First Look: Macworld roundtable: Assessing Boot Camp

The arrival of Boot Camp continues to send shock waves across the Mac community, as Mac users try to make sense of the Apple-made utility that will let Intel-based Macs boot directly into Windows. What will this mean for Mac developers? Does this mark the end of emulation programs such as Microsoft’s Virtual PC? And will Windows users be inspired by Boot Camp to switch to the Mac?

To sort out the answers to these questions, we convened the inaugural Macworld iChat Roundtable. Three Macworld editors—Editorial Director Jason Snell, Senior Editor Rob Griffiths, and Senior Editor Peter Cohen—joined together in an iChat session moderated by Assistant Editor Cyrus Farivar to discuss Boot Camp and the future of Windows on the Mac.

Cyrus Farivar : Rob, last week both you and Peter raised some concerns that Mac developers might take a hit due to Boot Camp. Because now the developers can say: “Just boot into Windows.” Can you elaborate on this?

Rob Griffiths : Well, from my chair, the issue is one of finance. If Adobe spends x million dollars a year developing Photoshop, for instance, they might find it theoretically cheaper to just license Windows XP and just bundle it with all “Mac versions” of Photoshop CS2 for Windows. Now, that’s not going to happen. At least not right away.

CF : Why?

RG : There are, what, maybe 500,000 Intel Macs out there? And 10 million PowerPC Macs.

Jason Snell : I don’t think that’s ever going to happen.

RG : Conversations like that will be occurring. But I would also agree with Jason.

JS : Fundamentally, Mac users are Mac users because they want to use the Mac OS. And developers realize that if Mac users wanted to run Windows apps, they wouldn’t be Mac users.

Peter Cohen : That’s something that has been repeated by the Mac game developers I’ve been speaking with as well, Jason.

JS : Do I think that developers who are only tenuously attached to the Mac market, but don’t really get it, might try the “just use our app in Windows” approach? Sure. But most of those companies dropped out of the Mac market long ago. With games, I can see how some gamers and some games might be affected by this.

CF : Let’s switch to games for a moment. Take a game that exists on both platforms—say, World of Warcraft. Is running it on a Mac fundamentally different from running it on a PC?

PC : Anecdotally, I’ve heard from several people since Boot Camp was introduced that have said, “A Mac wasn’t even on my radar, but now I’m definitely getting one.”

JS : I’m excited about playing PC games on my Mac. But only certain ones, the kind that consume your entire interface anyway, so you don’t know what OS you’re on, and you certainly aren’t running any other apps simultaneously. (World of Warcraft fits those criteria.) But I want to affirm what Peter just said: For a lot of PC-oriented people, the Mac just became a relevant option because it’s got that Windows safety net behind it.

CF : Right—but now that Blizzard Entertainment has the PC version of World of Warcraft already, would they stop making the Mac version?

PC : At the core level of the user experience, no—playing a game on Windows is just like playing a game on the PC, with a few minor exceptions.

RG : I agree with that statement as well.

PC : When it comes to development, however, making a game for the PC is radically different than making a game for the Mac.

CF : Explain.

PC : Windows has a suite of application programming interfaces called DirectX, for example, that help PC game developers do everything from networking code to 3-D graphics management. There’s no real equivalent to that on the Macintosh—Apple takes a more piecemeal approach, letting open standards like OpenGL handle some of that. The other issue is that PC game developers are familiar with Windows. Making them develop takes them outside of their comfort level.

CF : So Peter, is it easier to develop the same game for Windows?

PC : I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily easier to make a game for Windows than it is for Mac. What I would say is that creating a game that’s easy to develop for multiple platforms requires a level of discipline that few companies are willing to put forth. And that’s one reason that we see very few simultaneous multi-platform releases.

CF : Is there any reason that Blizzard should continue to develop the Mac version?

PC : Sure, absolutely—because a large number of their Mac users are running on hardware that can’t and won’t support Boot Camp.

JS : Let’s not forget that it’s $150-$200 to buy a copy of Windows.

PC : But having said that, with World of Warcraft, Blizzard knows how many of its customers are using Windows and Macs. And if Blizzard sees the number of Mac users drop suddenly, of course they’ll have to reassess the market for their Mac development.

CF : OK, but over the next year or three, will there be a tailing off of development for big title Mac games?

