Boot Questions Hang over Apples New Macs

Opinion: Will the new Macs run Windows and Linux as well as Mac OS X? Here's a history lesson on multiboot machines.

The siren call of multiple-boot machines keeps insinuating itself into the left brains of IT managers, especially following Apple CEO Steve Jobs Tuesday unveiling of the first Intel-based Macs.

While Apple Computer and Microsoft remain mum on the prospect, one expected benefit of Apples switch from PowerPC to X86 processors would be a machine that can boot in three flavors of operating systems: Mac OS X, Windows and Linux.

Certainly, Apple wasnt going to talk up multibooting. The pitch to the Macworld Expo crowd here in San Francisco was meant to reassure the faithful about the processor transition, especially for PowerBook users. The PowerPC G4 used for years in both the pro and consumer notebooks had grown so long in the tooth that its performance was seen as pathetic.

Jobs said the new Intel-based MacBook Pro was four to five times as fast as the previous generation.

/zimages/2/28571.gifApple QuickTime gets a security makeover. Click here to read more.

During the many software demonstrations in the keynote address, performance of native applications appeared very fast and even the building of a multilayer, effects-laden Adobe Photoshop document—running under the Rosetta translation layer—occurred at decent speed. Of course, graphics pros will use the PowerMac workstation, instead of a notebook.

Linux distributions have targeted the PowerPC Macs, and the machines have long had a strong showing with developers at Linuxworld conferences. And Ive appreciated the chutzpa of YellowDog, which has been pitching itself as the replacement desktop operating system for Mac OS X PowerPC "orphans."

Perhaps more of Microsofts intentions will be revealed over the course of the weeklong conference. The questions remain: Will Microsoft support the booting of Windows on Apples new machines? Will Microsoft release a Mactel version of its Virtual PC product, letting Mac customers run Windows applications (and Windows) in a pane on the Mac OS X desktop?

According to recent postings on a number of Windows and Mac sites, Windows XP currently cant boot on the Mactel machines because of Apples use of the EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) in place of the standard BIOS, or Basic Input/Output System. Whats needed is either a refreshed version of Windows XP, Windows Vista (which will support EFI), or an EFI hack. My money is on the last option arriving in a week or two.

According to one source familiar with the Microsoft Virtual PC project, the team was caught flat-footed by the Wintel transition announcement late last spring. Much of the work relied on the Metrowerks CodeWarrior environment, and Apple has pushed its own Cocoa frameworks for Intel compatibility.

In addition, Apple has yet to provide developers with the deep hooks needed for such virtualization, the source said. Instead, Apple put its effort in the past year into getting Mac OS X to run on the Intel hardware and making sure its applications were also native—a strategy seen unfolding in Jobs demonstration on Tuesday.

There were no crashes or problems with the software. It all worked as usual or better, given the increased performance.

Next Page: A brief history of multiple booting and the Mac OS.