% fortune -ae paul murphy

Bootcamp: end of the beginning or beginning of the end?

When Apple announced, last week, release of a utility allowing MacTel machines to boot and run Windows/XP we saw two basic kinds of reactions: some people immediately announced that this was the beginning of the end as MacOS X would now give way to Microsoft Vista, while other people concluded that this was the end of the beginning as MacOS X would now escape the limitations of Apple's hardware sales to take over the world.

The thought driving the Mac pessimists is that people don't change if you give them the slightest chance not to - and letting a Mac boot Windows will immediately allow the more commercial software developers to stop offering MacOS X support. What we'll see instead, these guys seem to be thinking, is a $1 Microsoft promotional license for XP run times on Mactel and the wholesale defection of Apple's remaining developer support to Wintel.

I doubt that, but there's little doubt that virus writers will soon be taking advantage of weaknesses in EFI/VM to take over machines doing this.

The other side assumed that "commodity hardware" costs less than Apple hardware and that this price difference will therefore drive people to put MacOS X on Wintel boxes - at which time they'll see the light and become MacOS X converts for life.

I think these people have their pricing logic backwards, and that they're dreaming in technicolor when they assume that Microsoft's users will see the value in OS X - particularly given that NT 5.3 Vista's imitation of Apple's GUI is likely to be good enough to hide the difference from most of Microsoft's market.

Right now everyone's guessing about Vista's likely impact, but we can test the price part of the hypothesis simply by looking up the numbers -although apriori it's hard to see how Apple could be cheaper than Dell (or vice versa) given that they use the same people to assemble the same machines from the same parts.

For example: put two obvious upgrades into a MacBook Pro -a 2.16Ghz processor and a 7200RPM disk- and the thing costs $$2,899.00 or $3,248 if you choose the three year warranty extension.

Configure a Dell Precision M65 similarly, and its base cost starts out $73 more at $2,962 but rises to only $3,240 when the three year warranty extension is added.

On net those differences don't amount to much: the Mac has a built in camera and weighs about half a pound less but the Dell has better graphics, a bigger battery, and more expandability.

In other words, the only difference worth worrying about is that of the OS it ships with- and bootcamp blurs that for the Mac.

Thus if you already have a Microsoft license allowing you to load Windows on another machine of your choice, it will cost you all of eight dollars more to run fully supported Mac X applications on your Apple brand Windows machine.

(Lintel, incidently, works too - the EFI boot framework originally developed at Intel as part of its efforts to secure Itantium boot processes, should have created a barrier to Lintel but, in fact, it didn't take long to get Linux running on Intel based Macs.)

Basically Apple's hardware has become plain old "commodity" x86 hardware - with both Windows/XP and Linux available as alternatives to MacOS X and no significant price or performance differences.

So now the question comes down to whether or not Apple is going to support what people have also already done: breaking both EFI and TPM to run MacOS X on an unmodified Dell.

I doubt that too, but then a year ago I would have bet real money that Microsoft would adopt MacOS X long before Apple would give up its PPC derived advantages on cost, performance and security.

What I think we can all agree on, however, is is that bootcamp places Apple firmly between a hammer and an anvil with respect to software development. Making Windows a co-equal on Apple hardware increases the presure developers face to put more of their resources on the Windows side of the house - and thereby leaves Apple more dependent on its own applications for both revenue and product differentiation.

Unfortunately, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if bootcamp "incentifies" Apple's developers to join the Windows crowd, it also puts presure on Apple's internal development group to make iLife and the other entertainment products available on Windows -thereby turning MacOS X into a cost burden without off-setting benefits for Apple.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.