'Mactel' Desktops May Offer Triple-Threat OS

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Osiris

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'Mactel' Desktops May Offer Triple-Threat OS


Apple won't stand in the way of people who want to run Windows on its forthcoming Intel-processor Macs. But whether or not users will be able to run Windows directly on the machines is still a mystery.

Apple Computer Inc. last week announced plans to begin selling computers based on Intel Corp. processors by June 2006.

While Apple developers initially looked upon Apple's choice to move to Intel processors with mixed feelings, the ability of the new Macs to also run Windows—a practice long since adopted by some Mac users who run virtualization software such as Microsoft Virtual PC—may be the fulcrum for the company to gain some new customers, ranging from computer enthusiasts to businesses.

So far Apple hasn't discouraged the idea of running Windows on its forthcoming Intel gear. Meanwhile, Microsoft, sources familiar with the company's plans said, is considering how and whether to support Windows on the forthcoming Apple hardware as well.

Although it has no plans to license its OS X to other PC makers, such as Dell Inc., Apple will not prevent Windows and applications that run on the operating system from working on its future Intel-based Macs, company executives said.

That raises the possibility of companies or individuals creating dual-boot Mac OS/Windows machines in the future. However, many of the details of what it will take to allow Windows to operate directly on "Mactel" hardware, including Apple's specific choices of Intel hardware and its software driver model, are still shrouded in secrecy.

"Apple doesn't plan to sell or support Windows," said Brian Croll, Apple's director of software product marketing, during an interview at the company's Worldwide Developer Conference last week. But, he said, "We're not planning anything on the hardware side that would preclude it from running."

Croll declined to elaborate on Apple's Mactel hardware or software plans.

"The focus right now is [on letting] our developers understand that they have to develop universal binaries" that work for PowerPC and Intel chips, he said.

Apple is expected to start by using Intel's Pentium M chip, and to use EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) versus a standard BIOS for waking up its processor and other hardware bits. But it has yet to detail whether it will use off-the-shelf Intel processors and chip sets or take another route.

Right now, the company uses standard IBM PowerPC 970FX chips and designs its own chip sets for them, analysts say. Having details on Intel's hardware plans in hand, along with details on the software drivers for the systems, will be vital to getting Windows to run natively on Mactel hardware.


Running Windows as "a primary OS on [Mac/Intel] hardware is going to require OS support at the driver level. There may or may not be BIOS issues and that sort of thing," said Dean McCarron, analyst with Mercury Research. "Going off the assumption that the [Intel] Mac hardware is not a PC—that it's their own layout hardware-wise—in order to make Windows run on that, it's going to have to have the appropriate drivers."

This means that supporting Windows on Mactel would require Microsoft Corp. or others to gain in-depth knowledge of the Apple hardware, McCarron said. Apple would have to weigh the potential benefits of making its machines somewhat more attractive versus risking helping people who seek to use Mac OS X on other hardware.


Microsoft executives have already conducted internal meetings on what Apple's move to Intel could mean. Microsoft's thinking, according to sources familiar with its plans, is although Apple faces the potential for an initial dip in shipments following its processor switch, it ultimately could recover to gain a couple points in market share.

Thus it would seem like a simple decision for Microsoft to support Windows running natively on Apple hardware, given the software giant's interest in boosting Windows' market share. But there are several potential hang-ups, sources familiar with the company's plans said. If Apple uses non-standard hardware, such as chip sets or unique software drivers, it might not be cost-effective for the software giant to support Windows for Intel-based Mac, the sources said.

Indeed, Apple "could opt to make it (legally) impossible (through hardware or licensing, for example) to run Windows natively on their Intel hardware," said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with Burton Group, in an e-mail. "I think that would ultimately be perverse and counterproductive, but weirder things have happened. Perhaps it will end up being passive support, as Sun has done with their Windows Certified servers—but for which Sun won't directly sell Windows Server."

