New Apple software lets Intel Macs boot Windows

Apple today introduced Boot Camp, new public-beta software for Mac OS X that lets users of Intel Macs boot directly into Microsoft Windows XP. While the move may contradict previous statements by Apple, the company said they still have no intention of fully supporting Windows on the Mac.

“After we released the Intel-based Macs we had a lot of customer requests asking if it’s possible to run Windows on those machines,” Brian Croll, Apple’s senior director of Software Product Marketing, told Macworld. “We decided we would help it along by creating Boot Camp.”

The software, available today as a public preview version of a feature from the forthcoming Mac OS X Leopard, includes an assistant application to aid with drive partitioning and the installation of Windows drivers for Mac hardware.

The partitioning process is done in Mac OS X and features a slider to let users determine the amount of space to give to Windows. Partitioning is dynamic, meaning that users don’t need to erase their drives in order to create a new Windows partition. For added safety and flexibility, Boot Camp automatically leaves 5 GB of free space surrounding the Mac and Windows partitions.

Changing the size of the partition later, or removing it altogether, is also supported directly within the Boot Camp Assistant.

“If you want to go back to one partition for the Mac, you just rerun Boot Camp and that comes up as an option — we make it very simple,” said Croll.

One complication for users may come when trying to share files between their Windows XP and Mac OS X installations. Mac OS X can read and write to Windows’ FAT32 volume format, but FAT32 only supports file sizes up to 4 GB. Windows’ newer NTFS format supports larger volumes, but Mac OS X can only read those volumes, not write to them. And Windows XP cannot natively read Macintosh formatted HFS drives, although third-party utilities such as Mediafour’s MacDrive, can enable HFS compatibility.

As a part of the installation procedure, the Boot Camp Assistant prompts you to burn a CD containing all of the necessary drivers to run networking, Bluetooth, graphics and other functions in Windows. After the Windows installation is complete, users insert the CD, which automatically installs the drivers. The iSight video camera and Apple Remote included with Intel-based Macs won’t work under Windows XP, however.

The CD created by Boot Camp Assistant also installs a small Windows utility, similar to the Mac’s Startup Disk preference pane, that lets you choose a Windows or Mac startup volume. In addition, users can choose which volume to boot from at startup by holding down the Option key and picking from a list of available volumes which now lists both Windows and Mac installations.

Previously Apple executives had suggested that the company “wouldn’t stop” owners of Intel-based Macs from booting into Windows XP. Boot Camp somewhat changes that: now Apple is giving users a leg up on the process. However, Apple made it very clear that Windows would not be made available on future Macs and the company would not support the operating system.

“We are not going to sell or support Windows,” said Apple’s Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing David Moody. “You have to bring your own Windows.”

Apple officials said that adding Windows compatibility to Mac hardware should make it easier for Windows users to switch to the Mac.

“This will really help a lot of folks make up their mind whether to move over to the Mac,” said Croll. “We think this makes the Mac even more appealing for all those Windows users who are considering the switch.”

In addition to Windows XP SP2 (Home or Professional editions), Boot Camp requires Mac OS X 10.4.6 or later, the latest firmware update (available from Apple via Software Update), and a blank recordable CD.

( Updated to add information from interview with Apple executives. 4/5/06 10:25 am ET. Updated at 10:57 am ET to add more detail from Apple briefing. Modified at 1:02 pm ET to correct information about limitations of FAT32.)

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