The story so far...
On the 5th April 2006, something of significant irony happened to the Macintosh platform, affecting its viability for more people...
Unlike the IBM PC that current Windows based PCs are a direct evolution of, the Macintosh has undergone a variety of major architectural transitions since its introduction. The latest in 2006 was for Macintosh computers to begin using Intel processors on an architecture very similar to the aforementioned IBM derived PCs we know and love/tolerate/despise today.
Seefor the ifs, whys, and what fors of the Intel transition.
The side effect of this is that theoretically, these new designs of Intel based Macs should not only be able to run its own Mac OS X operating system, but should also be able to run any operating system that 'normal' PCs could, including Windows.
A few 3rd party hacks had a go at making it so, with some success. But then Apple made it semi-official...
"How can you run Windows on a Mac?"
- looks at the potential of running Mac OS X on non-Macintosh PC hardware.
- speculates on any potential of this being allowed to happen officially in the future.
With a utility called 'Boot Camp', as bundled with current versions of OS X, the hard disk can be partitioned in situ, Windows installed, and the relevant Windows drivers provided for all compatible Macs' standard hardware components. When completed, the user then has the choice which operating system to boot into. It really is almost idiot proof!
Dual booting vs. virtualisation
Each method offers the ability to run other operating systems including Windows on a Mac as well as OS X. But they do this in different ways that have their advantages and disadvantages...
- Dual booting pluses:
Dual booting has the advantage that when running Windows (or Linux or any other OS), the Mac becomes basically a Windows PC with full access to the hardware and full use of all resources at full potential speed. This enables the full range of Windows software to be run, including resource hungry applications like games.
- Dual booting minuses:
The down side of dual booting is that jumping between Windows and OS X, involves a full reboot every time. Not so bad if only occasional use is needed of one, but probably quite frustrating if required to do frequently.
- Virtualisation pluses:
Virtualisation offered by Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion (among others less well known), solves those dual boot downsides by running the virtualised second OS within OS X. Windows for instance can be run within a window on the OS X desktop, or even run Windows applications like they were native Mac OS applications (via 'Coherence mode' in Parallels, or 'Unity mode' in Fusion).
- Virtualisation minuses:
The down side of this however, is that access to the resources of the computer's hardware has to be shared between two operating systems. This mainly manifesting itself in that the second OS will be run somewhat slower than the computer's hardware is potentially capable. As such, there will be some resource hungry applications such as games which may run impracticably slowly, or not run at all.
However, the good news overall is that with Parallels' and Fusion's ability to make use of a Boot Camp created second partition, you can swap between either method depending on circumstance.
"But why? Who's going to find a use for this?"
Okay, so that's hopefully the "How?" summarised sufficiently. What about the question of "Why?"
"If OS X is so good, why would anyone want Windows on their Mac?"
For the vast majority of circumstances, for the vast majority of individuals, a Mac running only its own pre-installed Mac OS X operating system, will be all that's needed. But while a Mac owner is presumably a Mac owner for the very good reason that he or she likes and prefers them, there are downsides where even a Mac fan may find a use for Windows. Here is a look at some of those potential reasons:
- Windows a necessity:
If you're the sort of person whose main needs are out of the mainstream, and you absolutely, positively have to use Windows only applications regularly, at least now you could include Macintosh hardware into your list of hardware brand choices.
Still handy to have Windows around:
If you've perhaps got (or seriously considered getting) a Mac, but you had to keep a Windows PC around, you can now amalgamate the two computers into one. For example:
- Continue to run those few pesky applications that there simply is no Mac equivalent of, or not as maturely developed for.
- The ability to run the best version or brand of application, be it Mac only or Windows only.
- The ability to run the extensive range of games only available for Windows; probably a very popular reason.
- Web, application, or content development that requires testing on multiple platforms.
- Geeks who simply likes having several computing environments to tinker with.
A safety net:
If you're one of those people who have been Mac curious, or a Windows malcontent, but for whatever reason, have always chickened out of getting one, you now have a safety net:
- Are you fearful of the unknown; that you wouldn't like Mac OS and be stuck with an expensive white elephant? Now you can try Mac OS, and if you don't like it, the familiarity of Windows is just a few clicks away.
- Are you concerned that such a big jump from Windows to Mac would be too much of a jump in one go? Now, the transition to Mac can be as fast or as gradual as you like. Or even never make the transition fully at all, running both on the strengths of each. The best of both worlds.
- Are you worried that somewhere down the track, you'll miss out on some piece of software, website, or content not compatible with Macs? Well, now you don't have to miss out on anything. Windows can become a backup compatibility layer.
Whatever the reason, having a PC capable of running multiple operating systems is a safety net. A Mac can be as much of a Windows PC as you need it to be, or as often as you want it to be. And at the end of the day, if you decide Mac OS is not for you, or you perhaps find your ability to learn something new and different is beyond you, a Mac can now effectively be turned into a stylish, well built, reasonably specced, Intel based Windows PC. That should alleviate most worries somewhat.
As you've hopefully gathered, the ability to run Windows on a Mac does have its benefits, and it has made a Mac a much more viable option for some who would have previously avoided them in favour of a 'normal' Windows PC brand. But just like every silver lining, there are potential clouds:
- Apple prices:
This functionality comes at a price. Apple prices. Okay, you do get a nice, well built, stylish PC, but if you're only in the market for a budget box, Apple doesn't really do boxes in that range.
See also reason 3
- Microsoft prices:
Obviously, neither OS X's Boot Camp utility, nor any of the virtualisation applications, come bundled with a copy of Windows included. And nor will Apple provide one. You'd need to provide your own copy. That will cost money. A retail copy of Windows is not cheap. That's assuming you will be buying a retail copy, won't you? Yes, of course you will, moral, upstanding citizen that you are...
- Memory constraints:
Having to devote hard drive space to an additional operating system, will take up several extra gigabytes. That leaves less room for your data and applications, which could be a significant issue for the lower spec Macs with smaller hard drives.
There is the risk that the malware issues that affects Windows, could potentially effect your previously relatively secure Mac OS partition. Just because you're using a Mac computer, you're still going to have to run the plethora of security software on the Windows environment. For many Mac users, that's unfamiliar and unwelcome territory.
See also reason 24
- Intel only:
Windows will only run natively on Intel based Macs. As such, the dual boot option will not work on any pre-Intel based Macs. For these PowerPC based Macs, there's still the virtualisation option offered by Microsoft's Virtual PC, but that is very much slower emulating an alien architecture as it has to and therefore of much less viability for many uses running an OS on native hardware solves.
So to reiterate, the Macintosh is now the only PC that can natively, officially, and reliably run both Windows and Mac OS X operating systems. That's got to be worth something to someone, somewhere!
Granted, the ability to run Windows may be of little interest to many existing Mac stalwarts, but for some and particularly potential new Mac users it's a useful tool. Not only for those who cannot ever move completely away from Windows, but also as a means of transition for potential new Mac users if they so desire that eventual Windows-less computing environment.
It does undoubtedly debunk many of the rational reasons for everyday folk, and possibly even quite a few professional folk, why they cannot choose a Macintosh.
Page content last updated 21 September 2008