Even if full hardware support isn't offered, there's a fallback position for more enterprising Mactel owners. Virtualization technology built into Intel chips—desktop Pentium 4 chips will sport built-in virtualization this year and the Pentium Ms will gain it next—will allow the machines to be partitioned to run numerous different types of software at the same time. Thus, there is no reason the machines couldn't run Windows or Linux and all of the associated applications on top of Mac OS X.


"In theory, you could run Windows on top of Mac OS, which is how it works on Mac today with Virtual PC," McCarron said. "The difference is, with hardware virtualization, you'd be running at almost full speed. By and large you'd end up with a full-speed virtual system."

Although it's unlikely that an individual or a business would buy an Intel-based Mac and wipe its operating system just to install Windows, the capability could woo enthusiasts who might prefer Apple's designs but still want to run Windows. It could also make it easier for others, such as educational institutions, government agencies, and small and midsize businesses, to choose Apple hardware.

The company has shipped about 3 million Macs in the last few years—it shipped nearly 3.3 million units in its fiscal year 2004, according to its annual report—so even a small increase could boost its fortunes.

"The enthusiast will buy it because it's Apple," said Leslie Fiering, an analyst at Gartner Inc. However, "We think there will be a small cottage industry on hacking [Apple hardware] to run Windows on it," she said.

But, even with Windows on board, don't count on an upswing of sales to big business, Fiering said.

"Apple has been pretty explicit in saying that it's not going to invest in supporting businesses [by offering things like PC life-cycle management]," she said. "It's just not going to do it."
 

mac_mogul

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My guess is that Apple makes it impossible for Windows to be installed. I think that they just want the power and compatiblity of the Intel processors.
 

mac_mogul

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M$ will try for it, no question... but look at their past... if they honestly come out with a form of Windows for Mac, do you really think anyone would pay the probably 200 dollar price (ballparking it there, but think about it really) for a Mac compatible Windows OS? Probably not.

I mean, c'mon...
Windows ME: Macintosh Edition... :p
 

IBMan

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lmao, it'd be crazy tho, I have a feeling that even though the Architechture will be similar, it will also be very different. Its a potential, and a great possibility for Windows to be more easily run on these machines, but once again compatibility and driver issues make problems
 

Qiranworms

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mac_mogul said:
My guess is that Apple makes it impossible for Windows to be installed. I think that they just want the power and compatiblity of the Intel processors.

Maybe later I'll find the exact quote, but an Apple exec did state that while they would make sure that OS X did not run on generic x86 hardware, they would do nothing to prevent the use of other x86 operating systems on their hardware. He also noted, I believe, that he didn't garantee that they would run correctly and Apple certainly wouldn't be supporting any of them.

edit: The first paragraph of the article states this fairly definitively. This isn't just speculation here...:p
 

g5orbust

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I heard there might be in-OSX Windows Emulation type stuff, but that seems kind of pointless. Defeats the purpose of buying an OSX box.
 

waynejkruse10

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Even if Apple triess to make it impossible to run Windows on thier systems, people will get around it. What i really hope is if Mac os X is released for PC. If it isnt, i guess somebody will hack it to let it run.
 

Qiranworms

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horndude said:
Sounds like the worst of either world LOL, I think Apple is in for a bit of a shock performance wise unless they fix the OS X kernel.If M$ doesnt gets it act together pretty soon they may be in some trouble too.........longhorn is starting to seem like vaporware.

Anyway, all the indications Ive heard from Apple on the internet are pointing to a BIOS that wont allow anything but "approved" OS's on Apple boxes, the fact that there's a BIOS involved with Apple is a step backward already.

Why does changing your CPU architecture require switching from Open Firmware to a BIOS? Since they are still controlling everything, they don't have to go generic-off-the-shelf-PC style all the way...

I really hope they don't screw this whole thing up...despite kernel performance issues or what not, OS X is still my favourite operating system at the moment, and I don't want it to die. :(
 
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