Boot Camp

Wednesday, 2006-04-05; 18:44:00

Gah. Who knew that scarcely a week after I discussed native Windows support on the Mac, Apple would come out and "officially" support dual-booting on new Intel-based Macs.

I say "officially" in quotes because while Boot Camp comes directly from Apple, Apple only provides support for Boot Camp online. You can't call Apple technical support for using Windows, or for even using the Boot Camp assistant application -- you're "on your own". According to Apple:

Important: Apple does not provide technical phone support for using Boot Camp Beta, burning the Macintosh Drivers CD, or installing Windows XP. Support is available on Apple's website. Fee-based support agreements are not available for Boot Camp Beta.

Boot Camp does, however, appear to greatly simplify the process for installing Windows on a shiny new Intel-Mac. While it previously required 29 steps to install Windows XP using the process at, Apple's Boot Camp software allows you to do it in 4 steps. Boot Camp also allows the installation of Windows XP without a PC (which was required using's process -- that kind of defeated the whole purpose). The key, however, are the firmware updates: they provide BIOS emulation in EFI, which allows Windows XP to run on the Mac with little modification. Another side effect is that other Linux distributions will be similarly easy to install -- Linux was having some trouble booting up on Intel-Macs before these firmware updates as well.

Of course, you need to repartition your hard drive, but surprise! Boot Camp allows you to do this without erasing your hard drive. That's actually one of the most interesting aspects of Boot Camp to me. Why doesn't Disk Utility allow for non-destructive repartitioning? This must be a recent development -- if Boot Camp can do it, and Apple says that Boot Camp will be included with Mac OS X Leopard, then hopefully Disk Utility in Leopard will allow for non-destructive repartitioning as well. However, Boot Camp's method does come with a caveat: you lose 5 GB of disk space -- apparently, Apple sets that aside as a buffer zone. According to the Boot Camp Beta Installation & Setup Guide:

Windows XP requires its own partition on your computer’s internal startup disk. Boot Camp Assistant creates a second partition on your startup disk for the Windows XP operating system. You can set the size of the new partition from a minimum of 5 GB to a maximum of 5 GB less than the total free space available.

Rob Griffiths over at is also wondering the same thing:

This is a non-destructive operation, meaning you won’t lose any of the files on your hard drive. It also raises the question as to why Disk Utility doesn’t have a similar mode to allow non-destructive partitioning. Apple leaves a 5GB buffer between the partitions, so you’ll lose a bit of drive space in this process. Click the Partition button, and, in about a minute, you’ll have the required space for the Windows XP installation.

So yeah, you'll lose 5 GB of space, but Apple's being quite nice to those users who want to run Windows on their Intel-based Macs.

The other thing that's interesting about this whole Boot Camp thing is that Apple is providing native drivers for many of the components of its Intel-based Macs. Previously, for example, drivers for the graphics card weren't present for Windows XP, so running games was effectively worthless. Not anymore. Apple provides drivers for its keyboard (so the volume, brightness, and eject keys work), the Bluetooth module, the wireless networking card, the graphics cards (both the evil integrated graphics card and the ATI chipsets), the sound components, and they even provide a nifty Startup Disk control panel for Windows XP that looks similar to the one found in System Preferences on Mac OS X.

Not everything works, though, but that's mostly because Windows XP doesn't really know how to use those hardware components. For example, the IR sensor and remote don't work, but what would Windows do with them even if it could recognize them? There's no Front Row built into Windows XP. According to Apple:

Even after installling [sic] the Macintosh Drivers CD, the Apple Remote Control (IR), Apple Wireless (Bluetooth) keyboard or mouse, Apple USB Modem, MacBook Pro's sudden motion sensor, MacBook Pro's ambient light sensor, and built-in iSight camera will not function correctly when running Windows.

But yeah. Windows XP can now easily run on a Mac. While the whole Intel-processors-inside-Macs thing was a bit creepy, I cry for all the Macs that are being subjected to Windows XP right now, even if Boot Camp is a typical easy-to-use Apple "application".

I do, however, still maintain that this is a bad thing for the Mac as a platform. Time may prove me wrong, but I still think that software companies won't have as much reason to make Mac OS X-native software for the Mac. It's not as bad as virtualization, because dual-booting means that you have to close all your applications and documents in Mac OS X before being able to use Windows -- virtualization would mean that you could use both operating system at both times, and that would be particularly detrimental, I think. On the bright side, it looks like this is going to be the officially unofficial solution for using Windows XP on your Mac, so I can relax a bit because Apple's probably not going to be including any virtualization software in Leopard.

Even with Boot Camp, though, using both operating systems isn't going to necessarily be that pleasant: apparently, Mac OS X can only read NTFS partitions, not write to them, and Windows will not be able to read the Mac OS X partition. If you need more than 32 GB of space on your Windows partition, you have to format it using NTFS, so there are going to be instances when you won't easily be able to transfer data between the operating systems without a go-between device like a FireWire drive or a burned CD. Apple will likely rectify this shortcoming with Mac OS X Leopard.

The one thing I find particularly amusing about Boot Camp, though, besides the name of course, is that Apple can take the Windows logo and make it look good:

Boot Camp Icon

Seriously, that Windows icon is practically lickable.

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