First Look: Macworld roundtable: Assessing Boot Camp

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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!

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