PC : Cyrus, I believe that we will see a diminished market for native “hardcore” Mac games. By and large, “hardcore” gamers are the ones who have been complaining the most about Mac games’ time to market, feature disparity, and cost compared to their PC counterparts.

JS : Agreed—and if I had a dual-boot Mac two years ago I certainly would have bought City of Heroes!

PC : They’re also early adopters.

JS : Because lots of games never, ever make it to the Mac.

CF : True.

RG : Far Cry. Half Life.

PC : So there will probably be a drop-off in the number of Mac users who will buy, say, games like Quake 4. But I think there will continue to be a market for casual games, mass-market games like The Sims 2, and other titles that appeal to Mac users who are either unlikely or unwilling to invest in an Intel-based Mac with Windows installed on it.

Cyrus Farivar : Now let’s switch gears a little bit. Rob and Jason, we were talking about office software and there seemed to be some disagreement as to whether or not something like Microsoft Office on a Mac is the same as on Windows. Is this same drop-off something that we should worry about outside of the realm of games? In other words, will Microsoft stop making Office for the Mac?

Rob Griffiths : Not for at least five years!

Jason Snell : No, no, never, never, never. When you’re running Word, you’re not running just Word. You are using one application among many on your system. I don’t just run Word. I run Word and BBEdit and Eudora and switch among them. I want Word to behave like the rest of those apps. I am not a Word user or Excel user—I am a Mac user.

RG : Right. But you work differently than many in an office environment. In my prior job, users spent all day in Word, Excel, and e-mail.

JS : Even if I only used Word all day, I’d prefer to use the Mac. Because a “Word-only” user is still connecting to file servers. Or using the Finder, and adjusting system preferences. And there’s no such thing as a Word-only user anyway.

RG : I agree, though—Office won’t vanish.

Peter Cohen : That’s where virtualization technology like Parallels Workstation, which was announced last week, becomes so appealing. Unlike Boot Camp, it doesn’t affect your workflow.

JS : It’s appealing for Windows-only apps. I just don’t ever see it being a solution for a company like Microsoft to abandon the Mac. If Mac users wanted to use Windows, they would.

RG : My big concern in all of this can be summarized like this: I want OS X 10.5 to feature virtualized Windows. Because then the primary OS is OS X, not Windows.

PC : I want 10.5 to feature fast user-switching between Mac OS X and XP.

RG : That’d be interesting.

CF : How viable is something like Parallels?

JS : I think Parallels is extremely viable, unless Leopard includes built-in virtualization. John Gruber of Daring Fireball nailed it: potentially, Windows is the new Classic. It’s an icky compatibility mode for nasty stuff that just won’t run on the Mac.

CF : Huh. Now that’s an interesting thought.

RG : Peter, What happens with peripherals in virtualization?

PC : That’s a good question. I honestly don’t know. I haven’t played around with Parallels Workstation enough to know.

JS : I got it running here this morning. But I haven’t plugged many peripherals into it.

CF : What’d you find?

JS : Basically, it’s Virtual PC—except really fast.

PC : I know this much—it’s definitely a beta. Getting it set up and working was more difficult than Boot Camp

JS : Yes, absolutely.

PC : And all the functionality isn’t there, either—I don’t have audio working, I can’t get networking working.

JS : And what you really want is to have Boot Camp and a virtual machine share the same Windows installation. Networking, I got working. But no audio.

JS : Right now, Windows via Boot Camp is interacting with the Mac hardware. Parallels Windows is interacting with the Parallels “virtual machine” PC.

PC : And it’s definitely not as fast—they advertise “near native” speeds, but I don’t get that sense.

JS : As someone currently using Virtual PC on a PowerBook, I was blown away by the speed. But that’s not saying much.

RG : One thing I will say: I think a Mini running XP via Boot Camp is the ideal solution for anyone thinking of “testing” the Mac. For $1,000, you get a Core Duo, load it with RAM, and you’ve got two amazingly good machines in one.

PC : One thing I can say unequivocally — Parallels’ effort immediately puts to bed Q, Qemu, Bochs, Wintel, etc. And Parallels also flushes Virtual PC down the toilet, at least in its present form. Clearly, virtualization is the way to go — not emulation.

JS : I could never get Q or WinTel to work right, although their developers are still plugging away. But I think they’re all going to be eaten by Apple or Microsoft. Either Apple or Microsoft will come up with a virtualization system that will be the standard.

RG : Virtual PC next version, I suggest, will be fully virtual, like Parallels.

PC : Like it is on the PC side.

