The release on April 5 of Apples Boot Camp Assistant isnt about doing anything useful. Instead, its all about making Macs easier to buy (and sell).
If you want to do something useful, like run the occasional Windows program or share data between Mac and Windows programs, you will do better to run a virtualization program.
And, happily for Mac users, there are vendors in the Linux space that are quick to fill the void left by Microsofts slow-motion approach to revamping VirtualPC.
On April 6, virtualization vendor Parallels announced a Mac OS X version of its Workstation 2.1 software that will let users run Windows XP or Linux together on the desktop of an Intel-based Mac.
When I spoke to Parallels officials, they said that the virtualization software will let users cut and paste between Mac and Windows applications, as well as support multiple monitors.
And we should see more commercial virtualization players coming into the Mac market, beyond the open-source projects.
So what use, really, is Boot Camp?
Boot Camp is a security blanket for the purchasing departments in the higher education and government market segments. It lowers the many barriers that purchasing and IT managers have placed in front of Macs and Linux: First, that Macs arent PCs, and secondly, that the Mac operating system (classic and OS X) and Linux arent Windows.
The differences between Macs and PCs have long been a sticking point for purchasing departments in higher education and federal, state and local governments. Macs come with a different operating system, of course, but it was the hardware and especially the peripherals that were bigger problems.
Ages ago, Macs used a proprietary bus for keyboards and mice, as well as standard SCSI or serial ports, rather than the more common Centronics connectors. And lets not go into support for LocalTalk networking. It all added up to extra costs beyond the higher entry point of Macs.
Worse, the first Macs used the Motorola 68000 series of processors, and later machines used the PowerPC chip from the AIM (Apple, IBM, Motorola) coalition. A Macintosh was a Macintosh and couldnt run a Microsoft operating system such as DOS or Windows.
For most purchasing departments, all of these differences required special justifications and extra paperwork. It all added up to more time and effort.
"Sole-sourcing," or purchasing a technology or product available only from a single vendor, in this case Apple, also required justification. Until Windows 95 came along, the graphical nature of the Mac operating system itself was sometimes justification enough.
But that argument lost force as Windows entered all niches of the market. Software vendors offered "cross-platform" versions. The Windows versions may not have had the elegance or workflow-effectiveness of the Mac, but their availability was enough to counter most objections.
Then there was the jumping through hoops to counter the extra costs of the Mac itself and its expensive add-ons. Always a tough sell to a PC-centric management.
At the same time, purchasing departments established buy lists for preferred PC vendors and models. All of the models ran Windows and that was the usual course of business. Compatibility and support were ensured by holding to the purchasing requirements that meant Windows and Intel.
Mac users would point at the interface, applications and studies that showed lower support costs, but most of the time these requests failed against the effective roadblocks set up by IT and purchasing managers.
Now, someone can request an Intel-based PC that can run Windows natively. And for the first time, an Apple machine can meet that description. If the same machine is also capable of running Mac OS X and Linux, then so much the better; perhaps that will outweigh the slight added cost of the Mac. But it still meets the basic criteria for a Windows box.
In the mid-1990s, Apple hoped to counter the purchasing barriers with two initiatives: licensing the Mac OS (thus providing customers with a bunch of vendors to pick from) and developing CHRP (Common Hardware Reference Platform), a logic board design spec that could natively run several operating systems, including Windows NT, AIX, OS/2, NetWare and even Solaris.
Both strategies were unsuccessful. Steve Jobs took Mac OS licensing off the table in 1997 before the release of the PowerPC G3 chip. This made sure that the next-generation of machines became Apple sales, rather than being sold by Apples competitors.
The CHRP side of the equation had troubles of its own. The worst was that Microsoft never gave the green light to the PowerPC version of Windows NT, and eventually all the dreams of multiple booting boiled down to the Macintosh.