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    Kicking around the inflated value of Apple’s Boot Camp

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver April 25-May 1, 2006; issue 861

    High Tech Office column; 

    Ever wonder how something makes it onto the front page? I was a bit puzzled on April 6 when Apple’s new Boot Camp download made page one of the Globe. The beta software release even rated an unsigned editorial in the New York Times.

    Apple and Microsoft seem about the only technology companies whose press releases are regularly treated as news, and Boot Camp, software enabling Microsoft’s Windows on Apple’s new Intel-powered Macs touched both. After several decades of Apple going its own way, the press treated the Boot Camp announcement, in the words of Robert X Cringely’s Times Op Ed piece, as if “Hell froze over.” Apple’s share price jumped.

    Despite all the coverage, Apple Macintosh users represent perhaps five per cent of personal computer users. Owners of the new Intel models represent a fraction of that minority. And Intel-Mac owners who want or need to boot to Windows represent a percentage of that fraction of that minority. Front-page news?

    Conspiracy theorists like technology columnist John Dvorak have suggested that Apple gets more than its deserved share of coverage because journalists (along with graphics designers, scientists and educators) are more likely to use Macs than the average business user. (True confession time: I’m both an educator and a journalist who uses a Mac.) Or maybe it’s because everybody likes to root for the underdog. Or because we’re all caught up by Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ ability to spin a “reality distortion field.”

    While Apple’s Boot Camp announcement got all that publicity, it isn’t even a first. A month ago, a pair of California hackers demonstrated a method to shoehorn Windows XP onto a Mac, though admittedly Boot Camp is (in typical Apple fashion) easier and slicker to set up. And over a decade ago, Apple sold hardware to allow users to run Windows alongside Apple’s operating system on some Macs. Emulation software like Microsoft’s Virtual PC has let users (slowly) run PC operating systems like Windows or Linux in a window on their Mac. And a day after Apple’s announcement, Virginia software company Parallels announced Parallels Workstation, “virtualization” software to run PC operating systems in a window on an Intel Mac without the speed penalties of emulators like Virtual PC. A beta pre-release of Parallels Workstation is available for free download now (, with pricing of the final version announced as US$49.

    Optimists suggest that the ability to run Windows and Windows software will result in large numbers of users buying Macs and being seduced by the Mac operating system. Cringely points out that “Mac users love their computers” while “Windows users tolerate theirs.”

    Market researcher IDC has reduced predictions of PC sales as a result of Microsoft pushing back its release of the next generation Windows Vista until 2007, which many analysts think will help Apple sales. (Mac sales due to Boot Camp aren’t a loss for Microsoft, however. Users will need to buy a retail copy of Windows, netting Microsoft an estimated three times as much as a copy preinstalled by HP or Dell.)

    Pessimists, however, suggest that relatively few Windows users will take a leap into the unknown by buying a Mac, and then buy a copy of Windows, just to get an expensive, if stylish, Windows computer. The ability to run Windows on a Mac might also discourage software developers from creating Mac versions of currently Windows-only games or business software. Still, the ability to run both Windows and Mac OS X on a single piece of hardware will undoubtedly sell at least a few more Macs to business and education customers, especially if by this time next year, Apple offers to pre-load both operating systems.

    I’ve got a bet with a friend: if this time next year, Apple has boosted market share to 10 per cent, I’ll buy a bottle of champagne. If the company’s market share has seen a modest rise to six per cent, he buys the bottle. If market share is between the two figures, we split the cost. No matter what, we’ll both be able to drink the bottle.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan