Yes, the iMac does Windows

Yesterday was a milestone day for the Mac. A pair of enterprising hackers got Windows XP to boot on an Intel-based Mac, and won almost $14,000 for their troubles.

We at Macworld sacrificed one of our iMacs and joined forces with PC World to see this first-hand. And indeed, thanks to the hard work of PC World’s Danny Allen, we’ve got a working Windows iMac.

Let me be the first to say how creepy a phenomenon this is.

Anyway, now that the first attempts to get this working have succeeding, the community is buzzing. Because money was at stake before, many creative hackers were keeping their good ideas to themselves. Now that the check’s been written, it appears that everyone is joining together to figure out how to run Windows XP as efficiently as possible on Apple’s hardware.

As I write this, it’s still rough going. Our iMac works, even supporting Ethernet and Wi-Fi, but internal audio is disabled and without a native video driver, moving windows around on screen is painfully slow. (As a Mac user who has taken pride in how Everything Just Works, I have to admit I’m smiling a little bit as I watch people struggle with finding just the right drivers to get Windows XP to work properly on the iMac.) And users of MacBook Pros and Intel-based Mac minis are reporting other driver-related complications.

Still, I imagine that within a few weeks, many of these issues will be ironed out, and there will be a relatively simple step-by-step process to get your Intel-based Mac to dual-boot into both Mac OS X and Windows XP. (Personally, I’d rather have something like Virtual PC or VMware that lets me run Windows within Mac OS X, but that’ll come eventually.)

If you’re wondering how this new system works, there’s a massive amount of detail floating around the Web. But the short, less technical version is this: there’s some clever software that makes EFI, the Intel iMac’s equivalent of a PC’s BIOS, act like BIOS. Once that’s installed, you can boot off of a modified Windows XP installation CD-ROM and install Windows as normal. (You’ll need to wipe your hard drive and create two partitions, one for Mac and one for Windows, first.)

Once the installation is done, the dual-boot Mac behaves just like a Mac when in OS X mode. But when you restart the system, OS X doesn’t automatically reboot. Instead, a colorful Apple logo appears on the Mac’s gray boot-up screen. Pressing the up- and down-arrow keys toggles between that logo and a colorful Windows XP logo. Once you’ve chosen which operating system to boot into, press return: you’ll either see the dark-gray silhouetted Apple logo, or an equivalent dark-gray silhouetted Windows logo. And then a normal boot cycle will commence.

Mac users are Mac users because they love the Mac. But some of us, from time to time, need to run Windows — usually for a small collection of programs that aren’t Mac compatible. For anyone who has the need to boot into Windows from time to time, this is great news — because it means that we can stop buying PCs altogether, and just keep an extra partition handy on our Macs.

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