Technology eReport
Volume 5, Number 3
August 2006

Table of Contents
Past Issues


Macintel Does Windows

By Jeffrey Allen

Apple beat its original schedule for conversion to the Intel platform by several months. Surprising most of us with the first Intel-based Mac early this year, Apple has now completed its conversion to Intel processor machines. The entire Mac family of computers, both on the pro side and the consumer side, now runs on processors using Intel’s Core Duo architecture.

Long before Apple announced the conversion to Intel processors, Mac users have experimented with the use of various iterations of the Windows operating system on Mac hardware. Why would someone want to run the Windows operating system when they could run Mac’s OS (especially after the introduction and evolution of OS X)? Simple—despite the quality of Apple’s hardware and the stability and desirability of its OS, Apple never reached an installed base large enough to induce some software developers to create Mac-compatible versions of their programs. Nowhere was that problem more evident than in professional markets, such as law.

From the moment Apple announced its impending conversion to Intel processors, Mac-using attorneys have joined the list of baited-breath holders, waiting to see how the new hardware would run Windows and whether it would offer a better solution than Microsoft’s Virtual PC program, which runs in OS X and creates a virtual Windows-based computer within the Mac. Virtual PC worked and ran most Windows software, but the software ran much more slowly on the Mac than it did on a native PC machine running the Windows OS.

Initially, Apple announced that it would do nothing to disable its hardware from running Windows, but that it would not support the use of Windows on the Mac. Along the way, the powers at Apple rethought their position. Perhaps that resulted from the fact that the Intel-Mac hardware has helped attract more and more Windows users who wanted to switch to the Mac platform, but had Windows programs that they wanted to run. We all knew that it would not take long for someone to figure out how to run Windows on the Mac-Intel machines.

Apple surprised most of us, however, by doing its own switching act. Shortly after releasing the Mac-Intel machines, Apple announced that future iterations of its OS would allow the user to boot into the Mac OS or Windows. Apple then released a public beta of its new Boot Camp program as a short term fix, an “attractor” for potential switcher customers and a preview of coming attractions for the next iteration of Mac OS X, your next and soon to be new favorite big cat: Leopard.

Boot camp allows you to partition your hard disk to create a section for the operation of the computer as a Windows machine. You can then format the partition and install a copy of the Windows OS. In keeping with the concept it introduced with the Mac Mini (bring your own keyboard, mouse, and monitor), Apple will not sell its computers with the Windows OS (at least not now). If you want Windows on your computer, you need to acquire a copy of the OS from your favorite software dealer.

Once you have gone through the set up process, you will find using the Mac-Intel as a Windows machine fairly simple. During the boot process, simply hold down the option key until you get a choice of operating systems to use in the boot process. If you happen to use a keyboard designed for Windows and not the Mac, hold down the Alt key. To go back to the Mac OS again, you have to shut down your Windows machine and reboot into the Mac machine.

In order to set up with Boot Camp, in addition to the software, you need to update your OS to Tiger v10.4.6 or later, and have at least 10 GB of free hard disk space, a CD reader/writer, a blank CD, a copy of Windows XP, Service Pac two (XP Professional or Home, but preferably XP) and, of course, an Intel-based Mac—Boot Camp does not work on any previous iteration of the Mac hardware. You will also need a USB keyboard and mouse, as the Boot Camp installer does not support Bluetooth.

Not surprisingly, Apple has made the process of installing Boot Camp, partitioning your hard disk, and even installing the Windows OS as simple as it could. The process avoids the need to make a supplemental back up of your data or put your data at any significant risk.

The computer world (even the Apple side of it) has yet to see perfection. Boot Camp has some issues. Windows aficionados prefer the NFTS file system to FAT. The instruction manual for Boot Camp tells you that you can use either FAT or NFTS formatting for your Windows partition, but that if you use NFTS, you have to deal with the handicap that you cannot write or save files to the Windows partition from the Mac OS. Conversely, you can write and save to an FAT structure. Accordingly, you are forced to choose between FAT’s compatibility and NFTS’s enhanced security and reliability. One other caveat: the FAT system only works on partitions that do not exceed 32 MB in size.

On the other hand, since Windows cannot read HFS+ partitions, you cannot save directly to your Mac OS partition from Windows either. If this poses a problem for you, you might consider purchasing a copy of Mediafour’s MacDrive for around $50. It allows Windows to read and write to HFS+ partitions and drives.

A few other restrictions: Boot Camp will only work on your internal hard disk. You cannot partition and install Windows on an external hard disk. Moreover, if you have already partitioned your internal hard disk, you must restore it to a single partition before Boot Camp will allow you to partition it and install Windows.

Some of the features that you enjoy in the Mac OS will not work in Windows on the Mac. Windows will not, for example, support the built in iSight camera, Apple Remote, the Apple USB Modem, or keyboard backlighting on the MacBook Pro computers. You will want to use a multibutton mouse with Windows on the Mac, even on a Mac Book Pro as, at least for the time being, the drivers for the Apple keyboard do not support the control-click convention frequently used as a right mouse click on a Mac laptop. Hopefully, Apple will remedy that soon.

Last, but certainly not least, comes the question of speed. Windows XP running under Boot Camp works relatively well, certainly much better than it did under Virtual PC. It appears to run comparably fast to mid-range dedicated Windows computers, not as fast as the top-end dedicated Windows machines.

Mac users have another alternative respecting Windows as it turns out that like energy, the virtual machine has not been destroyed—it has simply changed its form. Parallels Desktop allows users of the Mac-Intel computers to run Windows XP concurrently with OS X in a “virtual” machine created out of the Mac and running on the Mac OS X desktop. As was the case with the older Virtual PC software, it allows the use of Mac programs and Windows programs concurrently. Parallels recently moved out of beta and into full release.

Parallels makes use of the Intel Core Duo architecture in the current line of Macintosh computers. Parallels will allow users to run any version of Windows at the same time as Mac OS X, without having to dual-boot or shut down their Mac desktop. Windows on the Mac-Intel running through Parallels and a virtual machine will run slower than at native speed.

A useful utility will allow you to reduce Windows 2000, 2003, and XP virtual machine hard drive size by 50 percent or more with Parallels Compressor technology. Compressor sells separately for $179, but comes with Parallels Desktop for Mac.

In truth, running Windows on a Mac is still simply running Windows. All things considered, I would rather run on Mac OS X. I do recognize that sometimes Mac users may have the need (or even the desire) to run a Windows program. I do not anticipate that the issue of software developers not developing certain software for the Macintosh will disappear in the immediate future. At least with Boot Camp and Parallels, Mac users have an option allowing them to run Windows on the same hardware they run the Mac OS X, saving them the cost of a second computer. As time goes on, the facilities of both Boot Camp and Parallels will likely improve. Perhaps Microsoft will continue to see its interest best served by working in support of developments allowing Windows to run on the Mac-Intel machines. After all, remember that Microsoft ultimately acquired the Virtual PC program and improved its compatibility and functionality with Windows.


Jeffrey Allen has a general practice in Oakland, California. His firm, Graves & Allen, emphasizes real estate and business transactions and litigation. He is a frequent speaker and author on technology topics and the Editor-in-Chief of the GPSolo Technology & Practice Guide and the Technology eReport.




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