Mac OS X 10.5 computers will run Windows XP

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Mac OS X 10.5 computers will run Windows XP
A screen from the setup program for Apple’s Boot Camp, enabling users to format a Windows partition. (Courtesy Apple)

What a user does with his Mac once it’s running Windows is entirely up to him, from Apple’s point of view. Rather than a virtualization system or “virtual PC” that would run Windows on the Mac desktop (a feature that Microsoft already makes available to Mac users), Boot Camp enables a true dual-boot system using a logically-partitioned hard disk. Apple recommends a 10 GB partition, though the minimum is 5 GB, with at least 5 GB left over for the Mac OS partition. Once installed, the user will see a startup screen featuring two panels that lets him simply choose between Mac OS and Windows. After Windows is booted, Mac OS exits the picture and lets Windows take over. From Windows’ perspective, it’s running on an Intel-based system with a 10 GB (or larger) hard drive. For the duration of the session – until the user reboots – he’s running a Windows machine.

From the copious technical information Apple provided this morning, it doesn’t appear likely that the Mac OS X partition will be addressable from Windows XP; TG Daily has asked Apple for confirmation of this observation. However, the Boot Camp package, when burned to a CD, contains a complete driver set for most Mac users to enable their Windows to use a surprisingly large amount of their built-in hardware. There’s an ATI Radeon X1600 graphics driver for iMac users, an Intel integrated graphics driver for Mac mini users, and a SigmaTel audio driver for the Macs’ sound system. The machines’ Ethernet, AirPort 802.11 wireless, and integrated Bluetooth are all supported. And because Mac users are accustomed to ejecting their CDs from their keyboards, an “Eject Key” driver is among those also supplied.

But for now, users with infrared wireless keyboards and mice will find themselves needing to install their wired or USB equivalents, as it appears Apple’s infrared system is not compatible with the standard infrared device driver set supplied by Microsoft. Apple cannot guarantee that other third-party hardware will be recognized by Windows under Boot Camp; for now, its probably safest for users to assume that it’s not.

In its technical information today, Apple makes no pretense that it’s beholden to Microsoft in any way, or that it’s particularly proud of enabling Windows use on its systems, besides the fact that enough users have been asking for it. In Boot Camp’s FAQ, in response to a question about why only XP SP2 can be installed and not earlier versions of XP, Apple’s statement tells it like it is: “You would be required to insert your original Windows CD during installation, however there is no way to eject the first disc until after Windows installation is complete and the drivers from the Macintosh Driver CD created by Boot Camp Assistant Beta are installed.” It’s apparently a chicken-and-egg situation, where the Windows driver that would enable it to eject the CD from software, rests on the very CD that would await the Windows installation CD to be ejected. That’s apparently the only reason.

Earlier this year, independent Macintosh enthusiast Colin Nederkoom posted a $100 bounty for the first developer or engineer to make Windows run on an Intel-based Mac. The prize was claimed just weeks ago, and an independent site has made a free Windows boot loader available as a result. The same site is now sponsoring a contest for the first developer to make an ATI Radeon X1800 graphics driver for an iMac running Windows. One wonders now if that prize should go to Apple. And while we’re wondering, the question could rightly be asked, how long has Apple had this dual-boot capability ready in the first place? Has it held on to this secret, just to see the bounty hunt to its conclusion? TG Daily has asked an Apple spokesperson for further comment, and may yet receive it later today.

Long-time Macintosh users have come to appreciate the subtle meanings and delicious ironies in their system’s long history. So they may be the first to point out that Boot Camp’s icon borrows from Windows’ four-pane logo, but tips it over a little – some might say, on its ear. Others may also appreciate the subtle irony in the fact that, quite conceivably, all three Intel-based iMacs could qualify for Microsoft’s Vista Capable logo.