have no recourse but to use Windows-only software – usually a Microsoft Access requirement – I use Citrix to provide the Windows environment for me. With broadband at home and even in the airports, the user experience is certainly adequate.

And did I mention that Boot Camp is unsupported by Apple? Microsoft hasn’t decided whether or not it will offer support for Windows running on Apple hardware.

Ten years ago, Steve Jobs was quoted in Wired magazine: “The desktop computer industry is dead. Innovation has virtually ceased. . . . The desktop market has entered the dark ages, and it’s going to be in the dark ages for the next 10 years.” Time’s up.

Also see Bradner’s thoughts on Boot Camp.