Windows on Mac: What you need to know

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Emulation and Virtualization

Now that Boot Camp’s here, does this mean I won’t need to run Virtual PC anymore?

Well, it’s not as if Intel-based Mac owners can run Virtual PC now—the emulation software isn’t compatible with the Intel-powered Mac mini, iMac, and MacBook Pro. But more to the point, Boot Camp is different from Virtual PC. Whereas the latter program allows you to run Windows at the same time your Mac is using OS X, Boot Camp offers a “one or the other”-type scenario: once you’ve rebooted into Windows, all traces of Mac OS X disappear. You can’t switch back and forth between Windows applications and Mac programs without rebooting.

While Virtual PC may not run on an Intel-based Mac, there are plenty of similar programs that do. They include Parallels Workstation, Q, and WinTel. However, they’re all under various stages of development and have some serious quirks about them. The good news is, these programs tend to run Windows much faster than Virtual PC did, because they don’t need to emulate the Intel processor used by Windows!

Which is easier to use—Boot Camp or Parallels Workstation?

Boot Camp is somewhat easier to configure, though it requires more changes to your machine—partitioning the hard drive and updating the firmware. Parallels is simply an application, so you can run it whenever you like. You do have to do a bit of work to set up the app before you install Windows, however.

Parallels is slower than Boot Camp, as you’re running Windows within OS X. However, it’s not nearly as slow as Virtual PC used to be, and it’s quite usable. The product is still a beta, however, so there are some issues—USB devices don’t presently work, nor can you play DVDs. Boot Camp has no such issues—if something works in Windows XP, it will work on your Mac running XP.

It’s hard to say which is easier, as they’re really different products. If you have a need for Windows software alongside your OS X software, Parallels is the best solution. But if you want full driver support, and full Windows speed, Boot Camp is the way to go.

The Future

Now that Windows XP can run on a Mac, how long before we see Dell and HP PCs booting up into Mac OS X?

Our rough estimate would be “never.” Apple has said repeatedly that Mac OS X will only run on Apple hardware, and we don’t expect that to change. Apple makes a lot of money from Mac hardware, and with the Boot Camp announcement, Apple’s hardware is now unique in that it runs both Mac OS X and Windows. One of the reasons Apple’s products are so good is because the company controls both the hardware and the software; allowing Mac OS X to run on a generic Dell PC wouldn’t only gut Apple’s hardware business, but it would potentially reduce the quality of the Mac OS X user experience.

Will developers stop making Mac software?

It’s unlikely. 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. It’s possible that some developers who simply don’t get the Mac might try to steer their users toward Windows, but chances are good that most of those developers abandoned the Mac long ago, in the dark days of the late ’90s or during the OS X transition.

If there’s any single area where we might see a serious change in the amount of Mac software being released, it’s for games that appeal to hard-core gamers. Since many games operate with their own interface taking up the entire screen, there’s very little difference between running those games when booted into Mac OS X or booted into Windows XP. Hard-core Mac gamers will likely invest in a copy of Windows just so they can run the latest and greatest PC games, and therefore those games might not ever make it to Mac OS X proper. However, games played by more casual Mac gamers—those who might not buy a $200 copy of Windows just to play a puzzle or arcade-style game—will likely continue to be developed for the Mac market.

Will Boot Camp be part of OS X in the future?

Yes, Apple has confirmed that Boot Camp will be part of Leopard, the next major upgrade to Mac OS X. Also known as Mac OS X 10.5, this future OS X version will be previewed at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference in August.

Does that mean Microsoft will stop making Virtual PC?

Microsoft says that they are “continuing to work with Apple on a possible next version of Virtual PC.” What this means is anyone’s guess, so here’s ours: We figure that either Microsoft will release a new version of Virtual PC to run on Intel-based Macs, or Apple will integrate its features into Leopard. One of those two outcomes will almost certainly happen. In the meantime, companies like Parallels and VMware will try to stake out some ground in the Windows-on-Intel-Macs world.

What about Windows Vista? Will it be able to run on a Mac when it comes out?

Enterprising users have gotten Vista running on Mac hardware already. And we would assume that when Vista is officially released, Boot Camp will be updated to allow the latest version of Windows to run it on Mac hardware.

JASON SNELL is Macworld's Editorial Director. ROB GRIFFITHS is a Macworld senior editor and the founder of Mac OS X Hints. Jim Dalrymple, Christopher Breen, and Philip Michaels contributed to this report.

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