Apple has released beta software that lets Mac users run Microsoft's Windows XP operating system on Intel-based Macintosh computers, it announced Wednesday.
Called Boot Camp, the software creates a hard drive partition for Windows XP and lets users choose between the two operating systems at start-up time. It's available now as a free trial beta that works only for a limited time, and will be included as a feature of the next major Mac OS X release, Leopard, Apple said.
The move comes a few months after Apple introduced its first computers based on Intel Corp.'s x86-type processors. The company has expressed little enthusiasm in the past for running Windows on its Macs -- and even now doesn't sound entirely happy about it.
"Apple has no desire or plan to sell or support Windows, but many customers have expressed their interest to run Windows on Apple's superior hardware now that we use Intel processors," Phil Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said in a statement.
The company thinks Boot Camp will make its Macs more appealing to Windows PC users who might be considering a switch, he said.
Some Apple users had been keen to run Windows ever since the company said it would switch to Intel processors. Only a few weeks ago some hackers announced they had managed to get Windows XP running on Apple's machines.
The 83M-byte download is available from http://www.apple.com/macosx/bootcamp/. To use it customers need the latest Mac OS X Tiger v10.4.6 release, an Intel-based Mac, 10G bytes of free hard disk space, a blank CD and a "bona fide" installation disc for Microsoft Windows XP, Service Pack 2, Home or Professional edition.
Boot Camp burns a CD with all the required Mac-specific drivers for Windows. It also walks users through creating a partition on the hard drive and installs a Startup Disk control panel for Windows. Users then hold down the "option" key at start-up to choose between the two OSes, and the machine runs Windows "completely natively," Apple said.
One analyst called it a "soft jab" at putting Windows on the Mac.
"It's not as neat and clean as it might sound," said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. Depending on how users decide to format Windows XP on their Macs, they may or may not be able to read and write data between the Windows and Mac OS partitions, he said.
In Windows XP mode, users can't see files on the Macintosh side at all, Kay said. In Mac OS X mode, users can read and write files on the Windows side if they're in Microsoft's FAT32 format, but in the NTFS format they'll be able to read them only. Windows users don't tend to use FAT32 any more because it limits the volume of files that can be used, Kay said.
Boot Camp may help to remove an objection that businesses have had to using Macintosh computers -- that they couldn't run their home-grown Windows applications on them. At the same time, it requires them to pay for a Windows license in addition to buying their Macintosh computer, which would limit the appeal, Kay said.
"They've filled a hole here, but it's more of an experimental thing, I don't think it'll change the game that much," he said.
The company couldn't resist a few digs at Microsoft on its Boot Camp Web site. "Word to the Wise," it said: "Windows running on a Mac is like Windows running on a PC. That means it'll be subject to the same attacks that plague the Windows world. So be sure to keep it updated with the latest Microsoft Windows security fixes."
Some Mac features won't work because of hardware incompatibilities, Apple said, including its remote control, wireless keyboard and mouse and the USB (Universal Serial Bus) modem.