Two Mac/Windows Options: BootCamp and Virtualization

Lynne Kiesling

When Apple introduced its new Intel dual-core-powered computers, my first question to my soon-to-be-Apple employee student was “when can I dual-boot OSX and Windows on my Mac?” As everyone knows now, the anser is “as of two weeks ago”.

While it’s still in beta, Boot Camp has lots of folks singing its praises, and others dubbing it a “gimmick”:

But dare I say this aloud? Boot Camp is a gimmick. A smart gimmick but a gimmick nonetheless.

Boot Camp functions as a security blanket for PC users who would wet their beds without their favorite Windows application. With one download, Apple removed any lingering barriers holding back the potential universe of switchers.

These folks are still running Windows, but for how much longer? With all due respect to Messrs. Gates, Ballmer and Allchin, Windows makes very few hearts (outside the environs of Redmond, Wash.) go pitter-pat. Folks are not clamoring for Windows; they’re clamoring to run Windows applications. Do you think that once they get their hands on a Mac, people won’t be the least bit curious to experiment with the Macintosh operating system to see what all the fuss is about?

Perhaps. But this argument misses the point. Not surprisingly, since I am an economist, I tend to think of these things in static and dynamic terms. In a static sense, Boot Camp is not a gimmick, because there are enough existing programs written only for Windows that the option to reboot and run Windows has some value. If I want to run z-Tree, for example, to design and run an experiment, I have to use Windows. And this is doubly true for game-players, who have all sorts of interesting and fun games available in Windows. So in the short run, it provides an option with value.

What’s the dynamic effect, though? One possible outcome may be the convergence of operating systems, not just in look-and-feel (which have already substantially converged), but in platform-independent applications. If we do go the direction that xml protocols are leading, then it becomes even easier to write platform-independent applications, including spiffy games, and the operating system becomes substantially irrelevant. I’m not sure that is the “commodification of the operating system” that Microsoft has feared for so long, because Windows/Mac/Linux/BSD/etc. can retain their differences, but will be able to interoperate seamlessly. I think that’s the sense in which the author considers Boot Camp a “gimmick”, although he’s a bit more Macintosh rah-rah than I would be (although I too prefer OSX to all the other options).

But Boot Camp is not the only option, nor is it necessarily the preferred. As this New York Times technology article notes (registration required):

Boot Camp’s problem, though, is right there in its name: You have to reboot (restart) the computer every time you switch systems. As a result, you can’t copy and paste between Mac and Windows programs. And when you want to run a Windows program, you have to close everything you were working on, shut down the Mac, and restart it in Windows and then reverse the process when you’re done. You lose two or three minutes each way.

NO wonder, then, that last week, the corridors of cyberspace echoed with the sounds of high-fiving when a superior solution came to light. A little company called Parallels has found a way to eliminate all of those drawbacks and to run Windows XP and Mac OS X simultaneously.

The software is called Parallels Workstation for Mac OS X, although a better name might be No Reboot Camp. It, too, is a free public beta, available for download from parallels.com. You can pre-order the final version for $40, or pay $50 after its release (in a few weeks, says the company).

Parallels, like Boot Camp, requires that you supply your own copy of Windows. But here’s the cool part: with Parallels, unlike Boot Camp, it doesn’t have to be XP. It can be any version, all the way back to Windows 3.1 or even Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, OS/2 or MS-DOS. All of this is made possible by a feature of Intel’s Core Duo chips (called virtualization) that’s expressly designed for running multiple operating systems simultaneously.

See also this Wired article about the Parallels approach, which is called virtualization. A colleague of mine told me this week that he’s got some programmers running Parallels and doing Windows virtualization on their Macs, and that it’s running fine and they are really happy with the option.

My bottom line: enhanced interoperability means increased functionality for users, and is likely to lead to more platform-independent applications in the future. That’s a good thing (insert Martha Stewart smile here).


3 thoughts on “Two Mac/Windows Options: BootCamp and Virtualization

  1. Interoperability makes a Mac purchase “safe” for computer purchasers who might otherwise be afraid to commit to the Mac full time. I think many more people will consider getting a Mac now, since it isn’t a final commitment any more; it offers choice every day.

    I am faced with having to buy a computer for a daughter going to college. She would strongly prefer a Mac, but I might have resisted going that way for college. Now there is absolutely no question. It’s gonna be an Intel Mac.

    My next purchase for myself was going to be a(nother) Mac anyway, but with this additional flexibility it will be an even better choice. While I have loved all my Macs, I have to admit that (for me) Microsoft makes Office better in Windows. VBA is missing a lot of debugging functionality on the Mac. PowerPoint is missing some good interface features on the Mac. And then, you have to admit that there are still some compatibility issues, mainly in PowerPoint, when going from Mac to PC and vice versa. Access is available only in Windows. But, hey, now we can get the choice of “worlds” on a app-by-app basis, but only if we buy an Intel Mac. ‘Nuff said… It’s what’s next.

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