JS : So anyway, the ideal would be that you could choose: boot completely native via Boot Camp, or run it in a virtual machine… from the same partition, same copy of Windows, etc. We’re not there yet. Leopard, maybe?

RG : Yeah, Leopard may have some surprises in store, based on Boot Camp.

JS : I suspect that if Leopard has virtual machine built in, Microsoft will never release a new Virtual PC.

RG : I agree with that as well.

JS : You’ve got to think that Apple and Microsoft are talking about all of this.

RG : One would hope.

PC : The version of Virtual PC that runs on Windows is already an Intel-based Virtual Machine, so it makes sense to carry that forward, presuming Microsoft would develop it. But yeah, Jason—if I were at Microsoft, I couldn’t really see a reason why I’d want to continue developing Virtual PC.

JS : I did have one wacky thought. Look, Mac users don’t know what copy of Windows to buy. It’s weird and confusing, and virtualization is really needed. So, assuming Apple isn’t virtualizing in Leopard: kill the Virtual PC name. Just call it “Microsoft Windows for Mac.” Especially if you can boot directly into it or run it in a virtual machine.

PC : Or as Rob so pithily put in his iChat subject line today, “Mac OS X 10.6 Vista.”

JS : And it comes with a legal Windows license!

Cyrus Farivar : Jason, will the number of Mac users increase, as Windows users see why the Mac OS is better? Will Windows users security concerns be alleviated when they try out Mac OS? Also, what about the possibility of running Mac OS on x86 generic hardware? Will that ever come?

Jason Snell : That’s a lot of questions. I do think the number of Mac users will increase.

Rob Griffiths : I agree.

Peter Cohen : Yep.

JS : I think that for many switchers, Windows compatibility is about fear, not about reality. Sort of like people who grouse when a new Mac doesn’t have an upgradeable processor or expansion slots. They would never actually upgrade, but they are afraid of the “what if” scenario.

RG : “Hey! This Mini you sent me doesn’t have any slots!”

JS : So I suspect many people will buy a Mac knowing that they can revert to Windows and never will. Others will install Windows for a couple of things and eventually realize they’re never using it.

RG : Here’s another thought: when the high-end Macs come out this fall. I think Apple will sell quite a few to Windows users who never intend to run OS X. Because the MacBook Pro is currently the fastest XP laptop around, I expect the high-end Macs to be powerhouses, with Apple’s typically excellent design. For many PC users, that will be irresistible.

JS : Whoa there, Hoss. I’ve yet to see any convincing data about the “fastest XP laptop around.”

RG : You didn’t see the bench test? It looked pretty conclusive to me.

JS : We’re running all of PC World’s tests here. Then I’ll be convinced.

PC : What I’ve been amazed with so far is just how good the iMac is as a gaming PC. It’s certainly not the fastest system out there—the Radeon x1600 hobbles at high resolutions—but I’m able to play games that are being released today, with decent resolutions and high levels of detail.

RG : Peter, I’ve been shocked at the Mini’s good game performance, limited RAM and all. I’m still at 512 MB.

JS : As for Mac OS X on generic PC hardware, that will never legitimately happen.

CF : Please elaborate.

JS : Apple won’t allow it, period. They will sue anyone into oblivion who tries. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if Apple did a licensing deal with someone eventually. Sort of like the HP iPod, except maybe it would actually work.

CF : But then wouldn’t that bring back the clone wars, and take away Apple’s profit from the Mac hardware? Or does Apple’s iPod division take care of that difference?

JS : I think Apple would only ever license it to companies making systems that don’t really compete with Apple. But it’s still an unlikely event, I have to say.

CF : How could you license the OS to a company that wouldn’t compete with Apple?

PC : For example, if someone were to come forth with a really killer tablet design—installed with Mac OS X. Now that could be cool. Limited enough in market share and general appeal.

JS : Yeah, exactly: markets Apple doesn’t want to be in. What if Apple decides it never, ever, ever wants to make a super-small-ultra-sub-notebook? Let Sony sell one. It could happen. But I still don’t think it will.

PC : Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got a game of Half Life 2 paused on my iMac that I want to get back to.

[ Jason Snell weighed in with his thoughts on Boot Camp on the day Apple announced the software. Peter Cohen has looked at Boot Camp from the perspective of game developers. And Rob Griffiths has installed Windows XP on his Mac, both with the help of Boot Camp and the project hack. ]

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