2006: The year's biggest Mac stories

Apple may be at the center of the Mac universe, but the it wasn’t the only company making waves in 2006. Here are some of the year’s top Mac stories involving other hardware and software makers.

A Parallels world

As Apple began to roll out Intel-based Macs, the question on many Mac users’ lips seemed to be, “ Does this mean I could run other operating systems—including Windows—on my Mac if I wanted?” The interest in this theoretical challenge became so great, it spawned a contest—one that was won by a group of hackers in March.

But before Mac users had a chance to experiment with the hacked solution, another unlikely participant threw its hat into the Windows-on-Mac ring—Apple. Two weeks after hackers came out with a Windows-on-Mac solution, Apple unveiled Boot Camp, a public beta that let Intel-based Mac users install and run Windows XP on their computers.

While some people questioned the decision to allow people to run Windows natively on a Mac, the overall reaction was very positive. Even Microsoft welcomed the release of Boot Camp, which in hindsight could have been the final nail in the coffin of Virtual PC. High-end Mac game publishers also showed optimism for the technology, while casual Mac game-makers said their business would be mostly unaffected.

Boot Camp does let Mac gamers and users of all kinds run applications that they couldn’t in the past. That also works in the reverse—PC users that would rather use a Mac but still need access to a Windows application, can now safely buy an Apple computer.

But while Boot Camp sent shockwaves throughout the Mac and Windows worlds, the Apple software was not without its drawbacks—namely, you need to reboot your Mac in order to run Windows, a show-stopper for some users. Enter virtualization specialist Parallels, which produced a Mac version of its software for running different operating systems on the same machine without requiring a reboot. Parallels became an instant hit as the company continued to improve the software and release public betas. The constant releases gave users an easy way to chime in with their thoughts on the current and future feature list and gave the company a solid roadmap to follow.

Parallels wasn’t the only company to enter the booming Windows-on-Mac market. One of the biggest names in the overall virtualization market, VMWare, joined the fray by releasing its first beta in late December. Look for the interest in running different operating systems on Intel-based Mac hardware to drive development deep into 2007.

Microsoft giveth…

Putting any rumors of discontent to rest, Microsoft and Apple signed a new technology agreement at Macworld Expo. The agreement, which will last for at least five years, means that Microsoft will continue to make Office and Apple will share any new technologies to help with the development. Of particular interest to Mac users making the move to Intel-based hardware, the agreement says that Microsoft will continue to develop Office for Mac in two versions—one for PowerPC systems and one for Intel machines.

…And Microsoft taketh away

Of course, three days after unveiling its agreement with Apple, Microsoft killed development of its Windows Media Player for Mac. Instead of directly supporting Windows Media on the Mac, Microsoft chose to partner with Flip4Mac, a company that allows users to play Windows Media files with QuickTime.

Windows Media Player wasn’t the only Microsoft program to wind up in the technology graveyard in 2006. Ending months of speculation, the company said it was discontinuing development of Virtual PC, a technology purchased when it bought Connectix in 2003. Word also came from Redmond that the next version of Office would drop support for Visual Basic, a move that left some Mac users scratching their heads.

PC sales bottom out… but not for Apple

By December growth of PC sales in the US had come to a halt, showing zero increase compared to last year. While many companies were taken by surprise and forced to cut prices to maintain market share, Apple showed strong sales growth and increased market share.

Apple topped all computer companies by posting over 30 percent year-over-year growth rate in its Macintosh market share. Whether it’s the iPod driving more people to the Mac or the Intel transition that is sparking consumer interest, there can be no doubt that Apple is coming on strong with its new line of Macs.

Blu-ray versus HD DVD

The battle to win the next high-capacity optical format started to heat up in 2006 as supporters for both HD DVD and Blu-ray began to release products. The two formats are vying to replace current DVDs for high-definition content, such as movies, with the resulting squabble pitting industry giants against each other. The main backers of HD-DVD include Toshiba, NEC and Intel, while those backing Blu-ray Disc include Sony, Panasonic and Samsung.

While analysts expect Apple to outfit its Macs with Blu-ray drives, the company will win no matter which side prevails in the format war. Both HD DVD and Blu-ray incorporate the QuickTime format and the Apple-supported H.264 in their technology.

Movies and disk players are already in stores, but it will be a while yet before we know the outcome of this battle.

Adobe goes public

In years past public betas were usually only released by smaller companies looking for feedback on new features. However, 2006 saw Adobe give users two huge public beta releases—one for its new Lightroom application and the other for its flagship Photoshop program.

Previewed early in the year, Lightroom is a competitor for Apple’s Aperture workflow application. With many updates throughout the year— including Intel support —Lightroom really put a pinch in Apple’s Aperture plans. Many people tried the free Lightroom and continue to use it because of the possibility of seamless integration with future versions of Adobe’s Creative Suite. Adobe expects to release a final version of Lightroom in early 2007.

Perhaps the biggest Adobe news of the year was the release of the Photoshop CS3 public beta in December. The beta was the long-awaited Intel-native version of the image-editing application, though it introduced other features as well. With a final version of Photoshop CS3 expected in Spring 2007, the Intel-native program is seen as a potential spur for Mac sales, particularly among creative professionals who have been holding out for native compatibility.

This story, "2006: The year's biggest Mac stories" was originally published by PCWorld.

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