Apple released Boot Camp today, a free download that lets you run Windows on an Intel-based Mac. The 83MB download is available as beta software, and Boot Camp will be included in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard later this year. We don't, however, expect to see Windows preinstalled on Macs anytime soon (Apple makes it very clear it will not support Windows). Interest in running Windows on a Mac has been evident ever since Steve Jobs announced the Intel-based iMac this past January, and it reached a crescendo last month with various contests for finding a hack to run Windows on an Intel Mac. Boot Camp, therefore, isn't the first time the world will see Windows running on a Mac, but it certainly makes the process much easier.
We installed Boot Camp on the iMac Core Duo; the software will also work with the Mac Mini and the MacBook Pro. Before we could run the app, we first had to update our iMac to Mac OS X 10.4.6, followed by a quick firmware update. We were then prompted to burn a disc of Windows drivers (for the iMac Core Duo's video and audio adapters, peripherals, wired and wireless networking adapters, and so on), which are included in the Boot Camp download. After ejecting our newly minted driver disc, Boot Camp then asked us how we'd like to partition our iMac's 250GB hard drive. The default was a paltry 5GB for Windows; we upped it to an even 100GB, then inserted a Windows XP Pro with Service Pack 2 disc. Note: You must supply your own copy of Windows; you can use either Home or Pro, but Apple's documentation states that it must include SP2. The Windows installation proceeded per its norm, the iMac restarted, and we were looking at the strange site of the glossy white iMac framing the familiar XP Bliss wallpaper. It's alive!
A quick scan of the Device Manager showed that we were a few drivers short of a full deck. We installed the contents of the driver disc that Boot Camp had us create, which filled in most, but not all, of the gaps. We were still missing a USB driver and a PCI driver, along with some unknowns. From our first pass with Windows on the iMac, however, the system appeared to be fully operational. We were able to connect to our LAN and the Internet, and even play a game of Minesweeper.
What Boot Camp doesn't let you do is run both operating systems at the same time. You must shut down one before booting to the other. Whichever OS you had running last will boot upon the next start-up. To halt that from happening, simply hold down the Alt-Option key while the system powers on, and after a few seconds, you'll be presented with a gray start screen with two images of hard drives: choose the one of the left for Mac OS or the one on the right for Windows.
Boot Camp also installs an icon labeled Startup Disk in the Control Panel in Windows and in the System Preferences window in Mac OS. It opens a window that lists the Mac OS and Windows XP partitions. Choose one to shut down the current OS you have running and boot to the other. Switching between the two operating systems was fast and easy. Also, Windows appeared to be stable; it crashed only once when we were investigating DirectX settings, not an unusual occurrence on any Windows-based PC.
There's more to this than playing Minesweeper on a Mac, of course. Aside from the wow factor, Boot Camp, especially when it becomes a standard feature of the Mac OS, should usher in a new era for the Mac platform. Though you'll need to pony up for a copy of Windows, your Mac will be able to run any software that its PC competitors can run, not to mention all the Apple apps that PCs can't run. With Boot Camp, for example, you can run the iLife apps and the latest 3D game, say, F.E.A.R., on the same system.
Performance remains a question and one that we are feverishly working to answer. We've completed one test though, and it shows big gains for Windows on a Mac--compared to an application using the Rosetta translation software, anyway. Running Photoshop CS2 on the iMac Core Duo with Mac OS X requires the use of Rosetta and results in pokey performance, slower than the older iMac G5, in fact. We ran our Photoshop CS2 benchmark on the same iMac Core Duo system with Windows today and saw a drastic improvement. Where the iMac Core Duo in Mac OS X took 6.5 minutes to complete the test, the same system running Windows XP Pro took less than 3 minutes. Add the fact that Adobe isn't expected to release the universal binary version of Photoshop for Intel-based Macs until next year, and Windows on the Mac looks pretty good right now. You will, however, need the Windows version of Photoshop. Also impressive: the iMac with Windows also topped two similarly outfitted dual-core PCs from Dell and Gateway.
This is just the first of our tests; we'll update this story as soon as our other benchmarks are completed. In the meantime, we'll try to get adjusted to hearing the Windows start-up chime on the iMac.